June 2-3, 2017: Finca Bona Fide on Isla de Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua

lenticular clouds coming off concepcion
Lenticular clouds blowing off of Vulcan Concepción on Isla de Ometepe

From Granada, we travelled to Rivas/San Jorge, where we caught a ferry to Moyogalpa on the Isla de Ometepe. The island is formed by two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, rising out of Lake Nicaragua. The name “Ometepe” is derived from the Nahuatl words ome and tepetl meaning two mountains. The two volcanoes are joined by a low isthmus to form the island. In Moyogalpa, we were picked up by Mitch Haddad, our host and one of the owners of Finca Bona Fide, our destination for the next 24 hours. After a brief tour of the island, we arrived at the Finca just in time for an amazing home-cooked meal.

Path leading to Finca Bona Fide and Harper faculty lounging in dining area.

After falling asleep to a chorus of at least six different frog species, and enjoying a splendid and very solid sleep in one of Finca Bona Fide’s open-air bunk shelters, we awoke the next morning to vocal howler monkeys, parakeets, kiskadees, magpie jays, and domestic roosters.

We were thirteen of the two to three-thousand visitors received by the island each year.  Finca Bona Fide exists to collaborate with the Isla de Ometepe and mainland Nicaraguan communities, to provide an opportunity for sustainable-agriculture research and development, and serve as a demonstration farm.

Open-air bunkhouses and “facilities”

With many plants throughout Isla de Ometepe having come from the farm, Finca Bone Fide’s effectiveness as a demonstration farm is clear, but that function does not provide sufficient funds to keep the operation “afloat.”  The farm is presently supported by a diverse group of institutions including Arizona State University, McGill, Brandeis, Union College, Presidio, and a random assortment of other colleges, universities, and even high schools.  Recent research at Finca Bone Fide has focused on maximizing growth and production of similar plants (e.g., jackfruit and mango), maximizing nitrogen-fixing crops, and ally cropping.  It is tough getting grants, and sometimes “non-profit work sucks,” according to Mitch Haddad, our host, who arrived 16 years ago from the Boston area, and he appears entrenched in the operation.  To supplement his income, he teaches courses throughout Nicaragua and works for the Where There Be Dragons organization in the United States.  Across all areas of responsibility, the farm has a 20-person staff, including college-aged interns from around the world.  The group of interns assembled at the time of our visit was very enthusiastic about their service at the farm.

Faculty sitting on tree platform with view of Vulcan Concepción.

It is the philosophy of the Finca Bona Fide mind trust that because nature works in four dimensions (length x width x height x time), the success of farming should likewise be measured in four dimensions, rather than the conventional, two-dimensional model of bushels per acre.  With Guanacaste and Spanish cedar trees providing the canopy, coconuts right below the canopy, mandarins and papaya below the coconuts, bananas and plantains comprising the next layer, chilies and coffee serving as shrubbery, peanuts being the herbaceous ground plants, and ginger and turmeric beneath the ground, the farm is a simple model of the stratification of a mature, tropical forest.  The development of permaculture at Finca Bona Fide, through experiments and replication, has filled niches, mimicking ecological succession.

Permaculture tour of farm

There may be people who question some of the methods of the Finca Bona Fide team (e.g., introducing non-native plants into the farm and the lack of records of their research), but it is hard to find fault with their priorities.  Since the farm’s “birth” on 25 acres of pasture in 2001, the priorities have been to

  • Care for the earth
  • Care for people
  • Have self-control of function and growth
  • Redistribute surplus
  • Have a transitional ethic

As we departed Finca Bona Fide, we were asked to take whatever waste could not be composted or stuffed into plastic two-liter bottles (“eco-bricks”) with us.

Eco-bricks in action: from plastic receptacles to construction material.

Since Isla de Ometepe was once the Somoza family’s island farm get-away, some of wondered aloud if the General would have “packed it in and packed it out.”


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