The Climate Change Solution Lies in Nature: Regenerative Agriculture at Finca Luna Nueva

“This is the only way that we can stop and reverse climate change. Thirty-five percent of carbon emissions are from farming. Worldwide there are over five billion hectares of land used for farming and grazing. If they all use regenerative agriculture, it will take about 20 years to stop climate change.” Royvin Gutierrez, a guide at eco-lodge Finca Luna Nueva tells me as we tour their farm. 

Described as a “living paradise”, Finca Luna Nueva occupies 90 hectares of lush forest on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica’s continental divide, a region home to more than 10 different life zones. Neighboring the 250,000 acres of protected forest that include the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in the volcanic highlands, one of the largest protected regions of rainforest north of the Amazon, Finca Luna Nueva plays a crucial role in the conservation of the vibrant ecosystem in which they are located. But for the hotel’s founder Steven Farrell, it is about more than preservation. He tells me, “By educating our guests, they not only learn how we work to reduce carbon, produce healthy food, increase biodiversity on our farm and lodge, they take some of the ideas and concepts when they return home.” 

Now, more than ever, education is crucial to not only preserve our planet, but attempt to reverse the damaging impacts of climate change that have resulted from conventional farming. Creating a larger carbon footprint than all cars, planes, and trains combined, ruining soil biodiversity with toxic synthetic pesticides, and consuming 70 percent of the world’s water, it is no surprise that scientists predict current industrial farming practices will eliminate topsoil within 60 years. Landscape architect Kate Orff says, “We have altered the chemistry of our water. We have clear-cut forests. It’s not like we can stop now and think that nature is going to regenerate. We have to actively unmake some of the decisions we’ve made in the past, give these ecosystems a boost and design our way into them being able to get back into a regenerative cycle.” What if that design solution to not only preserve, but restore, the earth’s vitality, could be found in nature? 

The key lies in regenerative agriculture, a circular process that nature has intuitively been practicing for 3.8 billion years. While the forest naturally draws down excess carbon dioxide, industrial techniques and pesticides have interrupted that process. Regenerative agriculture involves producing only what you need while simultaneously revitalizing the soil with organic farming techniques, such as rotational grazing and crop diversification, to return carbon to the ground. Long-term benefits include greater yields, healthier water systems, fewer threats to wildlife, less pollution and environmentally-caused diseases, and more nutritious food. It is estimated that applying regenerative agriculture to five billion hectares of farmland globally would reduce carbon by 15 billion tons over a 20-year trajectory, returning the planet to pre-industrial levels. 

While the food industry will play a crucial role in shifting large-scale farming practices from linear and degenerative to circular and regenerative, tourism, given its global nature, is uniquely positioned to become a leading industry in sustainable farming. Since 1994, Finca Luna Nueva has been at the forefront of regenerative agriculture, setting an example to other properties and business owners, as well as guests, that a hotel can be a holistic, self-sustaining enterprise that gives back to, rather than takes from, the planet. Honouring that the forest has its own natural cycle to replenish the soil, Finca Luna Nueva plants trees that grow quickly so that they will form a canopy, naturally collapse, and return carbon to the soil that will then be absorbed by the surrounding flora. Instead of chemical pesticides, they use plants that act as natural repellants to pests. On-site cows rotate between 29 different plots for grazing, to allow adequate time for the grass to restore. Finca Luna Nueva not only produces in a way that contributes to the future success of their immediate surrounding environment, but by planting seeds of knowledge in every guest, they are contributing to the successful regeneration of soil around the world.  

Farrell believes, “Education is key to change habits and lifestyles.” A central component of that education at Finca Luna Nueva is the experience. One taste of their food, 60 percent of which is grown on-site, and the benefits of regenerative agriculture become undeniable. Cows are fed a mix of plants high in protein and probiotics, rather than processed grains, resulting in more nutritious milk, yogurt, and ice cream. Fruits and vegetables are rich in flavor and texture as a result of being harvested without chemical pesticides. As Kinga Kordan, the on-site healer, describes, “The tomatoes [at the grocery store] look plastic-y and perfect but you bite in and it is just water. You come here, taste the vegetables and it’s a completely different world”. Not only does the food taste fresher, many of the dishes are made more nourishing through the incorporation of medicinal plants sourced from their Sacred Seeds Sanctuary; a garden that boasts more than 300 healing plants. The education starts on the tours where guests witness how Finca Luna Nueva produces their food, but it becomes transformative once visitors taste the difference. 

Learning is at the heart of Finca Luna Nueva, but it not only benefits foreign travellers who take their knowledge back to their respective countries, it is also shared close to home. For head chef, Jenny Gamboa, this is her first farm-to-table experience in 18 years of cooking. While she previously had only cooked International cuisines, when she joined Finca Luna Nueva two years ago, she learned how to make healthier versions of her recipes. Her face lights up as she says “aprendi mucho”, she has learned so much. Similarly, Gutierrez says, “In the last five months I’ve learned more than I have in the last 10 years. I like that I can apply what I learn here to my own home.” Some hotels push sustainability on their guests yet fail to educate their own employees, let alone their surrounding communities. Finca Luna Nueva demonstrates that it is just as important to educate on the local level. 

Given that the global agricultural system is largely controlled by a select few corporations, individual players in all industries involved in food production will have to be proactive in advocating for sustainable practices if they want to see real change. The role of hotels is not to be underestimated, “It should be the number one priority for the tourist industry. We must work on ways to attract more tourists that begin to think about the carbon footprint of their vacation and how to offset it,” says Farrell. While solutions to climate change are often associated with innovation and technology, Finca Luna Nueva shows us that the answer lies in simply allowing nature to do what it has always done. As Gutierrez says, “Everything we need is found here in the forest.”  

Book your stay at Finca Luna Nueva with Regenerative Travel to receive exclusive membership perks.

Photography by: Anna Haines

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