A“new moon” is shining over San Isidro de Peñas Blancas in north-central Costa Rica, where a longstanding expression of sustainable living recently opened its doors to visitors seeking to connect with food and nature. Twenty kilometers southeast of La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano, Finca Luna Nueva Lodge provides a relaxing excursion into a certified organic, biodynamic estate quilted in tropical rain forest. The 74-acre enterprise could play a surprisingly important role in cancer and inflammation research and the preservation of the planet’s genetic material.
Finca Luna Nueva has long been a destination for the world’s foremost ethnobotanists, researchers and students for its Sacred Seed Sanctuary, innovative biodynamic agriculture and organic medicinal herb production.
Now, for the first time since its conception almost 14 years ago, Finca Luna Nueva’s grounds, gardens and recently added luxury amenities are available to the general visitor.
By revealing the healing potential of whole foods and herbs, farm tours connect guests with the source of the fresh, wholesome dishes they taste at the table.
The friendly staff offers an intimate introduction to agroecology, biodynamic farming and permaculture concepts. Finca Luna Nueva President Steven Farrell, for example, is a fountain of information and enthusiasm.
Drawing on more than 30 years as an organic and biodynamic farmer in California, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, Farrell is cofounder of the National Organic Agriculture Association. His sincerity and passion radiate from his interactions with the animals, plants, farm workers and soil that work together to produce organic herbs and a host of tropical fruits and vegetables.
Farrell has steered the farm since its purchase in 1994 by New Chapter, a natural medicine company based in Brattleboro,Vermont, in the United States. He sold his own organic farm in the northwestern province of Guanacaste and founded Finca Luna Nueva to commence ginger and turmeric production for New Chapter’s natural supplements.
Over the years, the farm has become the site of international conferences on natural medicine and educational tours, as well as a model of sustainable living in the tropics.
The potential benefits of the plants and herbs grown on the estate are vast. New Chapter researchers believe that herbs grown on the estate may hold a key to cancer and inflammation research. Finca Luna Nueva specializes in herbs with purported antiinflammatory properties. Through a process called “critical extraction,” the beneficial properties of the herbs are processed into capsules and then sold worldwide. A number of organizations certify Finca Luna Nueva’s ginger and turmeric.
“The biodynamic farm is a living organism,” Farrell says. “Ninety percent of our food is grown right here (on the farm).”
Finca Luna Nueva is based on biodynamics, a holistic form of agriculture that goes hand in hand with permaculture, or permanent agriculture based on living systems. The approach is based on diversity, living soil and ecological systems, rather than chemical inputs found in conventional agriculture.
In vivid contrast to the monoculture of conventional farms, Finca Luna Nueva’s myriad plant species are planted not in even, identical rows, but interspersed and interwoven in mutually beneficial ways. “Juan’s Garden,” a circular mandala garden designed by farm worker Juan “Artista” Porras, is a bright patchwork of many plants including Brazilian spinach, mint, tomatoes and holy basil. The garden comes alive and the invisible becomes visible as Finca Luna Nueva guides explain the inner workings of agroecology in action.
In permaculture, every element has at least five uses. For example, a single plant might simultaneously provide shade for other crops, give fruit, provide a home for wild birds, fix nitrogen in the soil and repel certain pests. Even the farm’s sheep, water buffalo, cows, worms, goats, chickens, ducks, oxen, turkeys and pigs serve multiple roles in agroecological systems.
For example, by running their snouts through the soil in search of food, pigs simultaneously turn the soil and eat grubs that cause problems for ginger and turmeric, all the while dispersing their nutrient-rich manure throughout the land. The same animal provides the benefits of a tractor, pesticide and fertilizer without the human labor, chemical inputs or fossil fuel consumption of conventional methods. Pasture-fed meat is a delicious byproduct of all the other services these animals provide.
