Life Before Mayani Farms
It's difficult to tell the full story about Mayani Farms without explaining who we were before we became farmers. We were working stiffs who watched the clock as we sat behind a desk, working for someone else, wishing time away.
We each did this for 20+ years.
As we continued to save our money, we looked around at our neighbors—all of whom were busy besting each other with the latest car, fanciest backyard and we asked ourselves, "is this really all there is to life? Surely there is something more meaningful to be done with our lives."
At that age where we were questioning our purpose in life and why were put here, we decided two things:
- Like most people, we'd spent years consuming and usurping Mother Earth's bountiful gifts. We didn't want this to be our personal legacy.
- We wanted to leave behind something that was bigger than ourselves
It was around this time we were living in California and the company we worked for sent Paul to their Puerto Rico office to do some work. On day one of his arrival he was captivated by the island's beauty. On day two he realized how different people were from where we lived. And on day three he insisted Sarah come down here on vacation.
The long story is that it took us 18 months to put our plan into action. The short story is that we put our house on the market, quit our high-paying, incredibly stressful jobs and we moved to Puerto Rico to buy a farm to start the next chapter of our lives.
And here we are!
It's not quite the way either of us would advise anyone to do this.
"Don't move someplace where you don't speak the language fluently first," Sarah advises people all the time.
"Don't move someplace where you know only four people." Paul advises people all the time.
"Have a plan of action, save for your retirement and enjoy the fruits of your labor when you finally do retire." We were told day in and day out over the course of our 25 years in corporate America.
Eschewing all practical advice, which of course had our friends and family thinking we had lost our minds, these two people who knew nothing about farming, and in our mid-40s, left behind careers, a beautiful house, lots and lots of friends and family for a lot of unknowns...
It turns out it's the sanest either of us had ever been in our lives.
The decision to move to Puerto Rico and buy a farm came in 2007. We moved 18 months later. One piece of advice we took seriously was to rent first while doing a reconnaissance mission to find a place to buy. This is sound advice. We checked out about ten farms before we fell in love with this one. None of them was perfect, even this one, mind you. But it had several things that appealed to us:
- The house was set back a ways from the road - our "driveway" is about 400 feet from the road
- Although not private, it's not a well-traveled one
- The house wasn't then and still isn't the center of attraction - the 18 acres was always the selling point
- The view looking out over the balcony was (and of course still is) the epitome of majestic!
- Two people born and raised in the city, the farm is only 25 minutes from town but is deep in the country
- It was priced to sell
And there were several things that made this piece of land anything but ideal.
- At the top of the hill (about 1500 feet up), most of the land is sloped, almost vertical
- The previous owner grew coffee, so there was no shade anywhere (you don't think about how hot the house gets until those summers hit)
- The previous owner used tons of chemical fertilizer, weed killer and pesticides (it's pretty much the norm in farming)
- The previous owner had become very ill (hence the reason he decided to sell) and he hadn't been able to maintain the farm in months. The weeds and vines were out of control.
The first order of business was to rid the farm of the vines and weeds - by hand. The second was to try and restore the terribly damaged soil after years of nitrogen-depleting chemical fertilizer. There aren't many ways to do this other than getting some animals who excrete organic manure and adding it to compost. Reality set in that what we thought was going to be easy was anything but.
Organic and Sustainable Permaculture
Cleaning and attempting to rehabilitate the farm took us nearly two years. People used to ask us questions like:
- "Why don't you just buy Round Up?"
- "Why don't you use herbicida?" (Similar to Round Up)
- "Forget the machete, just spray!"
- "The fertilizer is cheap and the department of agriculture (yes, the same one that exists in the U.S.) gives it to farmers for free. Why would you go to the trouble of making it on your own?"
Cheap, easy, fast: these are not things we came here to do. We could have stayed in corporate life for that.
Our thoughts were simple: people farmed this way for thousands of years before chemicals were developed to make life...easier. Without the benefit of the Internet (meaning access to others who knew what they were doing), if they could figure it out, so could we.
We are still figuring it out. That's half the fun, we've discovered.
Welcome to Mayani Farms today. Although we're not there yet, our goal is not just self-sustaining but to create something that is sustainable. Our hope is that with everything we learn to be a resource to others who wonder whether they, too, can leave their consuming all, all consuming lives and become organic farmers.
The short answer is yes. The longer answer one is, we're happy to have you along for the journey of our lifetime.