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I’d done yoga in the open air pavilion alongside the rushing Caño Negro River, soaked in a hot pool with views of the heavily wooded slopes near Arenal Volcano, and tasted the food that is grown and raised almost entirely on this organic farm and ranch. I’d even seen the agouti—a forest mammal like a giant glossy guinea pig—at the wildlife rescue center.
But I hadn’t yet stuck my arm into a big pile of compost.
Frederic, the 20-year-old son of Rancho Margot founder Juan Sostheim, was going to make sure I didn’t miss out.
“You’re elbow-deep in shit,” he smiled. “What do you notice?”
Suppressing my wisecracks (“It’s like being at my job”), I said that it didn’t smell so bad, and oddly, there were no flies buzzing around. But most surprising, it was warm in there. The deeper you went, the hotter it got.
That heat, produced by the breakdown of waste and hay and other organic matter, would make possible my hot shower the next morning. And the lack of smell and flies? Frederic attributed it to the animals eating a balanced and organic diet.
Though you can go kayaking in Lake Arenal, horseback riding up to a lookout near the volcano, rent mountain bikes, or just chill out in your bungalow’s hammock, it’s during the hour-and-a-half farm tour that you really come to appreciate the grand experiment in sustainability that is Rancho Margot.
You can’t walk the ranch’s 380 acres without feeling, What a great idea! And also, I bet I could do that back home. On a smaller scale, to be sure. But with the same can-do attitude that makes this ranch and farm very much a work in progress but also a very successful one.
Here at the ranch, they try things, and if it doesn’t work, they try something else, all the while heading for greater balance with nature, less of a carbon footprint, and more of a self-sustaining system that is truly off the grid.
Already they provide for 100% of their energy and water needs, and about 90% of their food needs. Energy comes from a variety of source, including the heat-producing compost, biodigesters (huge hefty bags of animal waste which produce the methane that fuels the kitchen stoves), and from hydroelectric–big metal (Pelton) wheels turned by water.
We’re shown the chicken coop, the pig wallow, and the cow barn, and I can’t help thinking, These are cheerful chickens. Content cows. Pleased pigs. They’re fed a balanced diet of organic grains and plants, and they all get out of their pens and into the field, the pasture, or (in the case of the pigs) the wallow on a daily basis. At mealtime, the milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt all come from these happy cows, and the pork and chicken comes from humanely raised and slaughtered animal. There are many vegetarians here (in fact the cook is vegetarian), but he provides options for meat-eaters at every meal.
Even more impressive are the extensive gardens, the nursery, and the fields that produce sustenance for guests, visiting student groups, and the farm employees. The open-air tomato shed provided a lesson in how to save your crops from insects without resorting to harsh chemical insecticides. Rows of marigold and basil, natural insecticides, stand guard on all sides of the tomato plants.
Rancho Margot is a work in progress–they’re still building two classrooms and a library, and constantly trying new things. But much has already been accomplished. In the last five years, Juan, his sons, and his workers have planted 500 trees, acquired 600 chickens, 100 pigs, 18 cows, and 25 horses. They’ve planted feed for the animals—including ramio, buton de oro, and sugar cane—and food for the humans, from tomatoes and every kind of herb to a variety of native potatoes—yucca, teqisque, malanga, camote, and nampo– that are not being planted much in this age of monoculture.
Located on a 175-hectare property near La Fortuna de San Carlos, Rancho Margot is surrounded by Lake Arenal, the Caño Negro river valley and is just 15 kilometers from the Monteverde Reserve. Sustainable environmental practices are the backbone of Rancho Margot’s philosophy, and this self-sufficient hotel works to protect and reforest the area. Eighteen deluxe bungalows are equipped for couples or families of up to four people. They also have a bar, scenic overlook and trails. If you prefer a simpler option, the Bunkhouse has 20 rooms with two bunks each, from which you can enjoy the gardens and views. It’s worth nothing that Rancho Margot produces their own pork, dairy, poultry and vegetable products, as well as having their own hydroelectric generator. Rancho Margot also offers activities such as yoga, biking, horseback riding, rappelling, kayaking, hiking and lava-spotting tours.
— Erin Van Rheenen