Friday, March 26, 2010

Coming home

Time has flown by during the past few months, but we are getting ready to return home. A little over a week and we´ll be back in the states. Along with processing coffee, Mary Laura also spent her time cultivating fruits and vegetables, and caring for the various animals at the farm. It was a less hectic expereince than living on the Ranch in the fall. Besides her host family, there were two other volunteers to share the work load. The cultural experience of living with a Tico family was invaluble for her.
I chose to stay at Rancho Mastatal to continue learning about natural building and permaculture techniques. In total we maintained around forty people at the Ranch at any given time. It never got boring as we had several groups come through for various courses and experiences. Currently there is a class from Yestermorrow design and build school working on a structure using bamboo and earth. We welcomed two goats in January to the family but unfortunately they won´t be producing milk for another year as they are just a few months old. I guess I´ll have to come back next year to sample a little goat cheese. The focus of this internship turned out to be food production. With a couple of interns who brought farming and gardening experience we have begun the process to actively supplement our food comsumption with home grown produce. Most of this work has consisted of soil building and design but we are finally beginning to see the fruits of our labor. The nurseries are filled with seedlings ready to be planted and our garden beds are filling out nicely. It would be nice to stick around to see things develop further but it is time to head home.
The transition back to PA should be aided by the work that we will be starting upon our return. We´ve both been accepted as interns at Living Hope Farm in Harlysville. It is a first year CSA that will be running from April until the end of October ( We´ll definitely have our work cut out for us. It does feel great though to have something lined up for the next six months at least. The challenge will be in balancing reaquainting ourselves with friends and family and getting involved at the farm. A slower transition may have been prefered but it´s a wonderul opportunity. We look forward to seeing all of you in the very near future (April 8th) Until then...we love you

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Farm life...

Just a few pictures from the past two weeks:

The restaurant at the farm, where you can fish for talapia for your meal! This restaurant provides an additional income for the family.

One of four talapia ponds.

Baking day. (Amelia the only other volunteer is on the left while Leti and her grandson on the right)

The farm.

The animals. Animal care includes feeding our pigs, chicks, chickens, and cows. Milking, one of my favorite parts of the day, starts at 5:30 am.

Our biodigester. It is used to capture the methane, produced by pig and cow waste, that we in turn use to fuel all of our cooking.

The harvest. To clarify, it is actually the end of the harvest. We processed over 1,000 kilos of coffee.

The coffee. The plants must be stripped of everything in the last harvest, so insects don´t destroy it. We sorted out by hand all of the green fruits that weren´t ready to be processed.

Sorting with Jose Luis.

The peeler.

The unroasted bean.

Raking the sea of beans to dry them out.

Overall it has been an amazing transition. Farm life is much more relaxing and calm. I´ve been taking the extra time to catch my breath and enjoy life.

Hope all is well.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009


As we wrap up this year we have had some time to reflect on all of the wonderful experiences we have had together. There have been a lot of firsts: first year of marriage, first apartment, first time moving away from family together, and first cross cultural experience together. It seems as though our experiences over the last few months have brought us closer than we have ever been.
With that being said, at the beginning of January I will be moving to a coffee and tilapia farm a little over an hour away. Alex will be staying on for the spring internship at Rancho Mastatal, where they will kick into their busy season, including lots of building, new goats, andhosting group workshops in permaculture, solar energy, and wilderness first response. I will be living with a local family and working with them on their farm. I am excited about shifting to something new, and to have more opportunities to work on my spanish. We will be visiting each other about once every three weeks due to our work responsibilities. Think of us during this time as this will also be a first.

Also, we have made the decision to return home early this April. We had mixed feelings at first, but now we are excited the possibilities of what lies ahead. We are currently looking into other farming opportunities, grad school, and what ever else comes our way. If you hear of any job openings let us know:)

We hope this Christmas season brought you great time with family and friends. We missed you all. Christmas just isn´t the same when it is 90 degrees outside.

With love.
Until next time!

Mary-Laura and Alex

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Closing up ranch life, visa run, and Thanksgiving...

So we are winding down as the internship is coming to an end. Although Alex and I will be here until the end of December, most of the interns will be leaving this upcoming week. Our December will be much more low key, which we are looking forward to. We have been busy finishing up projects as the internship is coming to a close. We were able to take a mini-vacation to beautiful Granada, Nicaragua to renew our visas a week ago. We got back just in time for an amazing homemade Thanksgiving dinner. Here are a few more pictures...
An update on our future plans will be coming soon. Love you all.

Can you find Don Mario? He is 57 years old and probably the strongest man I have ever met. In this picture he has just scaled this tree about thirty feet up to harvest oranges. Unbelievable....

