Porvenir Design Case Study: Brave Earth Retreat Center

Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica

We would like to introduce you to Brave Earth (BE)! We at Porvenir Design (PD) have been working with BE on designing, planning, goal setting, and decision-making processes.

This blog highlights how permaculture design can be used to help projects like Brave Earth better achieve their goals.

BE Community

Brave Earth is a young shareholder based community located on a 35-hectare property in the La Fortuna area of Costa Rica. The project was founded in 2017 by a large group of friends who were connected through their activism and the larger healing arts and medicinal plant communities. 

The project is squarely in the early experimental phase of development. When the entire project’s vision is complete, it will feature a number of different entities including:

  • The BE Healing Arts and Retreat Center: Located on 1.2 hectares of land in the heart of the property, the retreat center, highlighted in this case study, is the current focus of the project’s resources.
  • The BE community: Comprised of 42 shareholders (individuals, couples and families can all co-own shares), each with their own living structure, surrounded by communal infrastructure and land. This aspect of the project is expected to begin construction in 2020.

Brave Earth’s stated mission is to “create a living laboratory in service to regenerative living and co-evolution with nature.” 

Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica

Porvenir Design’s Role

We were hired in December 2018 to create a concept master plan for incorporating food production into the existing concept plan. 

One of our first tasks was facilitating a goal-setting session with the majority of the community shareholders while they were holding their annual shareholder retreat. From this we gathered the basic information (goals, resources, values, etc.) needed to develop a detailed species list and zone out the site based on different land uses, such as kitchen garden or privacy hedges. 

Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica

The implementation over the last few months has focused on the areas where construction is finished, including the edible landscaping around a few of the guest structures, the primary kitchen garden, the construction of a tree nursery and greenhouse, and a number of privacy barriers.

Our entire process was designed to empower the BE community to make decisions on their own, to do the research of plant selection, and the majority of the actual physical labor of moving stones, soil, and plants. We often provide the basic structure and building blocks of a system, but rely on the client to put it all together before we provide final feedback. Our goal is for this community to take full ownership of every plant placed into the ground.

Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica

Invisible Structures

During our initial conversations with shareholders, they expressed that their goal for the site was to grow food for the retreat center kitchen in order to be self-sufficient. In our facilitated goal setting process we:

  • Brainstormed goals, values and preferences for the site.
  • Completed a basic site analysis: sun/shade, water, soil, flow of people, etc.
  • Analyzed existing and future neighboring projects and community resources.
  • Explored in-depth invisible structures such as public/private interactions, decision making, labor, and collaboration between the various Brave Earth entities.

We drew a number of conclusions, opportunities and constraints from this process. 

Given the process we made the decision to re-prioritize and focus the sites landscaping goals on the following:

  • Production of medicinal plants for workshops/retreats, the community apothecary, and for sale in the retreat center store.
  • Growing as much food as possible for the retreat center kitchen, under the following criteria:
  1. Low maintenance growing through species and technique choices.
  2. Minimal processing requirements for kitchen use.
  3. Minimal disturbance of guest experience and privacy.
  4. Aesthetic of walking in a tropical food forest.

There was a noticeable shift from food self-sufficiency to medicinal plant production and low-maintenance farming. Because of this design process, the community will be far more successful in achieving the latter goals than the former.

Physical Structures

Below are key design highlights of the concept plan that are currently being implemented by the Brave Earth team with support from Porvenir Design. 

Plant Guilds: The concept master plan shows the principal agricultural guilds, they are broken down as follows:

Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica

1. Kitchen Garden: The 150 square meter garden will feature perennial greens and vegetables, culinary herbs, and medicinal herbs for teas. As the garden beds were dug out, rotting wood was placed into the bottom of the beds, creating a small hugulkulture for each growing bed.

2. Food Forest: This refers to the majority of the planting space around all the infrastructure. This is the catch-all for the multistory polyculture featuring coconut, jackfruit, breadfruit, cacao, small fruiting shrubs, medicinal herbs, bananas, and all other species. It will blend into the Path Edge guild and the Privacy Hedge guild. It will feel slightly wild, super diverse, and packed with useful plants.

3. Path Edge: The Path Edges will highlight key out-of-hand species that guests can snack on while walking between structures. 

4. Production Fields: These fields will focus on the production of staple crops such as yuca, pineapple, taro, and sweet potato. These spaces may transition into food forests over time.

5. Medicinal Plant Fields: These two large, flat areas will guide guests into the entrance of the Moloca/Yoga space. The bulk of the most important medicinal plants are expected to be harvested here. 

6. Privacy Hedge: The privacy hedges will share similar plant patterns to the food forest, but with select species that can be maintained as significant visual barriers and whose yield/needs don’t interfere with guest privacy.

Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica

As seen in the pictures below, the retreat center is populated by a number of impressive bamboo, earthen and air-crete structures for guest lodging and dining experiences. All of the planting work is designed to emphasize and highlight these unique structures.

Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica
Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica
Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica
Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica
Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica

Education and Retreats

The Brave Earth community will rely on the Healing Arts Retreat Center to provide a steady source of income to community shareholders in the future. In the past year, this included Air-Crete Dome construction workshops, visits from Costa Rican schools such as Veritas University, biomimicry workshops, and men’s retreats.

As the community matures, and as the site moves out of being a construction site, the retreat center will focus on personal healing work and regenerative teaching initiatives. Currently, we are leveraging the development of the site to offer a Permaculture Design Certification course.

Permaculture Design Course

In order to continue training the Brave Earth community to better engage their site and its full potential, Porvenir Design is hosting a Permaculture Design Certification Course in October, 2019. The course will be hosted by Brave Earth, but will also take full advantage of their partner Finca Luna Nueva’s space. This will be an excellent opportunity for students to see an emerging community, an established organic farm, and the early stages of a 20 hectare agroforestry project—all within the framework of permaculture design. 

Porvenir Designs, Brave Earth, permaculture, Costa Rica

Dates: October 17th- November 1st

Instructors: Scott Gallant, Sam Kenworthy, Melania Muñez Garcia, Hugo Sota, Robin North

Cost: $1000 (camping) to $2260 (private room)

For more information please visit the Porvenir Design website or write Brave Earth at hello@braveearth.com

Book on NuMundo here and use the code PDCDISCOUNT for 5% off!

Scott Gallant is an agroforester and food system designer from small town Ohio. He graduated from Wabash College…