April 5, 2011
Faith, hope and living off the land
Earth Rose Farm in Costa Rica is situated on a remote hillside between the villages of Santa Fe and Esperanza, or “faith” and “hope.”
It takes faith and hope to get there.
It’s located only a few miles off the main road of the sleepy town of San Isidro de El General, but getting there is a half-hour trek in a 4x4 along narrow, hilly roads overlooking lush cliffs fenced by trees.
For the dozen or so American farmers who have settled in this fertile countryside to conduct experiments in self-sustaining permaculture, isolation from civilization is part of the charm. With proper preparation, a family can live on the farm indefinitely without ever having to leave for food.
“After three heart operations, I realized a change was needed in my existence, and the word ‘self-sustaining’ became very important to me and my family,” said the farm’s founder, MaJi (pronounced May-Jai), from a termite-ridden farmhouse he plans to tear down once his two-bedroom home is ready.
Story continues after the jump.
With scraggly long hair giving away his hippie roots, MaJi could pass for a Happy Minyan rabbi, except that his white beard is cut Amish style. MaJi often takes people by surprise, breaking out in poetry (“You have to toil the soil, then it won’t spoil …”), borrowing inspiration from his favorite biblical hero, David.
“My problem with the West is that when you got to the supermarket and you buy a tomato, a potato, a watermelon or a bunch of bananas, you do not know where the seed came from. Is it a genetically modified organism or natural? You do not know the chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides that have been used. You don’t know what water was used — who it’s been with.”
Six years ago, MaJi and his microbiologist wife, Rosie, scoured lands in Central America and decided on Costa Rica for its beauty as well as its lack of an army and international banking system — qualities that have given it the appellation “the Switzerland of Central America.”
Depending on the season, they grow bananas, papayas, pineapples, coffee, sweet potatoes, lettuce, kale, spinach and peppers on 50 acres of land. Two newborn calves have recently joined the family of five cows, two horses and dozens of chickens.
Born Mario Luigi Galeazzi in Boston, MaJi said his maternal grandmother docked at Ellis Island as a Jew, but his mother, an Italian Sicilian, suppressed her own Jewish identity. The name Galeazzi, he said, goes back to Galilean Jews exiled to Sicily by the Romans. But he prefers the legal name he took in 1977, MaJi, which he said came to him in a dream.
MaJi lived in Los Angeles in his late teens and early 20s, traveled the world as a substitute teacher and fabric merchant, and in the late 1990s settled in Florida, where he was a co-founding member of the Nokomis Beach & Siesta Key drum circle community.
“I consider myself a child of God,” he said. “I’m not religious, but I’m not anti-religious.”
He likes referring to the Bible, Judaism and Israel to describe his farm, often likening it to a kibbutz, a system of rural living requiring residents to live largely by what they produce off the land. Israelis, among his first crew of volunteers, helped install the farm’s electrical lighting system.
At Earth Rose Farm, no natural resource is wasted. Near the greenhouse, he opened wooden worm bins filled with cow and horse dung, which worms consume and convert to nutritious soil.
“A genuine, healthy, Jewish family is similar to an organic garden,” he said. “You got to nurture. You got to weed — weed out bad friends, negative behavior. You got to nurture with love. Love is the water, and God in the family is the sun. Sun is God to a seed, the light.”
Earth Rose Farm