A women’s orchid-growing cooperative in the Guanacaste hill country

Margarita Ponce Prtiz, member of the women's orchid-growing collective in Quebrada Grande; photo by Erin Van Rheenen

Margarita Ponce Ortiz, member of the women's orchid-growing collective in Quebrada Grande

Through Curubanda Lodge’s ‘social tourism’ program, I could have met up with the proprietors of many small, locally-owned businesses in the hill country of Guanacaste, including a bakery in Dos Rios and a small cheese producer in El Consuelo that makes everything by hand and recycles all that they can, including using the pig dung in biodigestors to make methane gas for cooking.

I visited a women’s cooperative in Quebrada Grande that raises orchids and ornamental plants for sales. The cooperative—the Asociacion de Mujeres Activas de Quebrada Grande (The Active Women’s Association of Quebrada Grande) and spoke with sisters Margarita Ponce Ortiz and Mayra Ponce Ortiz. They showed me around the small but impressive vivero (nursery), where they grow orchids (though they say it’s a little too warm there for that ‘crop’), flowering plants, and even reina de la noche (brugmansia) —with its long, fragrant bell-shaped flowers that supposedly have hallucinogenic properties.

A woman's cooperative nursery in Guanacaste

A woman's cooperative nursery in Guanacaste

The cooperative began two and a half years ago when the amas de casa (housewives) of this poor town were looking for a way to make a little extra money and to feel util (useful). Quebrada Grande is on a sliver a land between two national parks, and there isn’t much work to be had here. The majority of the people don’t have much education, so their options are even slimmer.

The women took a course with INA (a government agency that provides job training), who came to Quebrada Grande to teach them how to grow and care for plants.

They started with 40 cooperative members, Margarita told me, but are down to 12, because people want fast money, and the nursery is a slow-growing business that requires patience and dedication.

“The men all say women can’t stick with anything, and we want to show them wrong,” said Margarita.

“But right now we’re having trouble because we don’t have a market for our plants. We take them to ferias (farmer’s markets), but we pay so much for transport that we hardly make any profit.” She looked out over the rows of plants. “We’re thinking of building a web page.”

Wilbirth told me on the way back from the visit to the nursery that Curubanda Lodge was also planning a major upgrade to its web site. I told him that most people I know planned trips by doing research on the web, so that was probably time and money well spent.  But the women’s nursery—I’m not sure how they would benefit from a web page.

Vamos a ver. We’ll see.

  • By Charleen McKay, May 24, 2010 @ 10:20 am

    I am from the USA and have been researching volunteering opportunities. Does this womens cooperative still exist? Wouldn’t it be great to find a way to export the plants to the USA? Is it possible?

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