Photos and article by: Lena Zentgraf
In one word Marcelo Silvia, owner of the farm, is serious. His handshake promises a presence of mind and friendly warmth. Immediately we fall into conversation about hectars and life on the farm as we drive down the dusty back roads of Paquera.
Paquera is a small throughway town for tourists traveling from the ferry port to Montezuma and beyond on the Nicoya Peninsula. We arrive late on a hot Thursday afternoon to a deserted crossroad bus stop at the edge of town. We walk towards shade and found in the shadows of mid afternoon a group of farmers harvesting mangoes. The work was done by hand with a rhythm that was marked only by soft pats of green mangoes dropping on canvas. The center of town was quiet in the heat. Bikes crowded the sidewalks, and people convened in shadowed doorways. The inhabitants are mostly farmers or store owners in town finding moderate means in a ten kilometer radius. Circling back towards our designated meeting point, we see cattle grazing, climbing towards the hills and young fruit orchards crowding small lots.
Marcelo had just made the long drive from San Jose where he now lives. It took four years to develop the farm into a business that supports two other families besides his own. The entire land is twenty three hectars with twenty two in productive shrimp lagoons. The natural landscape was ideal for this type of farming because of its vicinity to oceanic tide water and protective mangroves. The backdrop of rolling hills provides both weather protection and a stunning contrast to the still water of the lagoons. This type of farming is more beneficial to the natural habitat than previous forms of agriculture, and its creation and maintenance are fairly simple. Water is pumped by electricity at high tide from a small channel into a larger system of channels that slowly fill the lagoons. Once it reaches the lagoons it is filtered, providing nutrients to the algae habitat and shrimp well below the surface. The harvesting and wastewater channels follow the simply flow of gravity once the chambers are opened at the far end of the lagoons. These are all the elements. Each part of the system is heavily observed but simple to manage.
Marcelo was enthusiastic when mentioning their conversion to organic feed. Since this early March visit they had submitted paperwork for organic certification and started investigating organic feed companies. It becomes clear when Marcelo begins to talk about the big picture that he has faith in what he is doing on a small scale. The topics range from government support of small agriculture and environmental protection, to how reduce the products that go into the feed to make the entire process more sustainable, and then to the dynamics of a marketing cooperative that was established among shrimp farmers in the northwest of Costa Rica over five years ago. Of course, how could you not talk about input and output for the overall sustainability of the farm? Marcelo is proud to mention that the “used” water leaving the mangrove is, “the same as when it comes in.” While the lagoons are stringently tested and regulated by the government on a quarterly basis, the farm’s results are always well above the standards. This is possible because the farm never compromises the health of the shrimp or the water by overcrowding the lagoons. This means more harvests a year and finding a niche market for smaller shrimp. This is what excited Marcelo about working with CleanFish — the possibility of getting regular business that demands organic, fresh, flavorful shrimp.
Walking around the farm is incredibly peaceful. A small kayak is used to do all of the feeding and maintaining of the lagoons. The harvesting process does not seem cruel or invasive but rather a part of the cycle of the farm, just as methodical and practical as the rest of the system. The two men working on the farm are joyful and a neighboring shrimp farmer beams with pride. We all walk down and check out his next harvest, the largest of the shrimp on his property.
Marcelo holds the shrimp up so I can take a photo and it is remarkable how transparent it appears to be with the sun setting behind its dangling legs. Perhaps this is what is most interesting about Marcelo and this farm. It is work with clear intention and a sense of purpose. While sustainability, politics, and environmental protection are surely buzzing around in his brain, Marcelo is confident in his work. The afternoon on this tranquil land reflects this sense of peace.
Now when do we eat?
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