You won’t find this nearby your local Starbucks. Nor will you find it for free at Dunkin’ Donuts after a rare Eagles win. It is the nascent coffee fruit at an organic coffee farm in the midst of the heavily deforested and agriculturally intense landscape in the Tilaran mountain range.
Before embarking on our second field trip, our group has had the opportunity to visit a few more key learning spots around Monteverde. The most recent has been to an organic coffee farm owned by none other than Doña Hermida, a woman that truly exemplifies “girl power.” Left with five boys to care on her own decades ago, Doña Hermida resolved to buy some farmland with the help of her sons. And she has been caring for it, reaping the benefits of sustainable harvesting, and sharing her passion with all willing to listen. Her agroforestry model, though ideal, is not replicable everywhere, as coffee optimally grows at her farm’s present elevation along with various other crops from yucca to platanos (plaintains) to frijoles (beans).
First a little background on coffee in Costa Rica and, well, the tropics in general. The Costa Rican government years ago decided only to allow the planting of one species of coffee—Coffea arabica, an Ethiopian rainforest native. Now I am no coffee connoisseur, but “they” tell me this is the good stuff, the stuff that requires more TLC than the alternatives. I suppose this is why Costa Rica has such a high reputation for their coffee. It is also a shade plant, so it must have other vegetation to cover up its sensitive little leafs. Coffee is so needy that the steps from originally seed propagation to your favorite Temple University mug can take years to accomplish, unbeknownst to those as detached from food production as I.
As always, let’s get to the controversial part. Coffee is a luxury good, and I know the fanatics will not agree. In plain words, coffee is NOT a necessity. But countries like Costa Rica rely on selling it, and crops like bananas and pineapples, as commodity items to be traded on the global scale. This puts developing countries in a precarious position if the market dies off for a luxury good, particularly if they do not have suitable land to produce necessary staple crops like wheat, rice, and pulses. Then concepts like Fair Trade initiatives and organic certifications begin to offer some safety net for those developing croppers willing to commit the time and effort toward these cooperative efforts.
The case of Doña Hermida was unique. Monteverde is a huge tourist town with a largely specialized extranjero (foreigner) market. Many extranjeros come to Monteverde for adventure, others for eco-tourism, and then even more for rural tourism. These tourists may be even more enticed to find some organic locally-grown coffee to bring back as a souvenir. She saw an unfilled niche and took advantage of it. Now she has vertically integrated her business to include the arduous steps from seed propagation to retail at her son’s hotel. That is farm-to-your-TU-coffee-mug right there. Plus, she has done it without any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
There is so much more to be said about this topic—food security, fair trade between consumers and farmers, simple knowledge of your K-Cup coffee grinds’ origins—that cannot be addressed in a single blog post. If it means anything to be more conscious about what we eat and acknowledge those awesome farmer-entrepreneurs like Doña Hermida, then it is worth it to write and tell stories like this.