Many UGA Costa Rica students know Rancho de Lelo as a place to find delicious tilapia and a good time, but the restaurant is also a model for the kind of sustainable business Costa Rica looks to grow. The restaurant recently earned a Blue Flag Certification for its efforts to preserve land and water quality in the area. Aurelio Mata Leiton, whose nickname is Lelo, worked for more than a year to finalize the certification.
To celebrate this achievement, the family welcomed local students from Bajo San Luis as well as University of Georgia students completing classwork here in Costa Rica. A ceremony marked the event and students also were treated to lunch and a tour of the property.
Everyone who visits Rancho de Lelo leaves with much more than just a delicious fish dinner. Lelo leads guests through paths where ripe mangos and avocados hang down from branches above. Standing by his tilapia ponds with the beautiful hills of San Luis in the distance, his passion for the land is clear.
Lelo built his business little by little, beginning with a single tilapia pond. He opened the restaurant at the start of 2011, continuing to expand with three more ponds to improve the farming process. Guests sometimes wade into the pond to catch their own dinner. A soccer field soon joined the open-air dinning area to create a new area for his guests to enjoy. The next phase of his plan includes a swimming pool and several cabanas where guests can stay on the property overnight.
He raises his own pork for the restaurant and their waste is treated and broken down anaerobically in a biodigestor. The biodigestor is one of several in the community installed by UGA Costa Rica. The methane gas created by the waste breakdown is piped back to the kitchen where it saves the family energy and money. Additionally, the water byproduct at the end of the process can be safely released back into the environment. This improvement was one of the key features that helped earn the Blue Flag Certification for Lelo’s.
Blue Flag Certification began in 1996 as an effort to encourage coastal communities to clean up beaches and improve water quality. Since then, the program has expanded to many other communities throughout Costa Rica.
“This has been a goal for my dad,” said Beatriz Mata Cruz, Lelo’s daughter. “He really wanted it, so he’s been working on it to make it all come together. It’s really good for business. We have the organic farm and we treat the water here. That’s one thing my dad wanted to show people — that you can produce everything in one place.”