Your Voices is an opportunity for readers of the Principal Voices site to explain their views on one of the key subjects at greater length.

The latest of these is by Roberta Ward Smiley, 55, who moved from Washington State in the United States to Costa Rica with her husband, Dan Spreen, in 1983, to become a farmer.

Here, Ward Smiley describes how witnessing the environmental damage caused by agriculture in Costa Rica prompted the couple to try a new environmental concept -- "oxygen farming."

"We came from Washington State to Costa Rica in 1983 with the dream of owning our own farm, and we naturalized as citizens of the country in 1995. We have lived on the 40-hectare farm near Tilarán in the Province of Guanacaste ever since, and plan to stay here for the remainder of our lives.

The first 16 years were spent dairy farming, witnessing the environmental damage this caused. One day, after watching the cows eat every new tree we had planted and realizing that our use of agrochemicals was threatening the watershed, we sold our herd.

Costa Rica's government forestry program, FONAFIFO, put our farm on a five-year contract in which they paid us about $40 per hectare per year. This is no real incentive for farmers to turn their land over to forest regeneration, but we felt it was urgent to get started.

When our contract expired in 2004, we reapplied for another five years but were told there was no funding available.

We were not the only ones this had happened to, and it led to the idea to create La Reserva -- what our farm has now become.

Our goal is to pay landowners $300 per hectare per year specifically for non-commercial forestry activities. We will either contract or purchase lands with existing primary forest in our area (Lake Arenal), paying special attention to adjacent denuded lands where we can plant native flora, creating natural "tree bridges" and larger wildlife habitats.

To do this we hope to solicit donations from corporations and private citizens in developed nations. We'll keep the operation simple -- small is beautiful -- so as to maximize the yearly payments to project participants, keeping administration costs to a minimum.

As forests absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen we call it "oxygen farming" -- enhancing biodiversity, slowing global warming and the problems associated with it, and healing our Earth.

Governments are not the solution to the problems the world is encountering at this time. In our experience, there is too much corruption and bureaucracy at the government level, and the funds never reach the people.

We, the people, can work on the problems of climate change together, regardless of our political affiliation, by participating in activities promoting environmental health. This will be a great healing work for our planet and the human race."

An update from Roberta:

"I wanted to let you all know that the La Reserva Forest Foundation is now a registered non-profit foundation in the United States. We received our first donation last week and are using it to register the foundation here in Costa Rica as well.

We now have a blog for La Reserva, at"

If you would like to contact Roberta or La Reserva, please email

What do you think?


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Name: Ange and Chris
Location: Elands, Australia

We love what you are doing and you would love what we are doing at

Name: Vanessa
Location: Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.

I think this is a wonderful thing. It's completely true that we can't depend on the government to solve all of our world problems, we have to help and we can help.

Name: Philo Weir
Location: Oceano, California, U.S.

Just read the info on your site. I planted 1,000 trees near here for our steam railroad park. A lot of propagation -- after a while you see the beauty of what you planted. I hope tourists can keep your dream going.

Name: Rhio
Location: Santa Rosa, California, U.S.

Awesome! I knew Roberta many years ago and lost touch. Their contribution to the environment is to be commended. I can't wait to see it.

Name: Ennio Tattoli Devoto
Location: Nicaragua

I own 11,500 acres on the Caribbean Cost of Nicaragua - virgin. I would like to know more about your ideas.

Name: Joshua Rey Garrido
Location: Negros Island, Philippines

I love planting trees, and have done for 15 years. I live on a tropical island with rich fertile land suitable for planting sugarcane. My family has planted more than 2 million trees, all from our own pockets without any help from any charitable or philanthropic organization.

We ran out of funds and we still have so many trees to plant. Sometimes we have to sell some trees just to continue. But prices are not good but we have to contend just to go on doing in order to help the environment.

Name: Ronald Welz
Location: Switzerland

Wonderful. We should all sponsor a hectare a year locally. Where can I begin?

Name: Aleksandar Misirlic
Location: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Those who should do much more are corporations. Mostly those greedy petroleum polluters. Governments will do something when it will be too late.

Name: Lynette M. DuVall
Location: Placerville, California, U.S.

Very small world, my dear. We have tried to find you so many times. I am your brother Fred's first wife. He has steadfastly refused over the years to give us a clue. My oldest has especially wanted your address to get in touch.

Good work with this. After finally finishing nursing school, I have spent two years in Africa, working with war refugees (Somalia, Sudan, Uganda -- and most recently Sierra Leone). It seems we are on the same planet after all!!

Keep up the good work. Write back if you have the time. Take care, Lynette

Name: Gina Hawks
Location: Ogden, Utah, U.S.

Roberta and Dan: thanks for your continuing efforts to help the future of our planet. I would love to become involved in helping your cause. This is an issue every human being should be concerned about.

Name: Lane Williams
Location: Midvale, Idaho, U.S

How do I contact these people and participate with them in their efforts?

Name: Andrew Katana Charo
Location: Nairobi, Kenya

Excellent. I wish many more people could follow your example.

Name: Mary Blizzard
Location: Oregon, U.S.

Roberta and Dan are an amazing couple. I've had the good fortune to visit La Reserva and to witness the transformation they've made there. May their vision catch hold!!

Name: C. E. Bud
Location: North Carolina, U.S.

This all makes us feel warm and fuzzy but the impact of one person/group is minimal. There needs to be improvements at national levels...

Name: Marcy Wagner
Location: Charlestown, Rhode Island, U.S.

Great job!

Name: Jordan Snyder
Location: Canby, Oregon, U.S.

I think it is a great idea. We need to support them in bringing the beauty of the trees and wildlife!

Name: Dr. Beatrice Wanjira Kilonzo
Location: Nairobi, Kenya

Wonderful. We should all sponsor a hectare a year locally. Where can I begin?

Name: Gabriela Sheets Location: Los Angeles, California, U.S.

WOW, you are two amazing beings. I love and respect all the work you do! Thank you for all future generations.

Name: Barbara Chap
Location: Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Bravo! We wish you much success.