MelissaWinchell's Travel Journals


What do you want to do the next time you travel abroad?

learn a language, volunteer in a needy community, work with the environment, experience a new culture through studying, experience a new culture through volunteering, meet new people, make some money, change the world [somehow], adventure travel

  • Currently in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Hog Wash at the Cheese Factory

Hog facility in Monteverde.

Hog Wash at the Cheese Factory

Costa Rica Monteverde, Costa Rica  |  Apr 27, 2011
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Finding a topic for my Social Justice research project was exceedingly difficult. A goal for myself this semester that originated from my time at Findhorn has been to find project topics that will impact the community positively in one dimension or another. At Findhorn I held a women’s circle for my group and faculty. For my Tropical Ecology course I continued to collect data on Euglossini bee diversity in San Luis Arriba in hopes to support the theory of Euglossinis being an indicator species. With this project I wanted to keep in line with progressing the Monteverde community. Initially, my project topic was to observe the purpose of women collectives in San Luis and Monteverde—what role they played, how they have changed over generations, how they were viewed by those within/outside the collectives. I am passionate about women’s studies and it seemed like an easy social justice topic that I would relish researching. After a week of sitting with this, among other reasons, I realized that this would feed my curiosity, but would not advance the community at all. This is because of the disconnect between studying the impacts of globalization and its impacts on women versus being part of the change and advancement of women’s empowerment in the area.

The topic I ended up investigating was that of the Productores de Monteverde S.A., more commonly known as the Monteverde Cheese Factory. The factory was created in 1952 by Quakers who initial were only producing 10kg of cheese per day. Now they have grown and are producing 1,550kg of cheese per day. With that yield of cheese per day a great amount of waste byproducts are created. One such byproduct, which the Cheese Factory has struggled to manage, is whey. Whey is the liquid byproduct that curds of cheese get separated from. It is high in lactose, has some proteins and traces of fat. Until 1992 the whey was dumped directly into the Guacimal River, polluting it down stream into San Luis. The “alternative, environmental” means of disposing of this waste was to give it to a local hog farm because pigs can digest a great amount of the whey (unlike other animals). Though there is a machine that can digest the whey efficiently, it is expensive and therefore, out of reach from the Cheese Factory.

When the production of whey exceeded the amount of whey that could be ingested by the hog farm, and when it was noted that the hog farm’s waste was being dumped into the Guacimal River, the Cheese Factory created their own hog facility. I’m being very intentional in using the word “facility” because it is similar enough to a factory farm except without the gross numbers as in the States.

There are 2,100 pigs kept in crates in which they are unable to move in. They cannot turn around and their head is locking in a frontward position facing a trough full of 50% whey, 50% corn. Unable to digest that diet properly the solid waste (feces) is then treated and fed to cattle on the property that further digest it. Their manure gets buried in the ground. All the liquid waste from the animals gets placed into two lagoons. One is anaerobic and the other aerobic. The waste stays 45 days in each and is then dumped into the Guacimal River. Though it has been tested to be 96% pure water by the time the waste leaves the lagoons, there are still traces of fecal mater in the Guacimal River.

This facility also has problems with leakage—Leakage of whey and other waste products from the Cheese Factory to the hog facility and leakages from the hog facility to the lagoon.  It so happens that these tubes that transport the waste also run alongside a river so any leakage goes straight into a water source.

Looking into this question on a level of profit orientation rather than the bad-mouthing I want to be doing about cruelty of animal treatment and environmental irresponsibility, was an extremely hard feat for me. I really wanted to be able to find alternative methods of whey disposal and methods of sustainable hog farming. I ended up finding MANY uses for whey that the Cheese Factory is not tapping into AND using Joel Salatin’s Polyfarm in the States as a model, applied it to the Monteverde area. 

This semester I have been learning a lot about how to back up my arguments and make them infallible. I feel like this project allowed me to utilize this information by holding back my emotional, ethical and moral objections to the Cheese Factory’s hog facility. I learned a lot in attempting to approach this project as a business proposal for profit, which also happened to align with my values by altering the system so as to become more environmentally and socially sustainable.

I’m getting very excited to present this Friday and share my findings with my group!

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  • Hog Wash at the Cheese Factory

    April 27, 2011
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