Today we spent six hours measuring trees in a coffee plantation. We had a field lab testing how much carbon the coffee farm fixes, and today was just data collection collection collection. It was hot and dusty and buggy and disgusting, but the owners of the farm took us on a tour and fed us as much coffee as we wanted after our work (also, one of our professors said that he would pick coffee beans for work every summer—1$ per basket he filled (he could fill about 10 a day). That shut us up).
Coffee, unlike other large agricultural products that Costa Rica exports (like bananas and pineapple) has remained a crop that small farmers can still produce (as it doesn’t require too much land to grow). Ten years ago, this small farm became an organic farm, partnering up with 5 other coffee farms to produce one product. Though organic coffee makes up less than 1% of the Costa Rican coffee, it’s supposedly some of the finest in the world.
The red one is ripe off the tree, and the brown has dried in the sun, and the baby ones on the left are ready to be roasted!
Coffee is a shade tolerant plant, meaning that it’s natural habitat is in the shade (where it can live and thrive) but it can also be grown in the sun, where it actually produces more. So in a conventional coffee plantation, all trees are cleared and the coffee is planted, irrigated a ton, and the production of each individual plant increases. But in this organic farm, they left big trees standing around the coffee plants, providing shade for them. Though the yield is less each season (about 50% less than a conventional farm), the shade keeps the soil from drying out as fast (thus using less water), and the trees fix nitrogen—maintaining soil health, and since it’s providing the plant with it’s natural growing conditions, it simply makes a "better cup" (as they say). The farmer compared it to the rabbit and the hare—you can go really fast but burn out and not be as good, or go slow and steady, producing quality in every step. Also, they don’t use any agrochemicals so it’s a totally closed system—nothing is added and nothing unnatural is produced. The farmer said that the money they save with chemicals goes to hiring more workers to pick and process the coffee (as the organic process is much more labor intensive). This provides jobs to the community and doesn’t create any contact between chemicals and bodies or the environment. They stressed that the process is much slower—the seeds grow slower, they’re picked slower, they’re processed and dried slower—but there’s also a mentality change. They are happier and freer, not producing for a big coffee conglomerate. They’re also in a niche market (organic Costa Rican coffee grown above 1,000 meters) so they’re able to sell each bag for more.
They also process (dry and roast) all of the coffee there. They have a machine that husks the seed (that byproduct is then used for compost), and the seeds are laid out under the sun to dry (instead of being put in heat chambers). Once the seed is picked off the tree, they say that it sits for three hours at most before it is processed, so no beans get stale and dried out.
A little machine
The sun's work
The coffee at the end tasted so so fresh and whole and yummy.