Hola, amigos! Sadly, today was our last day in Monteverde. Looking back on it, these three days have been the most fun all trip, and we learned so much in the process. Early this morning, we woke up to have breakfast and then, traveled to Monteverde’s largest coffee plantation, Life Monteverde. Here, we toured the farm and learned about the process as usual, but for many reasons, this experience was much different.
To begin, they took us through their process step-by-step with no details left out. We really received the full tour and the full job description; instead of simply giving us answers, they encouraged us to find them ourselves and make sense of our surroundings using clues. This truly helped us to learn more. I learned to appreciate coffee farmers so much more. When you are in America rushing to work sipping on a coffee, you only care about that coffee’s effects and how quickly or slowly it works. When you are on the plantation observing the daily workload of a Tico farmer, it really puts things into perspective, and you empathize with the workers. They work long, hard hours, and they must overcome many challenges to create such great tasting coffee. They are not paid too well either. The other businesses spoke only of the good. Life Monteverde gave us the reality of coffee farming.
Firstly, it is hard to sustain a business, especially for those who own small local plantations. For Life Monteverde, their biggest struggle is predicting the environmental factors (which are constantly changing within the continental divide) and trying to prepare for the worst. Mainly, pests are a huge problem, as they love the agriculture produced here. Coffee farmers must continue to monitor their plants and assure that brocas (type of pest) are not attacking them. It’s even possible that the beans will make it all the way to the peeling process before farmers realize that there are no seeds within because they were eaten. Life Monteverde deals with this problem by conserving as much of the forest as possible. The forest distracts insects from the crops, since they can eat plants there instead. Farmers must deal with flooding. Since the plants are sometimes placed at the bottoms of hills, farmers must use a raised bed system to keep plants from being overwatered. When we consider soil, we know that nutrients that are sucked out of the ground are not always replaced. To prevent soil from being completely used up, these farmers use a rotating soil system, which assures that soil is not overused in a small period of time. Not to mention, farmers have to minimize costs and feed animals while also producing enough to feed themselves (I.E. Subsistence farming).
So, yes, it is hard to be a Tico farmer; but when we asked them why they put up with all the difficulties, they were happy to explain why. One man who was a fourth-generation worker explained that he felt that agriculture is something that you will need many times throughout the day, as opposed to a doctor or lawyer who you may need once or twice a year. The sheer importance of the industry is what drove him to continue working. One of the ladies whose family owned the farm explained that it was simply all she had known. Her parents farmed and that is what they taught her. It’s in her blood, and she likes to be outside. A niece of Don Guillermo had a similar answer, since she had grown up on the farm. Though, what really makes her happy and the owners happy is the education of the public about the environment and sustainability. They saw it as very important to teach not only us about these topics but surrounding neighbors as well. As they see it, there is nothing wrong with ecotourism and touring the plantation, if you truly learn something. Preserving the environment is the most important focus these days, especially as resources are becoming more and more scarce.
From the start, Life Monteverde made us aware of its overall mission, and it did not have much to do with profit at all. Life stands for low impact for Earth, and they showed us how they commit to this phrase each day. They asked us to define the word sustainability, and like I mentioned in my first blog post, they also understood that it had three aspects: Environmental, economic, and social. They are strong in each category, and it is not for show. They care about the environment and try to keep water sources clean and waste low. They use bio sacks of pig poop (creates methane gas) to create fuel for cooking. They use an old bike to power a blade which cuts food for the animals (pictured above). They reuse water and recycle it throughout the process. Don Guillermo’s niece touched on both the social and environmental commitment; she said, “We have to make sure we keep the water sources clean because water rolls downhill to the settlements below. We believe that it’s only fair that since we’re using a natural resource, we need to leave it in a better condition than when we found it.” She was very passionate about conservation and about taking good care of workers. Also, by sending their coffee elsewhere to be dried, they are both building their network and giving business to other farms, which helps the economy overall. They believe that managing healthy relationships with suppliers and retailers alike is essential to running such a business. To help local farmers and keep them from switching to tourism businesses, they buy ripe beans from them sometimes. As mentioned, they also preserve the forest, which is environmentally sustainable as well as economically; they are paid if they sign a promissory note stating that they will not touch the forest for a certain amount of time.
The first thing that I would do differently if I was in their shoes is use a few more acres of the forest for plantations. Conservation has benefits, and therefore, I wouldn’t cut too deep into the forest. I would only suggest a few more acres to increase yield and decrease the chance of nature ruining profits for a quarter. I might also use more machinery because I am a businessman, and thus, I believe in low cost efficiency; however, this would completely defeat the purpose of all the natural methods Life Monteverde utilizes. At some point, you have to ask yourself what’s more important: Corporate social responsibility or profit? For me, it is profit, but this is because I did not grow up on the farm and live with workers and locals. I understand why they do what they do, and I respect and appreciate it. Truthfully, nothing about the business should be changed, since their genuine nature will take them far enough. Three cheers for Life Monteverde!