Enter The Dragon

Irene Rinaldi

With farms on our collective minds recently, considering how edibles grow, why we plant this versus that. Thanks to Alexander Villegas, a journalist and farmer, for today’s look at what grows where, and why, in a bittersweet story about a family farm in northwest Costa Rica:

My Family Had Suffered Loss After Loss. Then Came the Dragon Fruit.

In an area devastated by droughts and erratic rainfall, I took a chance on a bright little magenta ball of hope.

LIBERIA, Costa Rica — I hated the family farm as a kid.

It was hot; it reeked of manure; and it’s where a tree crushed and killed my grandfather. When we visited, I spent my time playing with my Game Boy while the other kids took turns riding young bulls.

So I was surprised when my dad asked me to take the farm over last year. He’d recently retired and was planning on selling part of it to pay off his house in the city. He’d live off the rest and drive up to the farm throughout the week. But the lawyer he hired stole the land. My dad lost his house and was afraid he’d lose everything else.

I agreed to Dad’s request, but had no idea what to do. I’m a journalist and was spending nearly every waking hour in front of a computer running a small newspaper in the capital, San José. The farm was a few hours north, in Guanacaste, a province known for beautiful beaches and cattle farms. It’s also known for its increasingly severe droughts.

Guanacaste sits in Central America’s Dry Corridor, nearly 1,000 miles of land that stretches from Mexico to Panama and is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change. Temperatures are rising; the corridor is growing; and droughts and erratic rainfall take turns devastating the region and the livelihoods of the millions of residents. In 2014, the area’s worst drought in more than 80 years caused an estimated $25 million in damage to Costa Rica’s cattle and agricultural sector.

At first, I thought about selling the farm. Though I’m a meat-eater, I’m not a fan of the cattle industry because of the havoc it wreaks on the environment. Not to mention I have vivid memories of giant bruises people on the farm would get from cattle kicks. But the newspaper crumbled last May, and I needed something else to dive into.

I started researching an alternative to cattle farming and stumbled upon dragon fruit, which is packed with vitamins, nutrients and bright magenta flesh. It also grows on a cactus native to that part of Costa Rica and can survive months without water. Even its Latin name, Hylocereus costaricensis, seemed perfect…

Read the whole op-ed here.

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