Visiting the Life Monteverde farming complex gave me a very interesting perspective on the daily life of Tico farmers. To the uninitiated, coffee farming seems relatively straightforward, or at least as straightforward as farming any crop can be. However, coffee plants are very finicky growers and difficult to harvest. These challenges require lots of innovation and control systems on the part of coffee farmers, some of which I was able to examine on today’s tour.
Life Monteverde markets itself as a sustainable, efficient, and eco-friendly coffee farm, conservation site, and education center. This type of coffee farm differs from ones like Doka because Doka’s goals do not include environmental education programs like those of Life Monteverde. Thus, the types of challenges faced by the farmers managing Life Monteverde will differ from those faced by the Doka executives. For example, one of Life Monteverde’s biggest initiatives is the conservation of natural forest habitats alongside their coffee fields. In order to be a successful business, Life Monteverde needs to produce a large enough coffee crop to sustain itself, while at the same time setting aside enough space for the forest environment to persist. Balancing their economic needs with their sustainability goals appears to be one of the biggest issues faced by farms like Life Monteverde.
Another large challenge faced by the farmers at Life Monteverde is how to efficiently transport harvested coffee beans to other locations for washing and drying. Due to the very humid climate in the area where the main farm is located, coffee beans grown there must be transported to a separate location at a lower elevation for washing and drying. This places the farm at a disadvantage to larger coffee companies, such as Doka, that perform all of the preparation processes on-site, saving time, energy, and money. Unfortunately, this is a challenge that the Life Monteverde farmers cannot completely avoid because of the inherent humidity of their farming area. The problem can only be dealt with and worked around, not eliminated completely, and so this issue is an ongoing one for the farmers.
For Costa Rican owners of small farms like Life Monteverde, job satisfaction evidently comes from educating students, citizens, and other farmers about the importance of environmentally sound agriculture practices. The fact that the tour guides allowed us to explore the grounds on our own shows that they take great pride in their farm, and do not have any secrets that need keeping from visitors. For these farmers, happiness is a result of creating a sustainable, environmentally-friendly farm and educating people about how they can help preserve the beautiful cloud forests while still continuing the traditional farming practices of the region.
Were I to run the Life Monteverde farm, I would only change one thing about their current operation. Instead of shipping unprocessed coffee beans to a relatively far location for washing and drying, I would attempt to form a partnership with another small farm and have them do the processing. The old equipment could then be rented out to other coffee producers for use. This would save Life Monteverde time and money, once the initial startup cost of the machinery is overcome, and allow them to continue their goals of practicing and educating others about sustainable farming methods in the cloud forests.