Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Monkey Farm

The Monkey Farm is a combined monkey rescue center in the making and an organic farm in Playa Ocotal, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. It was established in early 2012 by Vicki Conley, a former business-owner who is now learning to live off the land. 

“I have had a home in Costa Rica since 1999 and when I saw this farm, walking distance from the beach in Playa Ocotal, I just fell in love with it. After years of searching, I decided it was the absolute perfect place for my dream of a self-sufficient sustainable farm to practice permaculture and eventually to get off the grid,”

Situated on the beautiful coast, run by lovely people, working on a fantastic vision and offering a huge “experimental playground” for organic permaculture the place attracts an overwhelming demand by volunteers – which is perfect – and they don’t have to pay a dime. So, the Monkey Farm is building a new model combining the best of
- WWOOF’ing
- organic farming
- wildlife conservation
- volunteering
- eco-cultural experience
- self-sustained
- people driven
- community-driven

There’s a beautiful article about them here.
We want to know more and learn about their driving vision, life at the Monkey Farm, how people can get involved, and how we can potentially create such love driven sanctuaries + farms + volunteer havens in other parts of the world… like: everywhere!

Siddhant Sadangi of YouthLeadeR  talks to Vicki to find out about life at this intriguing place.

SS: To begin with, please tell us something about ‘The Monkey Farm’.
VC: The Monkey Farm is a unique combination of an organic farm and a wildlife conservation initiative that is entirely run by international volunteers. We aim to preserve the natural habitat of the howler and white-faced monkeys and eventually become a rescue and rehabilitation center.

SS: Can you walk us through the events and the set-up which led to the inception of this idea?
VC: I am originally from California but I’ve had a home in Costa Rica since 1999. I had always dreamed of living off the land so when I found this place in January 2012, I instantly made a move. I quickly noticed however that the surrounding civilization with electric transformers and power lines is a hostile environment for monkeys. After the horror of burying my first monkey I made some phone calls to get things in motion to protect the monkeys. It was through this series of events that I discovered that the nearest monkey rescue center was over two hours away and that one was needed in this area. Another huge problem is the annual fires that come every year during the six-month dry season and destroy the monkeys’ habitat.

SS: Could you provide a brief outline of The Monkey Farm’spurpose, mission and vision?
VC: Our mission locally is first to secure the monkey habitat. Second, we aim to become a monkey rescue and rehabilitation center coupled with an organic farm that feeds and houses the volunteers who will take care of the monkeys. Globally, however, we wish to be a revolutionary example of an entirely volunteer-driven organic farm and wildlife rescue center.

SS: What is your primary approach to promoting this concept?
VC: We are still taking baby steps but, ideally, it will be a self-sustaining process that will go something like this:
1) We run an exciting volunteering program,
2) The volunteers take care of the farm,
3) The farm produces enough food for the volunteers to eat,
4) We sell high-end organic products and donation-based services that cover the running costs and development of the farm,
5) The revenue stream allows us to run the volunteer program without charging the volunteers a dime.
This is our operational backbone. Strategically, we develop The Monkey Farm towards a full-fledged monkey rescue center that is supported by the farm and the volunteers.


SS: Anybody else in the team? Can you tell us something about them?
VC: I have been, among many other things, a veterinary technician and a wildlife rescuer. The volunteers in our team might not all have such animal-oriented background yet every single one of them provides a diverse set of unique talents.
Tomi (32, Finland) has a background in organizations and management. He is an expert in teamwork, leadership, organizational design and strategy. He brings with him the experience of running a global volunteer organization. He’s also been a social entrepreneur, an editor and graphic designer.
Lea (22, Croatia) is a total animal and plant lover. Whether it’s piglets, hedgehogs, cats, dogs or howlers she takes care of them with uncanny commitment. She has learned the ropes of organic farming in Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Now she goes on preparing, planting, maintaining and harvesting the garden beds on her own.
Daniel (28, Colombia) is the latest addition. As a self-educated cook he’s literally adding an exotic flavor to our team. He is an independent, funny and humble guy, always ready to help anywhere he’s needed. He embodies the qualities we seek in every volunteer. He takes initiative and doesn’t require micro-management.

