Coffee

Today, my culture class took a field trip to an organic farm. These types of farms are becoming more popular in Costa Rica as more people try to “save” the Earth from impending destruction. However, this farm was cool. The word for “farm” is finca, and generally refers to agricultural endeavors.

The owner of the finca, Roderic was really smart about how he planted his farm and kept animals. Unlike conventional coffee plantations that we’ve seen as a class, Roderic worked extra hard to make his product good.

I haven’t explained the plantations yet, have I? So sorry.
Coffee plantations (and banana plantations) are basically hectares of land with one type of plant. We got the eco-friendly version of the negatives, the biggest of which is that these plantations use up the nutrients in the soil without putting any back since they are monocultures. Also, these plantations force the plants to produce the same fruit under extremely unnatural conditions for that plant. For instance, the coffee plant is a shade-loving plant, but on the plantations, it is sown for several hectares without an ounce of shade. The reason the plant is still able to survive is because of the bug-repellant chemicals, the nitrogen-enriching chemicals, and the one that protects the leaves from sunscorch. Plantations are sown in a way that makes it quicker for the product to ripen, and easier for the workers to gather the crop. Organic production is not that way at all.

On Roderic’s farm, he planted many trees and other bushes with his coffee plants. He keeps a dog, two goats, two sheep, and a horse so he can collect their manure, which he keeps in a compost building. Usually, compost is kept in some semblance of a pile, but since it needs moist shade to, er, decompose, Roderic built a structure around it. He showed our class how he digs a hole in his pile of compost, fills it with manure, and partially covers it. He often buys live bait, namely earthworms, to break down the manure into soil. According to Roderic, one earthworm works 24/7 for 16 years at the decomposition process. With the amount of worms he keeps in his compost pile, manure generally becomes compost after a month. With the more acidic manure of his goats and his sheep, he covers the manure with a bit of soil, straw, and a tarp, and “cooks” it at a temperature of 60 degrees (he didn’t specify Celsius or Farenheit) to kill the “bad” bacteria like ecoli. The temperature is still low enough that he doesn’t kill the good bacteria that will break it down into compost. He spreads his compost on everything–it has enough nitrogen in it to be like Miracle-Gro. His outdoor plants he sows according to a lunar calendar; he started just before the full moon, so now his plants get sunlight all day and all night, which makes them bigger and more fruitful. Roderic tries to use the seeds from the plants he eats, but some of the cabbages he grows in his green-house are specifically cultivated to be sterile and not have seeds. Those are the only seeds he buys. He also let us eat leaves straight from his plants. Since he doesn’t use chemicals, careful washing is not necessary. I tried a piece of leaf from a purple broccoli, some lettuce, and rugula. Rugula was the weirdest taste: it tasted like a spinach leaf the second it was in my mouth, but all of a sudden became sour and spicy. I didn’t care for it much. However, the lettuce was good. Lettuce doesn’t have a flavor to me, just the texture of paper. But his lettuce tasted like a plant, and the leaf had lots of water. It gave a whole new meaning to Peter Rabbit’s temptation of Mr. McGregor’s garden.
He also grows cabbage, leeks, green onions and rice. I was very surprised at the diversity of his plants, but he told our class that when God made the Earth and the people, he put Adam and Eve in the middle of a garden, not a coffee field. Therefore, it is important to mix the plants because they each take and give something to the soil that other plants might need. His goats have a dual purpose: they are his lawnmowers. He said they eat everything in sight, and unlike cows, don’t destroy the crops.
Roderic’s production is low compared to his chemical-relying competitors. He feels that organic is better because it teaches him a valuable lesson: patience. Also, with two children and a wife, Roderic wants to be around as a father for his family. His wife works in the city, but the family could very easily survive on just the farm. He is one of two workers on his farm, the other a young Cuban.

After the tour, we were served with fruit from the farm and their very own brand of coffee. It was good. I don’t even like coffee, but if all coffee tasted like that, I would drink it. I will definitely bring some back.

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