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    Finca Las Nubes

    An Opportunity To Live Resiliently

    A sustainable community seeks a few good members
    by Adam Taggart

    Thursday, December 25, 2014, 8:54 PM

The #1 question Chris and I hear most often from folks after watching the Crash Course is: What should I do?

This is completely understandable, and it has led to the development of a lot of resources here on PeakProsperity.com (the What Should I Do? guide, the What Should I Do? blog series, our Wikis and Groups — to name just several). And it continues to drive our product strategy; you'll see new related offerings launch in early 2015.

But there's a question we hear with almost as much frequency, particularly from folks located in areas where living resiliently is challenging and/or under-appreciated. And that's: Where should I live?

We've tackled that subject somewhat to-date in podcasts and site discussions, and we plan to offer more directive assistance on the topic in the coming year.

But as a start, I'm going to summarize in this article an opportunity I investigated while in Nicaragua a few weeks back.

Please note this is not an endorsement or recommendation. But I think it's worthy enough of consideration for the right kind of person, which is why I'm taking the time to do this write-up. Those intrigued can follow up directly with the property manager for more information and to determine personal suitability.

The Allure Of The Sustainable Community

After watching the Crash Course, who among us hasn't felt insecure with where we live?

Most of us depend on our cars for our work commutes. Or for trips to the grocery store/pharmacy/big box retailer, which themselves depend on just-in-time supply chains often thousands of miles long.

Many worry that their jobs, even their entire industries, may become irrelevant in the coming future. Anxiety over how to cover cost of living in the wake of a job loss is one of the top concerns we hear of.

And socially, many look around at their family members, friends and neighbors and lament at the lack of resilience. Or at a higher level, the lack of interest in developing any.

So it's no wonder that most of us at one time or another have asked ourselves: If I could uproot and move to a more sustainable place, where would I go?

For some asking this, the idea of a sustainable community has a powerful allure. Imagine a resource-rich property mapped out with a plan for sustainable self-sufficiency, populated with a community of like-minded folks that already "get" the importance of cultivating resilience….  Sounds pretty good, right?

But what exactly is a "sustainable community" anyways? How do you find one? What's it like to live there? How do you know if it's all going to work out in the long run?

Curious to learn more about these questions, I took advantage of my recent time in Latin American and traveled to Finca Las Nubes in Nicaragua, one such 'intentional' sustainable community I'd heard promising things about.

While there, I got a first-hand view of how the whole system operates, and spent time talking with the founder about the long-term vision for the place. There was much I found attractive and, while not for everyone by any stretch, I think the insights — and perhaps the specific opportunity itself — are relevant to enough PP.com readers to share my observations.

Finca Las Nubes

Finca Las Nubes ("farm of the clouds", in Spanish) is located on the southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua, right above San Juan del Sur — a destination beach town. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive there from the country's main airport in the capital, Managua.

The 100+ acre property lies on a hillside plateau approximately 1,200 feet above sea level. When it was originally purchased nearly 15 years ago, it was pretty much undeveloped jungle.

Today, Finca Las Nubes (FLN, for short) remains largely in a natural state; but much has been done in the intervening years to create sustainable, productive systems for those now living and/or working on it.

Among those are:

  • Gravity-fed irrigation network
  • Organic vegetable and fruit gardens
  • Pastures for cattle, horses, goats & sheep
  • Beehives & chickens
  • Reforested stands of native timber
  • A woodworking shop
  • A general store
  • A clinic
  • Residential & rental housing
  • A road system, plus a network of horseback and hiking trails
  • Construction on a school will soon begin

The mission of the property is to be as resilient and sustainable as possible by growing and making as much as possible from its resources to meet the needs of those living on it. Those needs that can't be met internally are filled (in trade, whenever possible) through the neighboring local community.

Here's how the FLN community describes its approach:

Finca Las Nubes is an intentional community. The intent is to create a sustainable lifestyle through partnership with local community. The goals are to preserve nature for future generations while creating a continually improving, sustainable, self-sufficient and low impact community. Emphasis is on stewardship of the land while developing full range of farm products through various sustainable technologies. Everything is made here on the farm. It is a certified organic farm. We employ organic permaculture principles to produce a large variety of fruit and vegetables. Partnership with our neighbors is key to the long-term success of the project.

