It was 1950, and the Korean war had just begun. The millitary had begun drafting young men to become soldiers in the armed forces, but there was a small group of Quakers and pacifists from Fairhope, Alabama whose beliefs led them to become conscientious objectors. Four Quakers had just been arrested for refusing to participate in the draft and now others were looking for a place to live in peace. Just one year before, Huber Mendenhall, leader of the group, had joined a farm tour in which one of the stops was Monteverde, Costa Rica. A dairy farmer, he noted the cooler climate and rich soil would be good conditions for dairy cattle and that the local Costa Ricans were extremely welcoming. Not only that, but two years prior, on December 1, 1948, President Jose Figueres Ferrer abolished Costa Rica’s national military. Knowing that they could make a living here in the fertile lands and would never again need fear being drafted for a war they did not believe in, Mendenhall and his group left Fairhope and began the almost 3,000 mile journey to Monteverde.
The Quakers soon became an important presence in the Monteverde community, helping to build schools and clinics, and founding the Monteverde Cheese Factory, where many locals sell the milk from their dairy cattle. In the 1980’s a Quaker woman from Ohio named Anna Kriebel became a fixture in the community. She could always be found in the San Luis community nearby Monteverde where she worked to provide literacy training, health care, nutrition, and lessons on environmental conservation to the community members. When she died unexpectedly of an infection, Quaker Earthcare Witness, an American network of Quakers joined with the Monteverde Quakers to purchase 49 hectares (121 acres) of land in her memory. This plot was named “Finca La Bella” or “Beautiful Farm.” Some of this plot is reserved for biological conservation, and the rest was parceled out to 24 local, formerly landless, families to plant or tend dairy cattle. The idea was for this land to be handed down through generations, with parents teaching their children the skills they needed to be good stewards of the land.
Today, these 24 families have formed a coalition that meets twice a year to discuss issues that affect all farms. While Finca La Bella may seem like a cooperative, the families retain the right to produce what they will on their own farms. Most either have dairy cattle or a combination of fruit trees, coffee, and sugar cane on their plots of 1-2 hectares. Some families have their own special projects like educational tours. Here at UGACR, our coffee tours visit three different families, all of which grow coffee on their own lot of Finca La Bella. These small lots are farmed sustainably and are mostly cared for in the families’s spare time. Most of what is produced goes to the family’s home and then surplus is shared, traded, or sold. Many of Finca La Bella’s farms sell their surplus to UGACR for our delicious, organic meals. Just like Monteverde, Finca La Bella has a rich, interesting story that still lives on today and will likely be passed down for generations to come.
Click here for a photo album of our coffee tours in Finca La Bella.
Text by Erin Burnett, UGACR photojournalism intern, photos by John Campbell