Nestled atop the Five-Sisters Waterfall in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, GAÏA Riverlodge is a testament to travel and sustainability not having to be mutually exclusive.
The on-site organic garden accounts for ninety percent of the produce used at the property. The open-air restaurant and lounge offer breathtaking scenic views of the Belizean rainforest.
From dawn to dusk, the full-service restaurant serves Belizean and international cuisine reflecting the influences of local tropical fruits, vegetables and spices, with a twist of fusion and international flavours.
Produce is harvested on-site by Sam, a Maya farmer who oversees GAIA Riverlodge’s organic garden. We caught up with Sam to learn more about this style of farming and GAÏA’s farm-to-fork approach.
Wander: Thank you so much for your time, Sam. Can you tell us a bit about your story, how did you come to be at GAÏA Riverlodge?
Sam: I was born and raised in the nearby Maya community of San Antonio. Growing up in the village, my father owned a farm, where I got my first experience as a farmer. Our family did a lot of subsistence farming. I learned a lot about agriculture, from techniques to produce grown by watching my father.
Upon his passing, I inherited his farm. After working on the farm for many years, I had the opportunity to get formal training as a certified farmer under a program sponsored by Belize and Taiwanese governments. I also became a member and served two years as the president of the Maya Green Growers Cooperative.
Following my training, my brother, Calbert, who works at GAIA Riverlodge, told me that they were looking to create an organic garden onsite at the property. I offered my time, which has led to my full-time position maintaining our organic garden.
How would you describe Mayan philosophy around growing and eating?
Local Maya families do a lot of subsistence farming; we eat what we grow. Farm-to-table was our way of life before it became trendy.
Organic farming is the method we use as pesticides and chemicals are all foreign to our village; instead, we create our fertilizers using natural ingredients and compost food waste.
What are you growing in the on-site organic gardens?
Our organic garden is flourishing, and we continue to grow, adding new additions of produce and fruits. On-site, we grow bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuces, eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lines, habanero, and pineapple, adding in seasonal produce, herbs and fruits.
All of this produce is used at our Five Sisters Restaurant at GAIA Riverlodge and our sister property Matachica’s restaurants Mambo and Mambo Bistro.
GAÏA’s overall approach to sustainability is impressive. How are local gardeners and farmers selected?
Our gardeners and farmers are selected from the Village of San Antonio since agriculture is predominant in this local Maya community. All gardeners and farmers at GAÏA have worked in the agriculture sector; I am the lead in the department. We also provide the necessary training for new additions to the team.
Are the guests able to get involved at all in the gardens? Is there an educational component to dining at GAÏA?
Yes, at GAIA Riverlodge we offer a tour of the organic garden led by me. On this tour, guests can fully immerse themselves in our garden, taste and smell all the fresh produce and learn about our irrigation system firsthand.
We use the drip irrigation system as it is a low-volume watering system, which allows us to conserve and use water as needed. It’s important for guests to know where their food is grown and what to look forward to on the menu. We also hope to teach guests some techniques to take back with them!
What does the future of the farm-to-fork approach look like for GAÏA Riverlodge?
The plan is to expand and fully cater to the core crops of both GAÏA and our sister property Matachica Resort. We hope to continue to learn new techniques to maintain sustainability – after all, we are a Green Globe-certified hotel!