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A number of months ago, we welcomed Stephen Brooks to Nature Blog. Stephen is a very high energy guy, who is on a mission in Costa Rica. He is an environmental warrior, a proponent of eating healthy foods, and an advocate for sustainable living. Presently, he is very involved in launching the Machuca community, an eco-village project in San Mateo de Orotina, located in the north Pacific region of the country. This serves as the back drop for Stephen’s current contribution. He has a great perspective on where we are at and where we need to be going and I encourage you to read on.

“In 1995, while on vacation in Costa Rica, I witnessed a playground full of indigenous children getting sprayed by a crop duster while playing Soccer. I learned how in order to grow cheaper and cheaper bananas entire ecosystems and countless lives are being destroyed, and this realization changed my life forever and led to a series of business mostly focused in Costa Rica.  I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could a society that has achieved so much be so destructive? We can zip around the world on jets and video chat through our cell phones and yet most of the food we eat is grown with harmful chemicals, while the last remaining sustainable farmers are less and less able to stay in business. So those who should be teaching the whole world how to become sustainable are themselves being lost to unsustainable global trends. We have to turn this around. We can’t think of anything more important to do and so that is what we are devoting our lives to. Whether its through the development of sustainable communities (Kopali Communities) or through the marketing of products grown and produced by sustainable farmers (Kopali Organics).

 Kopali Club HouseIt is always hard to imagine just how much work it takes to go from a dream to a real project that actually works. But after we experienced what it was like to live in harmony on a sustainable farm, we realized there are few things more important than working to make this way of life possible for others. Also, there is a race against time. Every day thousands of acres of irreplaceable rainforest and other ecosystems are being destroyed forever, countless family farmers are being driven off of their lands, and invaluable knowledge of how to live sustainably is being lost forever. All the while all kinds of real estate developments and planned communities are being developed in countries all over the world, sometimes even claiming to be “eco-friendly”. Creating successful and viable alternatives, is work we are called to do, even when the going gets tough. What else are we going to do?

Many people have a strong desire and calling to live in a sustainable farm based community. Many people have even been dreaming and planning this for a long time. But finding and securing land with good weather, water, fertile soil and where it is legal to live and farm are obstacles that very few have overcome. Also setting up the basic physical infrastructure to start living on the land is much more difficult than most people can imagine. So for too many their dreams remain just that, dreams. With Kopali, even though we are just getting started with the actual community of people who will live on the land, what’s already in place is a farm that has eternal spring weather, countless varieties of tropical fruit trees dripping with fruit, a river that you can dive into and swim in crystal clear water, lots that each have a legal title, spectacular communal gardens, a greenhouse filled with hundreds of varieties of edible and beautiful plants, ponds stocked with tilapia and fresh water clams, and the list goes on

Working wherever you are doing whatever you can to live more sustainably is critical regardless of where you live. Costa Rica is a very important country because of its unparalleled biodiversity, eco friendly laws, absence of military, perfect weather, and a ‘good life’ loving culture. And foreign interests and investments are already affecting the country in not so good ways. So for us working in Costa Rica to create alternatives to the otherwise destructive development practices that are becoming more and more prevalent is critical. Kopali will be a community where people of many different nationalities, including of course the local Tico (Costa Rican) community will be able to practice and teach sustainable living at its best. But that does not mean that Costa Rica is the only place to practice and teach sustainable living. Wherever we are, we all have to learn how to live in harmony with our communities and with the planet we all share!

The first time we learned how much CO2 is released into the atmosphere when flying back and forth from Costa Rica, we started a project called the Sustainable Solutions Caravan that drove buses that we modified to run on recycled vegetable oil as fuel from California all the way down to Costa Rica. It was one of the most effective and fun projects we ever did. We had the opportunity to not only prove that we could travel the distance on renewable (free) fuel, but also, because of all the media attention we got, we had the honor to speak to millions of people about sustainable solutions. These days we are not running the bus tours, but we are very aware of the trade offs involved in traveling. All of our travel is pretty much devoted to promoting sustainable lifestyles, and also the products grown by the network of farmers around the world that we support through our organic and fair trade snack line, Kopali Organics. We do our best, we are looking into carbon offsetting as much as possible, and still we look forward to the day when we ourselves travel less.

We live in an interconnected and globalized world. This is not going to change, or at least its not going to change any time soon. We are huge fans of local living communities that support local businesses, local farmers, and lifestyles that promote smaller ecological footprints.  There is so much talk about eating “locally grown” food.  How local can it be?  Can the land we live on also provide the food that we eat.  Can a planned community be created that takes this into account and works this into the very design and make up of the land it sits on.  That is what we have done here.  I have yet to experience this anywhere in the world.  I have seen a family or a few families living on land where they are able to grow most of the food that they eat, but a whole community or village striving to do this together???  Kopali Communities is the first!”