SS: Playing away from your turf always poses challenges, which were the ones faced by you while establishing and conducting your activities?
VC: It’s tough to run a farm, especially as a single woman! You transplant trees that looked happy in the pot. They touch the soil and die without explanation. You fix your aquaponics system, the plants seem to thrive, you celebrate and the pump breaks down, putting both the plants and the fish in danger. The ducks escape; Dogs have them for a midnight snack. The list is endless! I can pretty much deal with boa constrictors eating my rabbits and cows trampling my garden beds but what has been a nearly insurmountable challenge is the annual fires that spread every January-March. These fires are intentionally set by local property owners who want to clear their land “the easy way”. They light their own land on fire and let it burn out of control. Unfortunately, the high winds carry the fire to neighboring properties, destroying much wildlife and trees, including the trees and gardens that we have planted to help feed not only the monkeys but also the volunteers.

SS: While you battled such challenges, what was the motivation that kept you going?
VC: I love Costa Rica and the wildlife here and I love living only half a mile from the beach. I’ve had to weigh my decision to stay on the farm profoundly, more than once, and always it boils down the same fact: this is where I belong.

SS: Can you provide us a sneak into the activities conducted by you?
VC: Right now we are fighting our way out of a catch-22 situation: we are totally understaffed yet we don’t have infrastructure in place to host all those volunteers who would like to come and help us. In the meantime we have both a farm to run and a fund raising campaign to manage.

SS: How is this idea different from the others?
VC: The Monkey Farm, once properly up and running, is a unique combination of organic farming and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation activities. The farm feeds and houses the volunteers that take care of both the wildlife and the farming.




SS: Is there any moment, incident, or person that has carved a special place in this journey? Our readers will like to hear about this?
VC: Our co-creator and most experienced volunteer, Tomi, has been the driving force behind everything we do here. He helped to crystallize the idea and come up with the plan, but he also keeps us all on track on a daily basis, striving towards our goals. He works tirelessly and often without sleep, yet always has a smile on his face (if he doesn’t I’ll just bribe him with free peanut butter). We couldn’t do any of this if it weren’t for him.

SS: Anybody whom you would give credit for supporting (inspiring) you in this mission?
VC: It’s our volunteers that deserve the greatest thanks. There would be no monkey farm without them. In addition, the local community has stepped up and supported us in a way that I never could have imagined. It’s amazing to see so many people so eager to get involved and help us.

SS: Do you have any future road map for The Monkey Farm considering the positive response it has garnered?
VC: We have devised a four-phase plan of action that reaches until the end of 2016. We are now in phase two, trying to secure the monkey habitat and the farm so that we can establish our production and the volunteer program on a sustainable basis.

SS: Any breakthroughs or achievements which you would like to share?
VC: As said, we have faced huge challenges – such as the annual fires – and it’s a small miracle we still exist. The biggest breakthrough is probably the clarity of direction, the concept of The Monkey Farm itself. Apparently we have been able to communicate a bold and inspiring vision: dozens of volunteers from all over the world have contacted us in order to come and help, people from distant lands are giving to our online donation box, and most importantly the local community stands up for our cause.

SS: There are people and organizations which want to serve the cause; can you guide them about ways to join?
VC: We have a hoard of volunteers knocking at the door, ready to jump in and take us to the next level. To accomplish the plan, however, we need to immediately raise $15,000 through our fund-raising efforts. The Monkey Christmas fund-raising campaign offers the best way you can help right now. There are wonderful rewards available for every donor – no matter how big or small your donation is. Even if you wouldn’t be personally in a position to donate, it’s always a good idea to be a messenger for good: introduce this kind of world-changing initiative to others and challenge them to join as well! We can only succeed if we all work together!

SS: What would be your message for the youngsters reading this?
VC: Go after your dreams. Think outside the box. Be patient. Persevere. Don’t be afraid. Welcome success and ask for help. The help will arrive. Don’t try to do everything on your own. And remember, what you do doesn’t matter as much as how you do it. The intention behind your actions is what counts!

Article reposted from YouthLeader Magazine. Read the original interview here.

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