Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

30 May, 2011

Achiote: Community Coffee & Environment Association

The coffee processing facility shown in this picture belongs to the members of the Asociacion Comunidad Cafe y Ambiente (Community Coffee & Environment Association). This blog will discuss the ways in which this coffee processing plant and the group of people who operate it form a system that is economically feasible and socially desirable. This association is an example of a sustainable business that demonstrates sustainable agriculture and land use, and contributes to community development. The group has lost many of its members because people have decided to work independently, but the remaining members continue to benefit themselves and help their community by working cooperatively.

The Foundations of a Sustainable Business
The founding of this program was economically feasible because the group worked as a team to build the facility. As shown in the pictures, adults and children worked along with a member of the Peace Corps to construct the building we visited. Because they worked together as a community, the group saved money on constructing that facility. Also, the building is lit through windows on all sides so there is no need for electrical lighting. The open windows allow ventilation so air conditioning is not needed, either. These sustainable building techniques save money for the organization.

Economic Development as a Team
Working together as a group makes for a more economically viable and sustainable business for the members of the association. All of the coffee farmers need access to a pilandora (processing machine) to separate the coffee beans from the shells. By sharing this pilandora, each member of the group can use it for much cheaper than it would cost to use the private one down the road. Also, by selling as a group, the members can get a higher price for their coffee than they would if they sold individually. The members share knowledge on farming sustainability which helps them better their own farming and harvesting techniques and gain more from their work. The entire coffee farming process becomes more efficient thanks to the partnership these people have formed.

Community Development
Education is the means of furthering sustainable development, because it is necessary for the implementation of sustainable methods. This group works together to gain knowledge. Aside from educating themselves and each other, the members of the group contribute to the development of the outside community by providing education and support. Children can visit the site in order to learn about the group's sustainable methods of coffee bean production. This provides a base of knowledge in the community for sustainable development. The members also explained that they can provide support for adults in the community who need work by getting them started as coffee farmers. If the town was in trouble economically, the group could help provide resources for the creation of jobs. By spreading knowledge, the group is contributing to the sustainable development of their community.

Sustainable Agriculture and Land Use
The Asociacion Comunida Cafe y Ambiente practices sustainable agriculture and land use so that they will be able to continue making profits off the land for years to come. One way in which they act sustainably is by using an improved coffee plant that produces bigger beans and is more resistant to pests and disease. They plant in the shade, where coffee grows best, instead of in open fields. Another way in which the group preserves and works in harmony with the land is that they reuse the coffee seed shells. This picture shows the area behind the building where the shells from the piladora are deposited. The peels fall on the ground where they serve as both chicken food and fertilizer. This technique saves money for the group in addition to being environmentally sustainable. The group is working towards earning an organic certification, but it is expensive and difficult to obtain.

Furthering Community and Economic Development
The Asociacion Comunida Cafe y Ambiente is working to further their economic sustainability as a business. This photo shows a bag of ground coffee, a step that the organization does not yet have the capability to do themselves. In the future, the group is hoping to gain the facilities and equipment necessary for grinding the coffee. Right now they sell the whole coffee beans after removing the peels and the coffee is ground by their buyers. If the group is able to complete one more step of the coffee making process before selling their product, they will be able to absorb more of the profit from the coffee sales into the group.  This is the concept of 'value-added' products.  In addition, the group could benefit from obtaining fair trade certification, which would allow them to sell their coffee at a higher price.  However, it is difficult and expensive to get. In the future, I think the Asociacion Comunida Cafe y Ambiente will continue to develop economically and within their community.