We hope to learn humility, graciousness and indigenous knowledge of plants and nature from our local neighbors. We hope to inspire and empower them with knowledge, experience and resources to create a better model of how to live on the planet together. Respect is the most important part of all, respect for people, respect for nature and a healthy respect for the rights of future generations. We want to leave this place a better place than we found it.

The vision for the property was set at the beginning by FLN's owner and founder, Chris Robertson. Chris was a real estate developer in California (I was shocked to learn he's originally from Sebastopol, where I now live) who saw the "Three E" trends clearly several decades ago, and became disenchanted with America's unsustainably consumptive way of life, as well as the growing intervention of government into citizens' private lives.

So he purchased the property back in the 1990s — really just hillside jungle at the time — and began the work to make his vision a reality.

Here's a 4-min video of Chris describing the FLN backstory, which includes a good assortment of visuals that give you a good sense of what the property looks like:

The Opportunity: Sustainable Farm Seeks Tenants

You probably noticed some attractive villas in the footage. Chris built those (remember, his background is in housing construction & development). Today, he rents those out to tourists, one of the income streams funding the development of the farm's infrastructure build-out.

But Chris cares much more about bringing people to FLN on a permanent basis. He wants to attract folks who, ideally, want to spend decades there, enjoying life while working together to make the farm as self-sufficient as possible for its inhabitants.

And he was frank with me that finding people who are the right fit has been a bigger challenge than he'd anticipated. He had a number of candidates over the years who fizzled out for one reason or another. Some looked at the situation too much as a real estate investment, and just weren't interested in the hands-on nature of the work. Others weren't ready to deal with the realities of life in the jungle (i.e,. Mother Nature on steroids).

Chris is a pretty blunt character. He made it clear to me that, for the right candidate, he will do all he can to provide as much incentive as possible to join the FLN community.

So what does that mean?

As he explained it to me, that includes building you a villa at FLN for cost — meaning he'll eat the design/general contractor expenses, and you just pay for labor and materials. Given the much lower cost of living in Nicaragua and the quality of construction (you can see more houses Chris has built at FLN here), the economics are very attractive. He gave me a rough quote that made my jaw drop (although remember, my perspective is skewed by the ridiculously high home prices in northern California).

In addition to the villa, which you would own, you'd be expected to participate in the ongoing build-out and management of FLN. Chris seems really flexible on what exactly that would entail, but in general, he's interested in people who can project manage. He's got plenty of locals interested in providing the sweat labor, but he's short on people to direct them. My take was that if you're the kind of person who's intellectually curious, passionate about sustainability, hardworking and dependable — then Chris is interested in talking with you.

He made it very clear that he cares much more about the attitude, energy and skills that a tenant could provide versus their level of net worth. I specifically asked him if he was interested in folks with otherwise "good fit" backgrounds but who may not have much financial capital. His answer: "If they're a good fit otherwise, I'll make it work".

So what kind of tenants is FLN looking for?

Again, I asked Chris this directly. In a perfect world, he'd prefer folks with families (or planning to start ones), as he's building an asset to be handed down over generations. But by no means is that a deal breaker. He'll happily take on a retiree with the right attitude and skills. My take is that he's willing to talk to folks of all ages who:

  • Have passion for the FLN vision and mission
  • Have a good likelihood to remain committed over the years
  • Are willing to live at least 6 months each year on the property
  • Can bring or learn skills to use in building-out and/or managing the community
  • Are sociable, especially in developing relationships with the local community neighboring the farm
  • Are comfortable living in harmony with nature (dealing with dirt, bugs, rain, etc)
  • Are problem solvers
  • Are trustworthy
  • Have a positive attitude towards life

If you have these attributes, pretty much everything else (including money) is gravy, was my impression.

As I talked with Chris, I couldn't help but think that a meaningful percentage of Peak Prosperity members would find this opportunity interesting. Millennials just starting out with plenty of energy and enthusiasm but limited capital; parents looking to raise their children in a natural environment much less structured and commercialized than the traditional American upbringing; and retirees with much left to give back looking for renewed purpose.

So, if this opportunity intrigues you at all, let me know by emailing me here. I'll be happy to connect you with Chris to learn more.

Personal Observations

As I said at the beginning of this article, this write-up isn't an endorsement or a recommendation. But I wouldn't have written it if I hadn't been impressed by a lot of what I experienced at FLN.

