‘Agricultural Apprentice’ shares knowledge of trees, conservation

Article by Kathryn Cawdrey and Photo Gallery by Amanda Henderson

LA BARBARA DE SANTA CRUZ, Costa Rica — Self-dubbed “agricultural apprentice” Juan Arriago Mora, 60, strolled through the diverse plot of trees, his dog Charran close at his heels.


Juan Arriaga Mora, the “agricultural apprentice,” describes the food intake and medicinal purposes of trees on the sun plot. Photo by Kathryn Cawdrey

More than 500 plant species grow on 10 acres that make up the “sun plot” at Casa del Sol, a house dedicated to conservation and locally grown produce. The house only uses resources from local farmers to support them and avoid importation of foreign crops. Solar cookers prepare food while Mora does his work, tending to the trees.

“Trees are our big brothers,” he said.

Trees can be used for many wholesome purposes, Mora said. The Neem tree, for example, is used as a medicinal remedy for leprosy, eye disorders, bloody noses and more, according to WebMD.


Mora cracks open fruit from the “lipstick tree” to reveal the deep red seeds used for food coloring. Photo by Kathryn Cawdrey

Mora spoke of the Achiote, commonly known as the “lipstick tree.” The seeds immediately dye anything they touch a deep orange. The dye extracted from the seeds is called Annatto, which is used as a repellant and for medicinal purposes. It is even responsible for the color of Cheetos.

Mora’s goal is to share his knowledge of trees and enthusiasm with both his family and the world, he said. Many trees are disappearing due to deforestation for cattle pastures, monocrops or teak wood production.

A new and better planet is dependent on younger generations, as they are “the seeds of hope,” Mora said. “I’m sorry for the negatively affected world that [my generation is] leaving you.”

Mora blames human activity for climate change on Earth. People need to protect their “spaceship” because there is not anywhere else to go, he said.

Edited by Amanda Henderson


Mora holds a thorn from an acacia tree on the farm on December 31, 2016. The farm has several types of trees and other plant life, many of which have defense mechanisms. Mora explained that the ants defend the acacia tree by stinging intruders. Photo by Amanda Henderson


While on a walk on December 31, 2016, Mora holds tools in his hand. Mora said he does not like to see pesticides of any kind used on trees. He likes to see everything grown naturally. He often uses the hammer to put stakes in the ground that indicate the sun’s rising and setting patterns. Photo by Amanda Henderson


A purple flower blooms on a tree at Casa del Sol on December 31, 2016. Mora said the life seen from trees and plants is indescribable, a beauty that can cause spiritual experiences. Photo by Amanda Henderson


Mora smells a seed from a tree at Casa del Sol on December 31, 2016. Mora spoke about the importance of seed conservation. He said seeds have medicinal properties that have not yet been discovered. Photo by Amanda Henderson


Field reporters from the University of Missouri sample edible seeds on December 31, 2016. Seeds from the Achiote tree have a red dye that stains both clothes and skin, giving it the common name of “lipstick tree.” The red pigment is used sometimes as a defense mechanism but is also a source of nutrition. Photo by Amanda Henderson

Edited by Jalyn Henderson



One thought on “‘Agricultural Apprentice’ shares knowledge of trees, conservation

  1. Debbie Allen says:

    Lots of good detail, presented clearly. Kudos!

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