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On a wet, cloudy morning in Costa Rica, a caravan of vehicles left San José to begin the long, winding four-hour journey to the small village of Guapiles. Packed into the cars were World Tree CEO Doug Willmore (CEO) and Mariana Alfaro (Lead Forester), along with our investment partners and agronomists from our operations team at RRG Nature Based Solutions.  

“You get to know each other really fast on that kind of journey,” says Doug. “Fortunately, we had a lot to talk about.”

One of those talking points was our history in Costa Rica, where we have been growing Empress Trees since 2016. We now have over 50 farms and eight years of research and development under our belts, providing us with a wealth of information on the best combinations of climate, topography, soil, and tree varieties necessary to grow trees for high-quality lumber. 

Mariana Alfaro with a two-year-old, 20-foot tree

While Empress trees grow well in many parts of Costa Rica, in Guapiles we hit jackpot. The group visited one of World Tree’s farms where the two-year-old trees are already well over 20-feet tall, with healthy leaves and trunks. Best of all, they are not an anomaly. 

“We have many, many fantastic farms like this,” says Mariana, who has led the forestry team in Costa Rica since 2016. “This is why we are so excited by the Signature Farm Series. Now we can take everything we have learned and apply it on a large scale.”

The Big Vision: Signature Empress Farms

The next stop for the group was a large 3,000-acre plot of pasture-land. The landscape is remarkably featureless: miles and miles of degraded pasture broken up by secondary forest. 

As Doug explains, “This is the perfect location for us. It’s degraded. The soil has taken a beating from the last decade or so of chemical farming and the introduction of invasive grasses. Our analysis shows that we can transform this into productive farmland in just a few of years.”

The group was standing on the site of World Tree’s first Signature Farm project, La Cabaña. This large project will be the first of its kind to integrate Empress trees and food crops at scale. 

“I can’t wait to see the landscape two years from now. We’ll have transformed it into a thriving farm. We’ll see Empress trees planted beside crops—melons, watermelons, plantains, spices. We’re using a fertilizer made from coffee grounds and within a couple of years we’ll see measurable improvements to the soil nutrition and organic content. It’s real, it’s exciting, and it’s a blueprint we can use for many more farms,” says Doug.

What is a Signature Empress Farm?

Designed for Biodiversity

Traveling around La Cabaña, the group spotted signs of wildlife: from brightly colored parrots to curious capuchin monkeys. There is a rich diversity of wildlife that lives in the lush forests adjacent to La Cabaña. Home to jaguars, ocelots, anteaters, and tapirs, this is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, yet only 13 percent of it is protected.

“Our design for La Cabaña puts biodiversity front and center,” says Mariana, who has a degree in Environmental Science with a focus in forest ecology. “We’re protecting and restoring the forest by building biological corridors and buffer zones.”

Community Jobs

The benefits of La Cabaña extend into the local community. Guapiles sits in the Limón region—one the poorest regions in Costa Rica. Social challenges include low wages and few job prospects. A single project like La Cabaña will create 80 new jobs and can help bolster the local economy. 

“Good, well-paying jobs are important,” says Doug. “But we wanted to go a step further. Our smallholder farmer program will train people in regenerative agriculture and provide land to grow food.”

Just the Beginning

La Cabaña is a breakthrough project and offers a map for a new kind of farming. Carbon, biodiversity, thriving communities, and healthy ecosystems are a product of how we relate to and manage the agricultural landscape. La Cabaña may be the first of its kind, but it will not be the last.

Contact us for more information on our Signature Farm Series.