The estate’s many gardens provide much more than culinary delights. The Sacred Seeds Sanctuary is a medicinal plant garden preserving the cultural, medicinal and botanical heritage of the region, including some endangered plant species. Unlike Europeanstyle botanical gardens, the sanctuary is based on a forest structure, with selected plantings of the medicinal plants. The project’s mission is to protect the world’s disappearing genetic diversity and cultural knowledge in the face of deforestation.
Guests can spend anywhere from an afternoon to a week at the farm and lodge.
Visitors can choose from a handful of tours and classes with a range of themes, including connecting with food through the culinary arts, sustainable living, and organic and biodynamic farming. The Rainforest Mysteries Day Tour, a three-and-a-half to four-and-a half-hour affair, is a personalized tour focusing on food,medicine and habitat, including farm-grown snacks and lunch.
Finca Luna Nueva’s proximity to the 50,000-acre Children’s EternalRain Forest preserve provides many opportunities to enjoy wildlife. The lodge is currently building what Farrell believes is one of the first wheelchair-accessible trails in Costa Rica’s rain forests. The 700-meter path weaves through primary forest, providing close encounters with walking palms, vines and wildlife. The observation tower, a wooden structure soaring 50 feet into the sky overlooking the canopy, provides a view of Arenal Volcano framed in faraway trees.
Rooms and suites in two large guesthouses, constructed from fallen timber from the property, as well as individual and family bungalows provide comfortable lodging.
Additional amenities include a spring-fed swimming pool, solar-heated hot tub, onsite massages, wireless Internet, games area, horseback riding, and fresh pizza and bread from an outdoor, wood-fired clay oven. Special arrangements can be made to join local families as they make fresh cheese or yogurt.
Meals at Finca Luna Nueva are healthy, delicious spreads.
“The meals we make at home are the meals we make here,” says cook Lorena Castro.
“They are mostly simple home recipes, but we also invent new dishes from what we have (here on the farm).”
I sampled a fresh, attractive spread of dishes from the farm, including several exotic flavors new to my taste buds. The all-organic buffet lunch included a cool heart-of-palm salad flavored with cilantro, red peppers and onions, a second salad boasting bok choy, mustard greens, katuk (a tropical plant with edible leaves high in vitamin C) and basil, and a dish of golden pasture chicken with a touch of ginger, followed by homemade flan sprinkled with dark chocolate shavings.
After the meal, I lingered in the open-air foyer for coffee and an assortment of homemade ginger, coconut and chocolate cookies.
Then, after a walking tour, I participated in the final treat: making homemade ginger ale with a simple recipe of one cup fresh sugarcane juice, half a cup of sparkling water and one to two teaspoons of fresh, organic ginger extract to taste.
If You Go
By bus from San José: From San José, you have two choices to arrive by bus. Take the bus to Ciudad Quesada and, from there, transfer to the bus that goes to La Fortuna via Los Angeles; get off in San Isidro de Peñas Blancas. Or take the bus to San Ramón, then the bus to La Fortuna via Chichagua, and get off in San Isidro.
By bus from La Fortuna: Take the bus to Ciudad Quesada via Chichagua or the bus to San Ramón via Chichagua and get off in San Isidro de Peñas Blancas.
By car: From San José, head north on the Inter-American Highway to San Ramón; exit (right turn) and go straight until the last stop sign, turn left, then immediately right at the traffic light. Continue for about three kilometers, staying to the left. Go uphill over a speed bump with a small school on the right, then over another speed bump and make a left at the Y intersection. This is the road to La Fortuna.
Follow this road north for about an hour, after which you will come to a single-lane suspension bridge over the PeñasBlancasRiver. About two kilometers after the bridge, watch for a church and cemetery on the left. About 150 meters past the cemetery, turn left onto a rock road. Go 2.3 km west into the jungle. Keep bearing to the right when you come to intersections. When you see a large tin building, go 100 m and turn right into the driveway through the gates.
Casa Luna Rooms, $60-80. Individual or family bungalows, $70-110. Rates include a guided tour and full breakfast buffet for all guests.
Rainforest Mysteries Day Tour
$50 per person, including transportation from La Fortuna, guide, lunch and snacks; $30 not including transportation.