By Kevin Deane
MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — He could have easily been mistaken for a tourist. It would almost be irresponsible to bet otherwise — but the man in the washed-out denim pants and blue fleece jacket belonged on the farm.
Brad Merryman, 50, is not your typical Peace Corps volunteer. He is married, has two daughters in their mid-20s, and has already completed a career in business with computer and technology consulting. For a man his age, Costa Rica is typically a hotspot for luxury vacations rather than a life changing experience. But still, after a yearlong discussion with his wife, he packed, said good-bye to his family and arrived in Costa Rica on Oct. 4, 2010, for 12 weeks of training.
“I just retired, and this is kind of the next phase,” Merryman said. “I’m young, too young to retire and just play golf. This is something I always wanted to do, so I made the leap.”
“It’s been an interesting experience so far.”
Being away from family for any period of time is tough on most people, but luckily Merryman won’t have to go the entirety of the two years without seeing his wife. The standing arrangement is a visit every 12 weeks to Costa Rica, and they already have the first trip under their belts when she came in November.
“That’s really been the hardest part,” Merryman said. “It’s tough, but she’ll come back in March, March 10, for another two weeks.”
Merryman is in his second week of two years in Santa Elena. Orlando Trejos, a local farmer specializing in hydroponic agriculture, opened part of his home to Merryman for the duration of his stay. Merryman is staying in a small studio apartment in the back of Trejos’ home in Santa Elena.
He is spending the first part of his trip in Trejos’ garden, lending a helping hand where necessary. Spending so much time with each other has other benefits. The two have a budding friendship. Merryman enjoys his meals with Trejos and his family, and Trejos has another resource for the garden.
“It’s very nice to have him here,” Trejos said. “He is here for two years and is going to work with various organizations in the zone, like this project for the agro-tourism part of it, and some others.”
Merryman will do a community assessment for the first couple months in town. From there he will decide which projects to pursue and devote the majority of his time.
“It’s really based on need, and where we can add value,” Merryman said. “It’s really focused on economic development and helping families, young folks and women, in terms of sustaining their business or developing a business.”
That’s where his experience in business comes in. He will work with both new and old businesses, even some that have been a staple in the community for close to two decades.
“You have organizations like CASEM, Co-Op Santa Elena that have been in business for 20 years,” Merryman said. “But they’re kind of at the point where, what do they do going forward, developing a strategic plan? What do they need to do to change? So I think I’ll be getting involved working with them in that regard, and then working with some start-ups as well.”
Rafael E. Arguedas, Los Pinos’ general manager, sees the benefits of having volunteers like Merryman around, and said he hopes he can help others in the area, too.
“We agree with that, and we have no problems with it,” Arguedas said. “We think Orlando needs and the other agriculturists need help, too. Hopefully he will help Orlando first, then be able to move to others.”
Merryman said he still feels a little out of place in Trejos’ hydroponic garden, never having had any experience with agriculture — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t enjoying it.
“It’s all new,” Merryman said. “So I’ve been out (in the garden) a couple times, but it’s very interesting to me.”
So does a man with a large computer background miss working with complex machinery to which he has grown accustomed?
Smiling, Merryman said, “A laptop is just fine with me.”