An educational mosaic ML has been working on. Depicting the broken cycle of the food and waste systems in developed nations. It still needs to be grouted.

Building walls with wattle and daub. (weaving bamboo, and sealing it with and earth, manure and clay mixture)

Alex and Jr. (brothers and friends from Mastatal)

Mastatal soccer team.

Harvesting cacao.

Cacao harvested. The bounty.

Lindsay, ML and Dalia at the "traveling discoteca". Because we are in such a rural location and there is very little going on.... there are mobile dances where the speakers, music and DJ are set up in the local community center. Over 200 people come from neighboring villages...a fantastic time had by all.

Workin' it. Learning some new moves.

Granada, Nicaragua.

Granada, Nicaragua.

Granada, Nicaragua.

Granada, Nicaragua.

Granada, Nicaragua.

One of three chickens we ate for Thanksgiving.

Alex was on slaughter duty, while I stuck with defeathering...

Friday, November 13, 2009

A closed circle feast.


A few weeks ago Alex won the lottery! The prize? One massive pierna de cerdo (pig leg). You might envision making a trip to the locally supermarket (which is more than an hour and half away from us) to pick up your prize, giddy with ticket in'd be wrong. Instead imagine driving your pickup two farms down to claim your still oinking pig. You'd work with four locals to weigh it, kill it, skin it, and butcher it appropriately. I'll spare you the rest of the gritty details....and voila! you have your prize. I do have to say there is something innately natural and satisfying about being in touch with the process that brings food to your plate. It's about honoring the animal's life which brings us the nutrition we need for sustenance.
We decided to take this occasion to celebrate and make a feast. We first smoked the leg in a homemade barrel-smoker using Mammonchino wood. We supplemented the pulled pork with barbecue sauce made from scratch, fresh baguette rolls cooked in our cob oven and a side of thyme mashed potatoes. All of it which was cooked on our stove fueled by the methane from our biodigester. The biodigester is fed by human and animal waste, and the methane which normally is lost in the atmosphere, is captured. The feast was enjoyed and shared by the interns and some of the locals.
We have spent many of our days learning of ways, big and small, how to live more "sustainably". We also have had many evenings to sit around and discuss what this buzz word actually means. Expanding sustainability beyond the environment, to include social, spiritual, economic, and political realms, and how it is applied to the individual and community. Realizing how little we do yet excited by the inexhaustible opportunities to improve life. We are trying figuring out what role we want to have in this reconciliation process, but foremost recognizing how all aspects of life are interconnected.
Currently we are focusing on learning new techniques and practices to live and utilize the earth's resources in more responsible ways. This includes energy, food production, building, and using the land's natural assets to work for not against us. Having said all this, I do realize how much easier it is to live a simplified lifestyle in rural Costa Rica than it is back in the States. When you have access to less and are in an agrarian society, life is naturally different. The majority of the world lives in or around cities, and according to migration patterns there is no sign of change in this movement. We have to bridge old and new schools of thought to live more sustainably in urban areas if this is our future. I get most excited thinking about finding creative ways to be involved in this process wherever we may be in the coming years.

Just thought I would share a few thoughts on this rainy day. Hope this finds you all well.


A few more photos....

Most of the women at the ranch.

The chicken coop- home to the 27 ladies the provide eggs for the ranch.

Sophia, Moiseus, and Jasmine.

A bamboo structure: "Tiburons"

18 people in the bed of a pickup truck? Check.

Rural life...The Costa Rican cow

One of the bamboo structures: "The Hooch"

Cob oven used for baking.

Jenny, Kattia, Maria-Laura, and Sebastian on Halloween.

Alex roasting cocoa.

Our biodigester which fuels 60 percent of our cooking.

Mammonchino fruit (kinda like lychees). This wood is used when we are smoking meat and vegetables to give it a sweeter taste.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


After a few hard weeks of work, our group decided to take some time off...We are at the beach, more specifically in Dominical. I am adding some new pictures with a longer blog to come in the next few days! love you all.

ML and Alex




Setting up for the health clinic we had this past weekend. We had 30 community members show for for massage, accupunture, and blood pressure testing. In the past only 5 or 6 people had shown up. We were very excited. Mastatal is a rural town of a little over 100 people.

Sushi night!

One of ML´s carving projects.

Roasting cocoa at a local chocolate farm. There is a barrel attached to the side of the bike, which rotates over the fire when biking....ingenious!

Salima enjoying the cocoa fruit.

Working in the woodshop.

Chepo! he is kinda a big deal around town...

Poisonous caterpillar that stung alex...its a jungle out here

Hasta luego!