Imagine a verdant eight hectares of native Galapagos plants and a misty overlook of a bay dotted with boats.
Imagine fresh lemons, oranges, grapefruit, papaya, pineapple, guava, passionfruit. Imagine yuca, sweet potatoes, corn, beans. lettuce, carrots, beets, radishes, and tomatoes. Then imagine losing half of this crop to Galapagos bugs and birds. Imagine trading bananas for locally-caught fish.
Imagine fresh eggs. Fresh water. Fresh coffee. Fresh compost, including human waste. And an $8 bill for electricity.
This is the life for Scott Henderson (Regional Director of Marine Conservation at Conservation International) and Maria Elena Guerra (Head of Finance and Administration for the Galapagos Eco-region at the World Wildlife Fund) who live here in the highlands of Puerto Ayora on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz. Over the last three years, they have transformed a humble house and abandoned farm overgrown with invasive species into a productive farm and model of ‘green living’ (and it’s quite literally green after this year’s substantial rainfall).
Henderson and Guerra have replaced endemic plants and trees with a focus on the threatened endemic species, such as scalesia, a genus of trees endemic to Galapagos and listed on the IUCN Red List.
Scalesia is, according to Henderson, “the plant equivalent to Darwin’s finches–there are 21 varieties, most of which are endangered.”
“We try to continue to reforest to offset carbon from travel but we’re not quantitative about it,” says Henderson. “The truth is, we would reforest anyway. We also try to eliminate food miles by producing our own food.”
The native plants are complemented with coffee plants and lots of other fruits and vegetables. This year the farm produced about 800 pounds of organic roasted coffee they call “Lava Java” and so far sell only locally.
“Like anyone who does this, you have to eat piles of whatever is abundant at the time,” said Henderson. “I even eat the radishes, which I don’t like.” He beats the bugs to them.
“Here, with an organic farm, you lose probably 50 percent of production to the bugs,” said Henderson. “This year, we finally got two watermelons out of the 50 that started.”
But Henderson is not bothered. The only real sacrifice in his mind is not having a pet. “He would love to have a dog and a cat,” he said. “But we don’t have them because we don’t think it’s consistent with what we are trying to do.”
Instead, the Henderson-Guerra farm is home to all eight finches found on Santa Cruz and at least one endangered Galapagos petrel.
“Partly, this is a big experiment,” said Henderson. “Rather than telling everyone else what they should be doing, we thought we would try to do it ourselves.”
So first they kept the original house. Guerra said she used see that house and think, “owning that house is my worst nightmare.” Then they bought it and started making green improvements. They added a composting toilet.
They collect rainwater from their roof in a large tank that they hope would last them up to three years without rain. They added a filter system with UV treatment. The island of Santa Cruz has a dire shortage of clean water. Most people bathe and often even cook with salty water filled with E. coli. The water on the Henderson-Guerra farm is probably the cleanest on the island. Guerra says she feels badly for the people in town still bathing in the bad water when rain collection is so easy.
In terms of energy, Henderson and Guerra bought an efficient refrigerator and installed all compact fluorescent light bulbs. They installed solar panels and, for several months, they lived only on the solar energy. But during the cloudy season they couldn’t even run their refrigerator. They moved onto the grid, which didn’t fit their original model, but Henderson’s green enthusiasm is infallible.
“We don’t agonize over what we do wrong,” he said. “Instead, we just always try to get better.”
Scott Henderson and Maria Elena Guerra in front of a scalesia tree on their Galapagos farm. See more photos of the farm after the jump.