First off, Nicaragua is a pretty special place. I had little idea what to expect before arriving, though the fact that it has the 2nd highest poverty rate in the western hemisphere lent itself to some false preconceptions.

I'll admit to some concern about crime, squalor and social depression. To my pleasant surprise, I found the people there happy, proud and industrious. In fact, while many of them have very little in the way of material possessions, I found myself often thinking their simpler but purposeful way of life is probably more fulfilling than most "1st world" professionals I know. And the crime rate is surprisingly low, especially in the sparsely populated coastal region of San Juan del Sur. And FLN monitors all traffic entering the farm, making the property one of the most secure locations in the area.

The landscape and climate of FLN/San Juan del Sur is nothing short of spectacular. The farm is 2 miles from the coastline, but 1,200+ ft above it — which means lots of grand views across forest, plantations, and the ocean. The nearby beaches — of which there are many — are post-card perfect: long sandy stretches with clear blue water, with plenty of fish to catch and waves to ride. Temperature is pretty moderate year round, mostly in the 70-90 Fahrenheit range.

The town of San Juan del Sur is small, but bustling. Most buildings are made of nothing more than tin sheeting (as are the houses in the area), but most anything you need for the basics of life can be found there. And the prices are indeed quite cheap relative to the States, even in a "tourist town" like San Juan were costs are inflated. For instance, my family of four went out for a splurge night dinner (as many cocktails, appetizers and entrees as we could stomach) and we couldn't quite get the bill, with tip, above $40. 

But the energy of the farm is what caught my attention most. FLN is literally humming with activity. In addition to the staff that lives there, Chris employs a large amount of local workers, keeping them continually occupied with infrastructure development. When you walk the 100+ acre property, you can appreciate the huge amount of work it takes to build and maintain municipal systems (water, road, farming, power, communication, etc) — from scratch — within what started as raw jungle. More than anything else, seeing first-hand the emergence of purposeful order from chaos (yet done with a great respect for preserving and working with nature) impressed upon me the grand scale and intended permanence of the venture Chris is undertaking.

And for those who might take Chris up on his offer to join the FLN community, the houses he builds are very high quality. To my eye, they're esthetic and well-constructed by any measure; but relative to the construction standards of Nicaragua, they're amazing. Here's a video with more shots of the rental houses on the property (it's a promotional piece, but shows the level of quality Chris can build at):

And, of course, all of the activities on the farm — from organic gardening to animal raising to reforestation to woodworking to irrigation — give one a sense of being active, having purpose, and building for a better tomorrow. For those who aspire to a resilient life, there's unbounded potential to learn and self-develop here.

Moreover, my kids would insist I add there's lots of cool activities like horseback riding, swimming, playing with monkeys, zip lining, body surfing, milking cows, etc. To that, my wife and I would add the excellent natural foods sourced on the property and from local farms, as well as the spectacular sunsets over the Pacific each night.

So, what's not to love?

Well, this opportunity definitely isn't for everyone. First off, it's a huge commitment. To Chris and the other community members, to living in Nicaragua, and to the active lifestyle that farm work entails. Only those truly open to such a commitment should consider this.

Also, you're living in a developing nation, in the jungle. You're not a citizen and you may not be fluent in the language. If you're not willing to put aside your 1st world sensibilities, this isn't for you. Many of the comforts and conveniences of the American lifestyle simply aren't present. Spooked by snakes and scorpions in your house? (my wife and I stumbled upon a scorpion our first night there) Then, please, don't do this.

Also, Chris is a strong-minded guy. His blunt and opinionated approach (I think he'd agree with this characterization) may not work for you. As he, rightly, puts it: deciding on bringing a new member into his community is like deciding on whom to marry.

OK, for those not scared off and still intrigued, I suggest the following:

  1. Check out the Finca Las Nubes website to learn more. If you like what you see,
  2. Click here to request to be put in contact with Chris. Talk/email with him to get your questions answered and see if you think he's the kind of guy you could deal well with over the years. If still interested, then
  3. Visit FLN. Spend a week there as a guest, and get a firsthand view of the operation. Is it a vision you could indeed see yourself stepping into for the next few decades?

As I reflect on my time there, I draw a certain amount of comfort knowing that such a place exists for those seeking a more meaningful way of life.

Which is why I really admire what Chris is building at FLN and I hope he's able to find enough passionate, 'good fit' people to join him. In my opinion, the world needs more thought-through communities like this.

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