PLAYA GUIONES, Guanacaste – “Fresh orange juice, tita?” Blanca Cerdas asks a potential customer at this year’s inaugural organic market in this Pacific coastal town.
The fresh lettuce, cabbage, beets, cilantro, oranges, lemons and other sundries mark the onset of summer and are symbolic of Costa Rica’s fertile organic food industry.
Felicia Echeverría, the executive director of Eco-LOGICA, a national organic certificate agency, estimates that Costa Rica exported more than $80 million in organic products last year and that this number is growing. Coffee, pineapple and sugar led international sales.
Oro Verde distributes products nationally for 30 organic growers. “We average ¢15 million to ¢16 million ($27,273 to $29,100) a month in sales,” says Faye Campos, Oro Verde’s sales director. “We provide a solution to small producers who have a difficult time commercializing their products.”
Auto Mercado, the national grocery store chain, is their No. 1 client.
By 10:30 a.m., Albín Cerdas, Cerdas’ husband, has sold his farm’s offerings. This weekly market, which happens every Saturday at Hotel Giardino Tropicale, will continue through August. It is the Cerdas’ primary point of sale.
“The local markets offer more diverse products,” says Echeverría. “And they offer more traditional products, like jocote and tacacos, that aren’t profitable for commercial producers to grow.”
Blanca Cerdas also serves black corn juice and arroz con leche to customers with a curious appetite.
“Ninety-nine percent of our clients are foreigners,” says Albín Cerdas. “The Ticos are still discovering the benefits of organic products.”
Local expats shop with canvas, reusable grocery bags and plastic bins and fill out produce order forms for next week.
The Cerdas family transport their products down from their five-acre farm in Cerro Negro, high in the hills that run the length of the NicoyaPeninsula.
“Beginning in January, at the height of production, we offer more than 20 products along with medicinal plants like basil, mint, rosemary and yerba buena,” says Albín Cerdas.
Production all but dries up during the wettest months – from late August through early November – because the Cerdases can’t afford greenhouses.
In a nearby stand, Tony Kast hawks organic meat products, like black forest ham, bratwurst and pressack, a German head cheese. He tends 150 sheep, 50 chickens and 60 pigs on a 30-acre farm in Hojancha, tucked in the hills that climb up nearby and are a short distance from the Cerdases’ land. The Saturday market is his primary retail outlet, too.
“I do this alone,” says Kast. “All the good workers go to the beach.”
“Our philosophy as producers is to sell directly to the public,” says Albín Cerdas. He envisions eventually selling his products in organic markets in Tamarindo, Playa Portrero and Playa Hermosa.
Echeverría says organic farming protects aquifers, conserves soil, promotes plant biodiversity and produces foods with high levels of nutrients.