Author: Kendra Williamson

Achiote: Organic Shade-Tree Coffee Farming

Arabica and Robusta Coffee
This picture shows the coffee beans that are not native to the lands which we were in. In Panama, and specifically this family- owned coffee farm, the normal Panamanian coffee beans were small in size. Upon realizing that with the large size of the bean having more flavor and caffeine content, hence, ’robust,’ and the possibility to make more money, they began importing ‘Robusta Beans’ (as shown in the photo) of larger size. “The robusta plant has a greater crop yield than that of Coffea Arabica [even]. As it is less susceptible to pests and disease, robusta needs much less herbicide and pesticide than Arabica” (wiki). Robusta beans are native to lands in Africa and other places with a wet climate such as this area of Panama. There are several differences in leaf size, flavor, and way of growing between the Arabica and Robusta coffee plants. For example, “the Arabica coffee plant is self-pollinating, whereas the Robusta coffee plant depends on cross pollination” ( As our guide was saying, the Robusta plants need certain forms of cross pollination to re-pollinate. While we were here, he pointed out a specific bird that is the main ‘cross- pollinator’ for these plants. By sitting on the plants and taking pollen and nectar from the sweet smelling white flowers the plants produce early in the season and flying around to other plants, these birds naturally pollinate the other plants. Insects of course also serve the same purpose in cross- pollinating. Because this is a shade coffee farm, the idea of the protective canopy of trees offers not only protection of the plants, but also can serve as a home to many animals such as insects and butterflies that will pollinate these coffee plants. Focusing solely on birds, shade coffee fields shelter up to two-thirds of the bird species found in natural pristine forests in the same geographic areas (

This picture shows coffee beans from a plant that was not able to be harvested. The normal harvesting season for coffee beans in Panama is between October and December. However, these beans came from a tree that was infested with ants. Pests are always a problem for many farmers, and when it comes to organic farming, the use of unnatural pesticides is not practiced. With small scale farms, these families need all of the trees and plants they can get, showing that there is a need for ways to protect pests. With the continuance of environmental perturbations natural remedies have been found to keep away these pests. As our tour guide was telling us, the natural remedies they use for these problems come from another plant that they had growing near the trees. It was a type of lemony- smelling plant that repelled ants in other forms. It could not simply be planted next to a coffee tree to keep it free of ants and pests however. It first had to be boiled with water and made into a liquid. After this it could then be directly applied to the coffee plant as a natural repellent. This had to be done the year prior to harvesting the particular plant.

Shade Coffee Environment
This photo shows the environment of the coffee plants. The use of land is very important to most local farmers. Shade grown coffee must be produced under a canopy of trees for it to yield its most beans to harvest. By being in the right location, this small- scale organic shade coffee farm is in the perfect, natural, already existing habitat. The environment for this area is also rainy, which it actually started to rain a little while we were there. Although their normal harvest season is from October to December, if it has been really rainy they may even harvest some plants as late as January. As our guide said, this area is the rainiest in the whole country. Although this can be seen as an environmental perturbation, these farmers work with the environment to produce sustainable crops. However, the reason that they chose to have a shade coffee farm may be for this very reason. The canopies of trees in which shade coffee farms are located help protect the trees from sun and more importantly, rain. As we also have seen, this shared as a home for their horses as well. Along with being a natural forest, creating a perfect habitat for the coffee plants, it was also the home for some of their livestock. “Among the many benefits of using shade-grown coffee production methods, in contrast to sun-grown coffee, are that it provides food and shelter for songbirds, as well as habitat for numerous other species of animals and plants” (

Small- Scale Processing Plant

After harvesting and drying the coffee beans, they are able to be taken to this small processing plant. There, the beans are put into this machine that shells them and empties them into a bucket. When relating to ecological footprints, the tool for measuring and analyzing human natural resource consumption, this coffee plant puts out close to what it puts in. After the coffee beans are shelled, the waste is separated by a blast of air from a fan that sends the shells through a several foot long piece of PVC piping directly back to the environment outside.  It is then used as feed for the chickens and livestock that live in the back. The chickens then create environmentally friendly compost that can be used for growing soil for the coffee plants on the farm. The ecology of this small- scale farm is indefinitely ecologically circular, meaning that what all of the products in the production can be re-used and renewed to make more of the same thing. The natural compost thrives in the natural shade environment of the coffee plants.

