Buzzing Ethically: Sustainable Coffee Farming in Monteverde

If there is one word that I’ve heard too often on this trip, its “Sustainability.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it.

Its just that I swear I can’t go thirty minutes without hearing the word.

Whether we are on a tour of campus looking at its sustainable design (Ask me about the bio-digester sometime. Can’t explain the science, but I’m still very pumped to discuss it.) or watching videos on Monteverde’s commitment to sustaining populations of endangered animals, sustainability is being discussed EVERYWHERE. In fact, there is a girl next to me right now talking on the phone with her parents about the sustainable farm on campus. I didn’t plan this, but, luckily, this is the perfect segue into the main topic of this blog post: our group tour of Café de Monteverde.

Environmental Sustainability:

Touring the coffee farm, one becomes immediately aware of just how harmoniously this business fits in with its natural environment. There is a consistent theme of working to not only profit from the land but also give back responsibly. The owners of Café de Monteverde have executed this excellently. The farm is multi-cultural, featuring several crops. This is a crucial sustainable farming practice because only planting one kind of crop (I’m looking at YOU, big farming industry) is, one, terrible for the soil and, two, leaves crops susceptible to large scale pest invasions. Both of these factors lead to increased fertilizer and pesticide usage, and we all know that these are major polluters and are by no means sustainable. By planting multiple crops, Café de Monteverde avoids these issues, producing healthy plants and healthy dirt for the rest of the environment to benefit from. Fun fact: the farmers have begun planting legumes in between rows of coffee plants because legumes are known nitrogen fixers. This not only helps the soil, but also reduces the need for fertilizers, saving time, money, and water quality.

Another major environmental factor that Café de Monteverde has decided to take on: waste. The owner has decided that the farm should produce as little waste as possible. To him, this looks like a closed system in which everything that is used comes from the farm and then returns back to the farm. They have a large scale compost operation, taking food scraps from workers’ meals (often this food is grown by the very plants helping fix soil and attract pollinators) and using them to help sustainably fertilize soil to grow baby coffee plants in. The landscaping has also been done in a way to maximize use of material. When touring the farm, one will notice that the most water-dependent crops are planted at the bottom of a declined farming surface. This decline allows maximum rainwater to flow downward towards these plants, and significantly reduces the amount of artificial watering done by the farmers. There is no need to large irrigation techniques, one of the leading water wasters in the world of farming.

Socioeconomic Sustainability:

One point that the owner of Café de Monteverde made sure we left with was that sustainability extends beyond the environmental and into the socio-economic. He said that a farm could be waste free and carbon neutral, but if the community isn’t improved and if the farm makes no money, then sustainability is still not reached. One area in which Café de Monteverde is improving the socio-economy is their job production, especially for Nicaraguan immigrants. Café de Monteverde is a large hirer of immigrants from Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Our guide reminded us of just how important this is. We learned that professional level jobs (doctors, lawyers, etc.) often make no more than $40.00 a week for the Nicaraguan practitioner. That is bananas, and you know that coffee picking in Nicaragua isn’t bringing in near the same amount as lawyering. However, at Café de Monteverde, coffee pickers have been known to make up to $300 in a single week. These workers are then able to send some of this money back home, providing much needed services for their children otherwise unattainable without the decent pay at Café de Monteverde.

The workers aren’t the only ones positively impacted, though. Café de Monteverde has an agenda that includes meeting the needs of our other, furrier, neighbors. Monteverde is known as a sanctuary for threatened animals, and Café de Monteverde is trying to prove that even a farm can help provide the crucial habitats necessary for harmonious relationship between human and nonhuman. Much focus has been put on the Puma, a large cat once very common to the area, but now rarely seen at all. However, just recently, night time cameras set up on the farm caught a mother Puma prowling the farm. This is incredible. A year ago, according to our guide, such news would have been thought of as impossible. Yet, Café de Monteverde, through simply caring about their impact, has accomplished the impossible, and the Puma is now recovering within the bounds of their farm.

Closing Thoughts:

As we got ready to leave the tour, the owner emphasized not only the importance of the farm, but also the importance of the people touring. He reminded us that we, much like Café de Monteverde have the ability, and responsibility, to serve as a beacon for sustainable practice. We can implement many of the same practices in our own home gardens, we can tell our friends about what we learned here, and, maybe most importantly, we can demand a sustainable market for ethically produced goods. It is up to our generation to usher in these changes, and unless we demand them with our buying choices, they will not happen. If you want to help support Café de Monteverde’s mission, you can do so by buying their coffee here:  Just make sure to select the Monteverde blends. I tried the coffee myself, and it tasted great. But, the best part? Knowing that the buzz is ethical.

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