Doing Business Right: Reserva Conchal Helps Local Women Provide for Their Families and CommunityWhat happens when women sharing a desire to be entrepreneurs see their husbands working hard at a company with strong community values and support? Hortalizas Najui (Najui Vegetables) is a Guanacaste partnership between five such like-minded women in collaboration with Reserva Conchal and the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA). The joint initiative is already showing impressive results in generating sustainable income for the womens’ families and organic produce for the community.

Four of the original women have spent countless hours learning about horticulture, farming, hydroponics and pH levels to develop the first organic vegetable and herb garden at Reserva Conchal. The goal is to supply 20 percent of the produce to the on-site restaurants and the remaining harvest will be sold by the growers to Reserva Conchal employees and the local community. INTA has been beside them all along, teaching every required skill and working with Reserva Conchal to find the perfect location on its 930-hectare property for creating the farm-to-table organic garden.

Three puzzle pieces

INTA has spent many years studying Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems and how to support agriculture in each one. For Guanacaste, the key challenges include dryness during half of the year and elevations near sea level. For Hortalizas Najui, which was the closest project to the ocean, INTA opted to recreate the casa malla (farm-to-table) model used in other locations and has experimented to find the best combination of hydration and nutrients to cultivate the current crops.

The Reserva Conchal farm-to-table organic garden can be seen on the road between Huacas and Brasilito, across from the bomberos (fire station). It incorporates a hydroponic watering system hat recycles the water daily.  In addition, compost produced on-site from the resort’s hotel wastes provides fertile growing soil. (Learn more about waste management at Reserva Conchal in a May 2019 Howler article.)

Hortalizas Najui supports Reserva Conchal’s triple bottom line strategy, in which financial, social and environmental sustainability are valued equally. The women involved are not only able to give back financially to their families, but also to share their knowledge and sell the fruits of their labor to their neighbors, while supplying the Reserva Conchal restaurants with organically sourced produce. The wider impact is to empower women in the community and support local business, consistent with the core beliefs of Reserva Conchal and its parent company, Florida Ice and Farm Co. (FIFCO).

Uncommon varieties introduced

One of the project’s greatest accomplishments has yielded vegetable varieties not common in this area, such as kale and rugula. The women who worked so diligently to make this possible have taken some of their prized produce home to share with family members and neighbors who have never seen or tasted these types of vegetables. For a community whose diet has been relatively limited, access to more diverse produce options can lead to healthier food choices in the future. Local residents are excited to visit the greenhouse and buy the produce when it’s ready.

“I have been so happy to see these little seeds grow with our love, and to taste these new plants,” says Carolina Canales, whose face shines while describing them. “There is so much to learn; it was hard, but we did it. My family is proud.”

Hortalizas Najui still has some growing pains in terms of fine-tuning the right planting, watering and cultivation for each variety being grown. The first bounty was sold to Reserva Conchal employees in May, with plans for opening to the public in the next few months.