In 1994, a shaggy Gringo made his home at a remote little farm south of La Fortuna, in Costa Rica’s Central Highlands. He grew his living in the form of organic turmeric and ginger, and today that same hippie, Steven Farrell, oversees 207 acres of biodynamic farm at the same site, along with a spa, a rain forest yoga studio and an eco-lodge. Farrell calls his operation Finca Luna Nueva – New Moon Farm.
He welcomes guests to stay, rest and learn about the property, though it remains a working ginger and turmeric farm that accommodates more pigs, goats and water buffalo than people. I recently traveled to this far-flung green gem and received a lesson in what it means to be a biodynamic operation.
Basically, the farm takes a holistic approach to organic agriculture that incorporates the use of farm animals for fertilization and labor, as well as astronomical planting and harvesting. Biodynamic agriculture was pioneered in 1924 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and its sometimes bizarre practices are followed worldwide – particularly in northern California.
Farrell describes the biodynamic process as the homeopathic use of organics, cosmic energy, minerals and herbs to create a form of spiritual agriculture.
Farrell is a self-taught encyclopedia about the natural world surrounding his farm, and he can rattle off plant names in English, Spanish and Latin. When speaking of the flora’s medicinal qualities, Farrell beams behind his great white beard and excitedly tells you all he knows.
“You can come to this nice place to eat healthy, be well and have a comfortable vacation from the world,” he said. “But here you can also learn from nature how to live in a more sustainable way. We grow and eat food that is really food, not an imitation. Hopefully aspects of how we live here can be extended into your lifestyle, wherever you live.”
Farrell and those who live at Finca Luna Nueva, including several interns, serve as sustainability guides with their educational nature walks, lovingly prepared food and simple kindness. Intern Cathryn Henning works the fields in the mornings in tall boots as a protection from snakes, and devises new ways to keep the turmeric and ginger plants healthy. In the afternoon she’s in the café, whisking up papaya-turmeric-vanilla-ginger smoothies and chocolates for guests.
“The farm is unique for its intention,” she said, which is to “re-associate” with nature by escaping worldly distractions and living more simply.
On the Sacred Seed Garden Tour, guests can smell and taste the sources of spices like cinnamon, bitters, and allspice. Farrell encouraged me to eat various leaves and bright fruits, which was an especially thrilling departure from the adult voice in my head warning me not to put strange things in my mouth.
On the jungle tours, the staff shares some of the most interesting tidbits about the local trees. For example, I learned about how matapalo trees use their killer vines to climb up other species and slowly strangle them. I also found out that the sap of certain trees makes excellent bug repellent (warning: when rubbed on the skin to deflect mosquitoes, the sap dries in annoying white streaks).
Around the property, ripe jackfruit, bananas and star fruit beckon to be picked from the trees. In the café, freshly made sarsaparilla soda and green tea kombucha are favorites, as are the whole wheat bread at breakfast, the yuca cakes filled with tree spinach at lunch and the coconut-crusted fish at dinner. For a lesson in food chemistry, ask Farrell about the “miracle berries” that block the tongue’s sour receptors and turn the tartest lemon into the sweetest dessert.
In addition to the fine organic dining, the property features an ozonated pool and Jacuzzi, an on-call massage therapist and a yoga platform ensconced in the rainforest. The rooms have especially comfortable beds that are regularly adorned with fresh ferns and marigolds. There is no television.
On her second visit to Finca Luna Nueva, Oriental medicine and acupuncture practitioner Claudette Baker said she is fascinated by the healing capability of the farm. She’s organizing a yoga retreat there for a group of her patients who have survived cancer.
“This place has a simple elegance,” said Baker, who is from the U.S. City of Chicago. “Here there is no pollution or modern noise. The oxygen and energy is pure and there are few distractions.”
Rates range $70 a night for a room to $80 for individual bungalows to $100 for family bungalows. Prices vary by season. See http://fincalunanuevalodge.com for details and directions.