Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

08 March, 2008

San Ramón: Finca Patriana Organic Coffee Farming

Tour of Organic Bird-Friendly Coffee Farm
During our visit, our group was given a tour by Gary, the owner of La Patriana farm. His wife was out of the country at the time. Gary stated that it was her idea for La Patriana to become a bird-friendly coffee farm and they are now the only certified bird-friendly coffee farm ever in Costa Rica. To be bird friendly, a farm is required to have 10 different species of trees within a 50 meter radius. For this reason, the farm resembles a forest and one must look closely to identify the individual rows of coffee in the understory. La Patriana is also certified organic (to be bird-friendly a farm must be organic) and until last year was part of a cooperative of 8 farms. Unfortunately, the other 7 dropped out of the coop and went conventional due to the reduction in market premiums for organic coffee.

Shade Grown Coffee
Coffee plants are naturally meant to be in the shade. Traditionally, they do not thrive in the direct sun. In addition to providing the partial shade a coffee plant needs, trees in shade grown coffee farms provide habitat for many species of birds. The recent reduction in shade trees in coffee growing areas has disrupted migratory bird populations up to 1500 miles away from coffee growing areas. Coffee harvests have three phases: Primary, main phase and final phase. This plant in ready for the final phase of harvest and therefore has only a few berries on each branch.

A 'Cajuela' of Harvested Bird-Friendly Coffee
When coffee is picked, it is measured in cajuelas for sale as well as to compensate pickers. After measuring each cajuela of coffee, the coffee berries are placed in bags for shipment to the processing plant. Notice the stark red color inside the coffee bag. Organic certification requires that the coffee berries that are picked are all red. Conventional coffee allows both red and green berries. Fully ripened coffee berries are red and
this results in a better quality coffee.

Gary Stenlund & Coffee Picker
Because his farm is only about 2 acres, Gary does not employ very many workers. He needs help only 2 or 3 times a year for 2 or 3 days at a time. When he does hire pickers, Gary hires from the local community. Many of the pickers grew up with families in the coffee business and are therefore very efficient. The pickers do have to adjust to picking only red berries when working for La Patriana. Gary pays a fair price and on the day we visited this picker was completing the final harvest. He made around $10 that day for 4 or 5 cajuelas of coffee. The picker stated that during the main harvest he made double that. This is a very fair wage for Costa Rica, but the work is seasonal and for La Patriana, is available few days in a year.

A video on Finca Patriana can also be found in the field study section of the EEI VideoBlog.

Author: Lisa Rogers