Coffee in Costa Rica: An Environmental, Economic, and Social Outlook By Laura Englehart Introduction Coffee is the second most valuable exported legal commodity in the world, second only to oil Pendergrast xv.
We've become close friends with our expert local guide--Ernesto Carman Jr. When he's not guiding, Ernesto lives on Costa Rica's Caribbean side, so we decided this year to jet to the tropics a few days early to visit with him and his parents on their acre coffee farm at Paraiso, southeast of San Jose.
Their place is called Finca Cristina --finca being the Spanish word for farm and "Cristina" an amalgam of the first names of Ernesto's older brother and sister. Ernesto's parents, Linda and Ernie, bought the farm in after they retired from U. What they've done with it since is a story worth telling because the Carmans are producing shade-grown coffee "the right way.
From there, the drink spread to the Middle East and eventually to Europe, where it became quite popular in the s. Today two main species of coffee are consumed worldwide: Coffea arabica better-tasting, subject to more diseases, native to southwestern Ethiopiaand C.
Of these, arabica blends are considerably more expensive, so many restaurants and homeowners serve up robusta--sometimes mixed with a little arabica to make it more palatable.
Most "instant coffee" is primarily the cheaper robusta. Historically, coffee trees were plants of the dark forest, where in canopy shade they grew slowly and took longer for their fruits to ripen.
Back then, people simply went to the woods and harvested coffee beans in small quantities for personal use, but as the demand for coffee spread, growers discovered they could produce far more beans by planting trees in full sun and, eventually, on large coffee plantations above left.
This agricultural practice created numerous environmental problems that have increased exponentially in the modern era: Although Central and South America may be thousands of miles away from the U.
Faced with this complex dilemma, Ernie below right and Linda Carman eventually decided that if they were going to have a coffee farm in Costa Rica, they would do it "the right way" by eliminating as many environmental problems as they could.
It wasn't an easy decision; converting the sun-grown coffee farm they purchased to one that was environmentally friendly would require lots of work--and time. At first, the Carmans planted shade trees among their coffee plants but decided just that wasn't enough--so in they took the very unusual pioneering step of trying to become a fully ORGANIC coffee farm: Free of chemical controls and artificial fertilizers; requiring minimal use of electricity, natural gas, or other fuels; and yielding little unusable waste.
Going organic was a BIG change and a financial gamble, for it would require even longer time to allow the farm's depleted soil to be restored to a more natural state. Read on to learn how Finca Cristina minimized or eliminated each of the problems associated with growing coffee in typical fashion.
SUN COFFEE When American and European demand for more environmentally friendly shade-grown coffee began to influence how tropical farmers managed their crops, many Costa Rican coffee growers followed misguided advice and planted eucalyptus trees that sprouted quickly into the canopy above.
Unfortunately, eucalyptus is from Australia--native New World orchids and insects aren't adapted to them--and it has smooth or flaking bark that doesn't support the epiphytes anyway. Even worse, eucalyptus is a nutrient hog that sucks up minerals from the soil, requiring even MORE artificial fertilizers to nourish coffee trees growing beneath them.
This tree is the big brother of the Cherokee Bean, E. Coralbean grows quite fast, so workers cut off branches periodically and drop them to the ground, where they decompose and return even more nutrients to the earth. Finca Cristina arborists are careful not to damage Coralbean trunks above leftwhich support a large and diverse assemblage of native epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, lichens, mosses, orchids, and ferns.
Other types of canopy trees are scattered around the farm, adding biodiversity and casting shade on the coffee plants beneath. Those that are fruit trees--such as bananas right --provide food for birds and mammals including the resourceful coffee bean picker who can dine on tasty forest products rather than packing a lunch.
Those that do sprout are often native wildflowers; those that aren't are easily pulled by hand as coffee pickers make their rounds on extensive trails that wind throughout the farm.
Because grass and weed herbicides used by coffee mega-growers are often non-selective, their usage ends up destroying nearly ALL herbaceous growth--including plants used by pollinators and other insects; that turns out NOT to be a problem at herbicide-free Finca Cristina.
At Finca Cristina, the Carmans decided to go with biological control to handle leaf fungi. At least once a year, they spray their coffee trees with spores of a "good" fungus that attacks and outcompetes the "bad" fungi; the two fungal strains are shown in the photo at right, with the soon-to-be-vanquished pathogenic one at the center of the spot.
Although annual application of "good" fungal spores is relatively expensive, it is effective and a natural, organic process that kills only target fungi--not desirable decomposers that help enrich the soil.
Coffee Berry Borer, Hypothenemus hampei, annually causes hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to coffee worldwide, so the usual response by plantation owners is to smother their trees with chemical insecticides on a regular basis.
At Finca Cristina, the Carmans have a two-pronged approach to beetle control. One is to use simple bait traps left --a series of cups filled with kerosene that drowns the beetles.
The other is to "outsmart" the beetles by understanding their life cycle and managing coffee trees accordingly.Shade-grown coffee is not some marketing gimmick dreamed up for Starbuck’s-sipping telecommuters. Coffee berries originated in Ethiopia’s forested mountains, and until scientists invented sun-loving varieties in the s, almost all coffee farmers, from Kenya to Costa Rica, grew their beans under shady green canopies.
The trees grown along with the coffee bushes on shade plantations add nitrogen into the soil. The leaf litter is home for many insects that devour the organisms that attack roots, while the shade trees protect coffee plants from the harsh rain and sun, help maintain soil quality, and reduce the need for labor-intensive weeding (“Why Migratory.
In a study of shade vs. sun coffee comparisons in Guatemala, overall bird abundance and diversity were 30% and 15% greater, respectively, in shaded farms than sun farms. Shade-grown trees house two-thirds of the bird species found in natural forests in the same geographic areas.
Shade-grown coffee is not some marketing gimmick dreamed up for Starbuck’s-sipping telecommuters. Coffee berries originated in Ethiopia’s forested mountains, and until scientists invented sun-loving varieties in the s, almost all coffee farmers, from Kenya to .
Growing and Harvesting: Shade vs. Sun. Coffea arabica grows wild in the mountain rain forests of Ethiopia, where it inhabits the middle tier of the forest, halfway between the brushy ground cover and the taller trees.
Shade grown coffee is the more traditional approach that mimics the natural way coffee used to grow, underneath a forest canopy. Beginning in the ’s the idea of growing coffee in full sun was introduced to coffee farmers with the intent to increase schwenkreis.comon: 40 Berkeley Road Framingham, MA, United States.