Off the Grid in Costa Rica: Part 2

Part 2 of our travelogue blog post, featuring our recent trip to Costa Rica's Hacienda La Amistad, an off-the-grid organic farm. Click here to read Part 1

Roberto took us on a drive in his truck across the farm, cruising over hilly terrain through the lush, green shade of the surrounding rainforest. We stopped at a section of the farm where ripened coffee cherries were ready to be picked, growing under a variety of trees where wild birds swooped and called out. 90% of Hacienda la Amistad is protected rainforest, and the estate is home to over 400 different species of migratory birds, filling the air with song and the fluttering of wings. New coffee plants had been planted in rows between plantain trees for shade, and Roberto showed us his method of providing natural nutrients to the new coffee plants, surrounding the soil with broken and dead branches, mulched coffee cherry skin, leaves, and ash.

We discussed the life expectancy of a coffee plant. If conventionally grown with chemicals, a coffee plant will last about 25 years. Alternatively, organic coffee plants live for 40 to 50 years! This all goes back to maintaining nutrient-rich soil with natural compost, working with nature instead of fighting nature. Once conventionally grown coffee gets a taste of herbicides or pesticides, it becomes dependent on those chemicals, creating an unhealthy cycle of dependency that limits the life cycle of each plant and adversely affects the soil and land surrounding the plants as well.

Next, Roberto took us on a trek to see the devastating effects of coffee roya, which has caused coffee production issues throughout Central America. Roya is a coffee leaf fungus that spreads to the coffee plant’s roots and leaves. Rust-like spots appear on the leaves, and the plants can’t bear fruit.

Roberto has been working to restore his crop by planting a rust-resistant coffee plant, interestingly brought to the farm from Brazil by Roberto’s grandfather, two generations ago. Noting this plant’s resilience, Roberto focused on growing it in seedling nurseries and planting it across the farm. Over the last three years, he has planted nearly 500,000 new coffee plants! It’s incredible to see these changes made on such a large scale. Yet for Roberto, these new plantings were essential: a long-term investment in the health and welfare of his farm.

We ate lunch back at the lodge - a delicious meal of steak, local vegetables, rice, and beans. It’s incredible to see the sustainability of the farm in everything that they do, from the food we were given to the electricity generated by their hydroelectric power plant. They have cows and bulls on the land, free roaming chickens, horses, pineapple trees, mango trees, and avocados. Not only has Roberto’s family been producing coffee since 1898, they also have an off-site dried fruit plant, where Roberto processes organic mangoes, bananas, and pineapples for export.

After lunch, we piled back in the Roberto’s truck to go see the coffee being picked. As we descended down the slopes of the mountain on curving dirt roads, we saw coffee pickers gathering with their baskets overflowing with red cherries, waiting to unload their daily pickings into the back of a collection truck and to receive their payment for a day’s labor. Among the local workers are many who travel to the estate to pick coffee during the harvest season, which runs from November to March. Since Hacienda La Amistad offers excellent wages and working conditions, along with free housing, many of the same workers return, year after year.

A collection truck pulled into the clearing. The workers lined up and unloaded their baskets into the back of the truck, where a manager noted the amount of coffee picked and paid them accordingly.

Once the truck was full and the pickers had dispersed, we travelled back to the coffee processing plant, to deliver the fresh-picked coffee. We drove up and down steep slopes, with the sun setting behind the mountains. He reversed the truck into the wet-mill, and the mill workers proceeded to unload the cherries into the water tanks, ready to depulp the coffee throughout the evening.
The following morning was our last on the farm, and it was hard to imagine leaving for home. The lodge staff served us coffee and breakfast, and we took off in Roberto’s truck to visit more of the farm.
We visited a remote plot of specialized geisha coffee plants that Roberto, always interested in trying new things, in experimenting at growing at this high altitude. We then headed down a winding mountain path to visit a plot that had particularly luscious trees, providing shade for rows of new planted coffee plants. The shade trees attract birds to fight away pests, help protect against erosion, and provide shade that allows the coffee fruit to mature more slowly, allowing the growth of dense, flavorful beans. Lastly we visited a nursery, where seedlings sprout and grow to small-sized shrubs for replanting. These are the next generation of Hacienda la Amistad’s organic coffee.

Everywhere we went, I was struck by the size of the farm, the amount of coffee produced, the daily workings and processes, and the thought put into every process. The fact that organic coffee can be grown, sustainably, on such a large scale, and provide coffee of incredible quality, leads me to believe that it’s the answer to the future of coffee.

Thanks to their steadfast commitment to organic ideals, farmers like Roberto Monterro are growing and exporting delicious organic coffee, all while protecting the environment in which it’s grown.

By partnering with coffee producers like those at Hacienda La Amistad, we can provide organic coffee, grown in harmony with nature, to our customers, and also help to elevate the livelihood of farmers. Growing organic, when done right and at high quality standards, brings a premium price. Coffee provides 300 million jobs around the world, and it was an honor to be on the frontlines of coffee production with these hard-working people. This is what coins the term “from seed to cup.” Behind every bean we roast, and every cup you brew, there is a long line of people that worked to bring the highest quality organic coffee to market, by the best means possible.

Hacienda la Amistad in Costa Rica is a role model farm for the organic coffee industry, and a pleasure to visit. Jim’s Organic Coffee is proud and honored to work with exceptional farmers like Roberto Montero, who not only produce delicious coffee, but better their community and the environment in which they grow it.

– J. Cartagena, Cupping Technician/Educator, Jim’s Organic Coffee