Recently, as part of my commitment to ahimsa (do no harm) and karma yoga (selfless service), I worked on a sustainable ranch in the Costa Rican rainforest. For four weeks, aside from teaching yoga to the soothing sounds of a river and rain, I helped in the fields. I learned (a bit) about germination, composting, bees, and even how to make soap from leftover kitchen oil and fresh herbs. The creation and day-to-day maintenance of this eco-resort inspired and uplifted me.
Rancho Margot (named after the owner’s mother, a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor) is a 420-acre resort that employs 50 people and when needed, buys organic products from local farmers.
Its creation, development, and maintenance wasn’t, and still isn’t, easy.
On August 12, 2003, Juan Sostheim, a 51-year-old Chilean-born multi-lingual University of Florida graduate had a vision that turned his life around. He had worked hard his entire life. At one time he worked in a one-room schoolhouse for emotionally disturbed children in Pensacola and drove a taxi at night to make ends meet.
Later, Sostheim climbed global corporate ladders. In the 1970s he served as general manager for Burger King in Europe where he built an empire of fast-food stores. Returning to the States in the 1980s, he developed real estate and subdivisions in Atlanta. But then, he crossed the Atlantic to work with European scientists where he witnessed corporate dishonesty. Disheartened, he sought to make a positive mark beyond the P&L sheets. Faced with the distortion, brainwashing, and greed in the corporate kingdom, Sostheim opted out. He was committed to improving his community, and the world.
As he was reevaluating and reprioritizing his life, he traveled to Costa Rica with his children. Horseback riding on a mountaintop in the rainforest, a majestic unending carpet of cow pastures appeared.
That was it.
His new business objectives zeroed in on buying the property, employing and engaging the local community, and regenerating and converting the barren land into a lush landscape for orchards, magnificent flowers, free-range chickens, and dairy cows.
Despite—or maybe sparked by his fast food background—the entrepreneur said “no” to the traditional business model. He set out to create and bolster a local economy that would benefit consumers, the local economy, and the planet. He left the corporate milieu and suit and tie. Outfitted in jeans and high rubber boots he became a sustainable rancher far from traffic lights, ATMs, and drive-thrus.
However, Sostheim acknowledges all his career moves, the good, the bad, and the ugly, proved to be worthwhile experiences. He tapped into his experience in big business, science, and technology to make his dream come true.
“My goal was to see how I could make the world better.”
He used his hard-earned work lessons to convert a vast wasteland into a “green” paradise.
“There’s nobody with a monopoly on good ideas. Success is going from failure to failure with renewed optimism. What is luck? When opportunity meets talent. We can be hit with great luck, but if you’re not capable of recognizing that opportunity, it’s just a waste.”
Years before he moved to Costa Rica, Don Juan (as his employees call him), feared the potential dangers of climate change.
“It was a warning to me…to change my life altogether. I wanted to clear my mind and grow my own food,” he recalls.
“Back in 1985, scientists around the world said this is going to create a problem if we didn’t change. It’s my generation that screwed everything up. We managed to kill over 90 percent of our biodiversity. Our resources are not endless. We are building our own gas chamber. We can have dire scenarios, but we need to move forward. Maybe Elon Musk was right, ‘We need another planet.’ Global warming is a crisis.”
Costa Rica was one of the first countries to encourage eco-tourism and green living. However, most people, governments, and municipalities in the “developed” nations ignored warnings about the future of our environment.
“There were barely enough changes, and as a result, our planet is heating up. Just look at Antarctica or Greenland. The fact is, this is the hottest year on record in over 100,000 years,” he says.
Sustainability can be incorporated anywhere and by anyone. It’s not just for scientists or organic farmers or those living off the grid. Everyone can make a difference, taking small steps, and then bigger leaps.
“We need to be conscientious. When I came to Costa Rica, I’d never been a farmer, a rancher, or a hotelier. I never wanted to measure financial success. What is going to save us is hard work and determination. We want, and can, find a better way to be happy and have a healthy life. Unless we make changes, it’ll be a scary place. My passion is the planet,” he says.
“The most important thing we can do is to generate soil. The Gulf of Mexico is a jacuzzi! Every day I feel that I’m not doing enough. We can all do more. Don’t let someone with an economic interest keep things the way they are. Those people are very powerful. But so are we.”
For example, operating Rancho Margot requires a lot of energy. But due to Sostheim’s passion for the planet over the dollar, the hydro- and solar-powered enterprise was Costa Rica’s first carbon-negative company based on the most rigorous international standards.
His sustainable ranch seeks out biodegradable products, relies on advanced practices for electricity and water conservation, encourages knowledge sharing of and interaction with local culture, and protects private and state-owned natural areas among numerous other earth-positive goals.
“As a society, we have to ask what is important. GDP is scaring a lot of people now. We need to get rid of preconceived ideas that something is working or not in strictly financial terms. We seem to measure everything by GDP. But GDP doesn’t address us. Are the people happy? If we don’t have the well-being we deserve, then what is the point?”
Bottom line: “Trust the science and filter out the garbage. Be visionaries. Say no. Be radical. Demand change. Vote. Walk the talk. Our planet is worth preserving.”