My parents, Jacob and Barbara Lapp, were born in the mid-1920’s, in the Amish colony of Lancaster County Pennsylvania. They were seventh generation Amish, having kept the agrarian, family based traditions of our ancestors since they left Germany and Switzerland in search for religious freedom in the United States in the 18th century.
We are twelve brothers and sisters, born between the years 1949 and 1968. In 1961 when the family was just over half complete my parents left the Amish church. My father was seeking for his sons and daughters a Christian lifestyle based in the Bible instead of in Amish traditions. For ten years my family moved from state to state, looking for a farm and community to receive our energy, talent and conviction. One year we worked the migrant fruit harvest, from apples and tomatoes in Pennsylvania to oranges in Florida. With that, we saved enough for a down payment on the farm of our dreams. In 1971 we settled on the farm in Western New York, that was home to the Lapp family and its registered Holstein cows for 30 years. It was a medium-sized commercial dairy, mechanized for optimum forage harvest and cattle comfort, and provided for the family’s needs during my growing up. In less than ten years we changed from a traveling family challenged by poverty to a multi-member family business envied for its prosperity.
During the 1980’s our family worked a church-school project in Belize, Central America. My sister Lydia started the school for children whose parents were too poor to get them to government schools. My father shipped dairy cattle from the U.S. in an effort to have milk more easily available to the villagers, and introduced a tractor and plow for tilling the soil. On three separate occasions we brought Belizean youngsters to the U.S. for medical treatment that was not available there. Two older sisters and I adopted abandoned children during the family’s stay there. Three sisters married men from Belize and neighboring Central American countries. We became an international family, with our home in New York. My father bought two additional farms for my sisters and their husbands to live and work. For me and my siblings the farm was our future. Our children would inherit it, we thought.
Why the move to Costa Rica?
The answer is not in one sentence. Today, 11 years after my brother Nathan purchased the Costa Rican farm that would become home to Lecheria Las Lapas, I look back and wonder. Why and when did the dream change, from the Western New York farm that quickly climbed to fruition, to a small tropical farm which has remained challenged economically for a decade?
Breeding a good cow – My work on the New York farm was rewarding from the standpoint of breeding a high producing dairy cow. Each generation our cows improved through genetic selection and artificial insemination. We had cows that gave 150 pounds of milk in one day. In a single milking she filled a traditional milk can to the top, a container which had in decades before been used for milking several cows. Our cows were earning titles and getting attention for export. However, we were seeing a decline in health and longevity in our herd. Cows were wearing out too soon, either from new metabolic illnesses or reproductive failure. We could have followed the stream of calculating the cost of replacement stock and the old cow’s worth for hamburger. But my sisters and I began investigating natural health alternatives such as homeopathy, and studied dairy breeds from other countries. Rios Dairy breed.
My father taught us that the dairy cow and the area she lives in must be clean. “We are producing food for the table,” he would say (or yell) when he saw cows in deep mud, or when we didn’t clean the barn on time. On our New York farm, the milk from our cows was picked up by a company truck that took all the farmers’ milk. Our creed of cleanliness earned marks from the farm milk inspector and smiles from visitors, but never benefited the household customer. We dreamed of selling our milk directly to the customer, but government restrictions made it practically impossible. Leche Pura, Pura Vida.
Laws of Honor – My father, a practical man from birth and an enemy of hypocrisy, took offence with laws that got in the way of marketing our milk. With his eighth grade education and a mind that can’t be measured, he took to reading books. He composed a satire song, “Old Sam Doodle had a Farm” and sang it at the State Legislature in Albany. The Associated Press title said, “Farmer sings at legislative meeting.” That was only the beginning. Father’s intelligence caused friction. His sincerity with a streak of rebellion took hold on the ones who call him Dad. We became a family of activists. My younger sister Hannah is a natural at writing, and her pro-family, anti-government articles came into print, first in farm magazines, then in Wall Street Journal.
And more laws – My adopted children took me into an area of law that is called Child Protection. My children came from seriously abusive families, and I respected the laws of protection. However, I saw abuses within the system and spoke out. A chain of court battles followed, and lasted for more than ten years. This experience was a deciding factor for my move to Costa Rica.
Finally, the IRS – In 1996, the nation’s most feared government agency came head to head with Jacob Lapp. This battle was the last one we took on in the United States, before deciding to look for a more peaceful land. Buffalo News article Link
In December, 2001, my family’s migration to Costa Rica began. Brother Nathan was lead pioneer, along with his wife Marci, infant son Jeremiah. Sisters Susan and Drusilla with her three teenage children were also on the original team. They rented a house in town for their team and two big dogs, and Nathan searched Costa Rica for a suitable farm. He tuned in to Dad’s advice – clean water and fertile soil were priorities.
Pineapple and banana plantations have taken up much of Costa Rica’s level land. Heavy chemical use on these sea level plantations caused water contamination in these areas. Nathan searched for plots of farmland at elevations several hundred feet above sea level, where the air is cooler and cleaner, with mountain waters that have not been touched by the plantations. In February 2002 he closed a 45 hectare (100 acre) property that met the pioneers criteria. They named it Mighty Rivers farm. Two fast running mountain rivers made the border to the farm on both sides, and joined on the property’s lower boundary. The farm, formerly planted for macadamia nut production, also had parts beautifully preserved in their natural state. A year and a half later I joined my brothers and sisters on the farm. Nathan conceded half the farm to my sisters and I who launched the dairy project. We named it Lecheria Las Lapas, in honor of the Great Green Macaw that frequently visits and feeds on the property.
My family’s move to Costa Rica is not completely explained by logic. It was a decision of faith, conviction, and conflict. For each individual family member who made the move from material security to pioneer life, it had an individual purpose. For me, it is comfort enough to greet each new day in peace, to see the sun rising over the Mighty Rivers forest, or be it the rain dripping from tin roof. Thank you Jesus for this day, this gift from the Heavenly Father has come down to us!
I am amazed by our Heavenly Father’s ability to form incomplete human plans into a work of His own liking. My mother’s death soon after we moved to Costa Rica is but one example. It was difficult to see death as something positive. Her leaving weakened our family cohesion. Then I met my husband Mauricio, and when we married I learned an all new meaning of family. We thank Jesus that he has held us in trouble and in joy, and has given us strength to work and to love.