Former paperboy living sweet life running sugar cane mill in Costa Rica
Brian Campbell, who worked as a paperboy for the River Parishes Guide in the 1980s, is now managing more than 20,000 acres of sugar cane in Costa Rica.
Campbell is the general manager at El Viejo, one of the largest sugar mills in Costa Rica, but he began his working life right here in St. Charles Parish as a paperboy.
Campbell was 10 years old when he started delivering the River Parishes Guide in the early 1980s.
“I would use my mom’s bicycle to deliver them because it had front and back baskets,” Campbell said. “Before running the route, the papers needed to be folded for delivery. This was either done with a rubber band or plastic bag, depending on the weather.”
Campbell said that having his first job at such a young age laid a good foundation for his future.
“It taught me the value of work - this was one of my first experiences in having a salary and having the freedom to spend or save it as I saw fit,” Campbell said. “It also taught me the importance of getting the job done. The paper had to be delivered no matter what the weather was like, how much homework I had, or if my friends were playing outside.”
Thirty years later, Campbell is now the general manager at El Viejo. The mill’s main products are sugar, molasses and electricity, which is generated from biomass. The mill also includes a small eco-tourism project that was started two years ago using the historic hacienda house on the property.
Campbell went down the path of sugar mill management after graduating from Louisiana State University in 1994. He was hired by Chiquita Brands and sent to Costa Rica where he worked on banana plantations from 1994 until 2007. While there, he earned his Master’s degree in business administration from Incae Business School.
With the area’s working plantations and generous people, Campbell said the country is similar to St. Charles in many ways.
“Life in Costa Rica is very nice. The climate does not change much throughout the year,” Campbell said. “Just like in the River Parishes, people are very nice - though it is hard to compete with ‘southern hospitality’ Costa Ricans can hold their own in this area.”
He said like southern Louisianans, Costa Ricans often talk about the “Pura Vida” or “Pure Life” and strive for contentment and happiness in every situation.
While trying to live the good life in Costa Rica, Campbell still has a lot on his plate as general manager.
“My duties as general manager basically encompass the entire business,” he said. “It involves cultivation of 6,000 hectares (about 14,820 acres) of sugar cane and purchasing of another 4,000 (about 9,880 acres) from independent growers, then transporting and processing the sugarcane in the mill to produce various types of sugar and molasses.”
Campbell said that the clean, renewable energy that is created as a bi-product in this process is put into the national grid.
Campbell’s parents are also in the farming industry with a crop that can make a multitude of different products.
Charles and Josefina Campbell have been selling their rice products at the German Coast Farmers’ Market in Destrehan for years. Like sugar cane, rice has many bi-products that can be utilized to make products like soap, rice, flour and more.
After growing up in a rice farming family, their son had a good foundation to go into the farming business.
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