Born in Germany and raised in urban Chicago, Illinois, Henry studied business in the university and worked in commerce for several years before finding his true vocation in life. Henry is married to a “China/Tica”with 2 grown children.
Henry Karczynski has been continuously involved in agricultural development since joining the Peace Corps as a volunteer in 1975. He has worked as a long term project manager for several Non-Government Organizations (NGO) and as a short term consultant in a half a dozen countries in Central America and the Caribbean. Henry has resided in Costa Rica since 1977 and has been manager/owner of Villa Vanilla, the farm home of rainforestspices.com, since 1987. Never a proponent of conventional chemical agriculture the farm has been certified organic since 1992 and biodynamic since 2000.
Originally tackling the challenge of growing vanilla commercially he viewed his operation with what he now calls “tunnel vision”, not wanting to be sidetracked by any other agricultural activity that would distract him from his goal of producing commercial vanilla. With a temperate climate approach to his business endeavor Henry had practiced a monoculture approach to the farm. The focus was on encourging only vanilla using one type of host tree (the coral tree) and maintaining a lawn approach to row management. Any plant that didn’t fit into the planting scheme was subject to the thrust of the machete. After several successful harvests with lady luck by his side Costa Rica suddenly became the brunt of a series of tropical hurricanes that deposited eight meters of rain for two successive years! excessive water stress along with a degenerated planting material and the application of unsound agricultural practices brought vanilla production in Costa Rica to a sudden halt.
This experience forced Henry to reflect more on tropical agriculture in general and sustainable practices specifically. After reading as many books and articles on non-conventional agriculture that he could he came upon a book called “Secrets of the Soil” by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. His attention was attracted by the several chapters devoted to a holistic approach to agriculture called biodynamics. This book encouraged him to acquire more literature and participate in biodynamic conference to learn more of this ancient art of agriculture. He also traveled to Madagascar and Mexico to experience vanilla production.
Henry’s farm had been certified organic using the expression “benign neglect”. He had achieved his certification based more on the fact that he wasn’t using prohibited chemicals than to an approach that was paying attention to increasing the health and vigor of the soil and beneficial microorganisms. By studying biodynamics he realized that he needed to turn his attention back to the soil taking into consideration the unique life forces and synergies of the tropics.
Henry forged ahead against conventional agricultural wisdom by planting the same crop in a soil that was devastated with pathogenic fungi. However Henry now had available valuable tools and information on how to create a soil and plant environment that would encourage repopulation with beneficial microorganisms. By using the biodynamic principles of viewing and treating the farm as an organism or unit, by learning more about nature’s earthly rythyms and cosmic cycles and applying energetic medicinal plant preparations that encourage balance along with other sustainable tropical practices that encourage bio-diversity the farm did a 180 degree turnaround.
Henry’s farm is now planted with a variety of spice and essential oil cash crops along with minor plantings of common and exotic fruits, trees, flowering and medicinal plants. Henry noticed that the flora diversity has brought back the fauna diversity that is normally present in tropical humid forests. Birds, monkeys and other animals are returning in droves!
Henry was fortunate to meet many masters and each of them contributed in one way or another to the goal of increasing the awareness of the uniqueness of tropical agriculture. He is willing to share his experiences and vision with students, practicioners and visitors to Villa Vanilla & Rainforest Spices.