In the valley of Santa Maria de Dota, rests Coopedota, a coffee cooperative that consists of 900 farms in the Terrazu area. We visited the headquarters of the cooperative that consisted of a large and a small milling plant, a roastery, packaging area, offices for the directors, a small coffee field, and a barista school. They are the final coffee producer that we will visit on this trip and is uniquely organized compared to the other companies that we visited. Costa Rica is a small country compared to other coffee producing countries such as Columbia and Brazil, and this creates intense competition between different farms to produce the highest quality coffee. A cooperative pools resources from all the competing farms and organizes them to make it as effective and efficient as possible. This will reduce the competition between the many small farms and create a single larger entity that has more weight to throw around in the market. Just like any other business decision, there are pros and cons to deciding to join a cooperative if you are a coffee farm.
One of the advantages to joining a cooperative was previously mentioned, the fact that the farm becomes part of a larger entity providing more protection from sways in the market as well as more respect from the government and larger institutions. The extra protection comes from the fact that they can produce almost 900 times more coffee together than they could on their own, grabbing a much larger corner of the market. Each individual farm doesn’t need to find a buyer, instead the cooperative finds one and will mill, find a buyer, and sell the farms coffee for them. Another advantage of joining a cooperative is the increase in worker protection, wages, and sustainable assistance. Coopedota is very passionate about providing their workers with fair wages that properly represented how much coffee that they could produce. Since each farm/family has a voice in the cooperative through voting on one of 12 directors on the board of directors, they are all invested in the cooperative and want to make sure they select the people who will represent their ideals. They receive extra sustainable help from the board of directors. From decreased energy requirements in the production process by switching which mill is running during what time, to information that is shared throughout the cooperative concerning sustainable fertilizer and pesticide practices there are many different processes that improve all 900 farms production and sustainability.
Additionally, there is a barista school located in their main location that we visited today. This option is offered to people who would prefer to not be coffee farmers, but still utilize their large knowledge of coffee. They become well trained in making many different types of coffee, a skill that allows them to travel and work all over the world in gourmet coffee shops with high wages. This helps the Santa Maria de Dota community by offering a variety of jobs for the people living here and brings in much more commerce to the city because there is a central area of production. The community would be very broken apart if the cooperative happened to collapse, which is not very likely considering they have gone from 820 to 900 farms in the past two years. The mill would likely shut down of be bough t by a large corporation that would take away the many protections that are offered to the cooperative farmers. Moreover, the lines of communication for sharing of information and assistance would be shut down and each farmer would be left on their own until a larger company comes to take advantage of them because they won’t have the same ability to draw in buyer through word of mouth that Coopedota currently has. I think that the community would become less friendly with each other because competition would soar between each of the individual farms because they all have to now fight to find places to sell their coffee cherries to. Another possibility is that the turn towards tourism that happened in Monte Verde would happen again with is that what happened in Monteverde would be repeated here with many of the farms converting to tourism. Tourism can turn fortunes around quickly, however it invites tourists into the town and promotes theft and competition between the previously friendly farms.
However, life in a cooperative is not happy and easy all the time. The farms in the cooperative range in size from 3 hectares to 30 hectares, 10 times increase, yet they all have the same amount of representation. The larger farms sometimes leave the cooperative because of this since they feel that since they produce more coffee for the cooperative than the smaller farms they should receive a larger voice in the group. Another reason that joining a cooperative is a risk is that you don’t receive as much freedom in how you run your farm as you would if you were just an individual farm. They create cooperative wide policies on the quality of coffee that needs to be produced and the farms are told the specific qualities they need to produce in their coffee. Leaving the cooperative would also create difficulty finding a buyer because a single farm would have problems catching the attention of a larger buyer that would hear of the larger production from Coopedota as a whole.