Her path to entrepreneurship is paved with heirloom corn

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: August 31st, 2021

Ana Giselle Muñoz was raised on a lush, fertile mountain where almost any crop could sprout. “A land of blessing and abundance” is how Muñoz refers to Río Montaña – the area in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, where she has lived her whole life.

Portrait of doña Ana at her house.

Reaching her community is not easy. A sturdy vehicle is needed, one with all-wheel drive that can climb the steep, uneven roads. From Río Montaña’s peaks, you can see the Pacific Ocean flowing merely kilometers away. Still, it is a remote place. There is neither electricity nor phone signal. One of the scarce buildings is a one-room schoolhouse attended by the area’s few children.

Families in Río Montaña are dedicated to agriculture, mostly subsistence farming. Selling their crops often seems impossible, even though the farmers grow and harvest organic ayote squash, beans, and heirloom corn of the highest quality. Transporting the perishables out of the community, linking up with wholesale buyers, and obtaining a fair price – it’s all difficult.

The mountains around Río Montaña.

While Muñoz prepares hand-flattened tortillas, her husband Jorge Luis Villegas is in the trees, cutting down sweet mangos and avocados for lunch. In the past few months, the couple has been supported by EARTH Futures and the CRUSA Foundation, to help them learn more about their own land and how to obtain a more efficient harvest.

This EARTH–CRUSA project guides corn growers from Guanacaste in adopting sustainable agricultural practices, incorporating resource-saving technologies and modern agricultural knowledge, accessing fair markets, and preserving the culture and cosmovision of this ancestral crop.

Although she never envisioned herself to become an entrepreneur, with the support of Karina Poveda, project coordinator at EARTH Futures, Muñoz has started her own business, which bears the same name as her community. She prepares ready-to-use cornmeal made from white, yellow, and pujagua purple varieties grown – without chemicals – on her family’s land for generations.

Doña Ana with her product.

“I would like my business to spread far and wide so that people might try my flour,” Muñoz says. “We even reproduce the seeds ourselves. After each harvest, we select the best ones and save them for the next sowing.”

Ditsú, an eco-market and chic restaurant in cosmopolitan San José, is her first customer. To Muñoz, it is amazing to think that her humble product is traveling so far from home. On July 13, she was gifted the opportunity to visit Ditsú, alongside two other guanacasteca women who make corn-based products. After traveling more than 150 kilometers, the three budding agro-entrepreneurs got to see their products featured on the menu and share space with people of different nationalities. Together, they ate traditional dishes, including rosquillas (cheesy corn pastries), pozol (chunky corn-and-meat stew), arroz de maíz (corn grits with chicken), and chicheme (cornmeal drink).

Ana during her visit to San José.

Ana during her visit to San José.

“When I got the news that I was going to San José, I felt overwhelmed. It was a wonderful surprise! Although I was nervous, I managed to talk with people who spoke other languages and to explain my work,” Muñoz says of the trip, her first-ever to her country’s capital. “It was lovely to see San José. Melissa Zuñiga Herrara (Ditsú’s manager) took us on a tour of the Teatro Nacional and other sites. The most beautiful part was that we all learned from each other – the friendships I made during those days, I now see those people as family.”

Pujagua corn.

For CRUSA, the alliance with EARTH represents an opportunity to improve the quality of life of people like Doña Ana. “One of the central aspects of the CRUSA Foundation’s strategy is the change of the country’s productive paradigm. That is why we are promoting the transition to a green, inclusive and innovative economy, in which sustainability means competitiveness and not a limitation to economic growth. It fills us with great satisfaction to see that our alliance with EARTH Futures contributes to a country with sustainable development that provides greater opportunities for women entrepreneurs in all regions of the country, such is the case of Doña Ana’s story,” said Flora Montealegre, Executive Delegate of the CRUSA Foundation.

Watch Señora Muñoz describe what it means to be part of this EARTH–CRUSA project, become an entrepreneur, and connect with the wider world.