Right next to the small house on this coffee farm is a slab of concrete with pieces of rebar sticking out of the ground. Asking if this was actually used for something, we received an explanation of another ecologically sustainable component of the farm. We learned that this place is used to set up a greenhouse for production. After the coffee beans are harvested, they must then somehow be dried. Instead of using forms of electricity, these people use the natural heat and energy from the sun, and the technology of the greenhouse to dry out the newly harvested coffee beans. It was interesting to see that the only source of electricity I saw on this Faculty Directed Practicum was for the small scale processing plant to power the small machine used to shell the beans. When comparing this ecologically friendly system to large scale processing plants in respect to electricity, this farm that we had visited has much less of an ecological footprint. Along these lines, I asked our guide if they have ever considered s type of solar power to dry out the beans because maybe they could do more at once, which could increase the production and human capital. He told me that in the future that could become a possible opportunity for this farm and many others around it, especially if they could collaborate with other farmers as part of this organization has already. It would be very interesting to re- visit this site and see their progress down the road in a few years.

Cafe Seedlings
This photo shows the small coffee, ‘café,’ plants that are growing the shade forest as well. This farm uses their own seeds and seedlings from existing trees to plant these new ones in this small nursery area and then transplant to the farm in the future. It takes 3 to 4 years for these Robusta beans to yield beans, depending on the size of the plant. This reduces the costs and shipping associated with importing more plants, like they had done with the original Robusta coffee plants. I was interested in how you actually grow, or start a coffee plant and what it takes for this to happen. I asked our guide on the way back to the bus and he told me a few things that you need. First, he said that the soil must be moist, but cannot be too wet. This, as stated before can become a problem in this area because it is the rainiest area in Panama. It takes a lot of care for a seed to sprout into a seedling. After about 4 months, the seedling will begin producing leaves. Then, after about 5 months after, the seedling will begin to look like an actual coffee plant. But as we stated earlier, it takes about about 3 to 4 years for it to actually begin yielding beans. They are then replanted from this small area.

AUTHOR: Amanda Galioto
Semester at Sea, Maymester 2011

Achiote: Los Rapaces Ecotourism Group

Community development
The name of the restaurant “Los Repaces” is inspired by a kind of raptor (eagle or predator), which is known to take full advantage of its environment. The restaurant owners and locals believe that communities can survive and thrive off of what’s given to them by nature. People are very proud of their own land, diversity of birds, and natural surroundings that are filled with rich resources. We have witnessed that they truly built a sustainable community with their own hands, rely on the immediately available resources and their belief in communal interest. Rather than merely chasing after the artificial, global and commercial, they are more developed than the rest of the world by returning to what’s truly natural, local and original. As shown in the picture, most of the restaurant workers are female. The restaurant business creates jobs for the women from the town, who traditionally were expected to stay at home to raise the children. Men are viewed as the breadwinner of the household and owner of the property and land. This kind of cultural arrangement prevents women from accessing social and economic power. They are often not given education and training from youth, never expected to compete, gain independence or succeed in the marketplace growing up. As a result, women are more vulnerable to unemployment than men. While men can leave home to work in the city, women and children are left behind, which creates potential problems for the family and community. Vast lands are abandoned or exploited for commercial uses, which leaves abundant natural resources and habitats uncared for.

The restaurant conveniently awards the women a stable source of income with skills that they already have without taking them away from their nourishing and supportive roles at home and in the community. Moreover, it minimizes the negative psychological and socioeconomic impact of the unequal cultural arrangement by empowering women economically and promoting interdependence socially. It allows women to fulfill the female role of nourishing their children and homeland, while gaining revenue and contributing to the society as ecotourism professionals. The women feel proud about their business and contribution to local prosperity, are happier to stay close to their families and home, and build a harmonious community. It solves the problem of unemployment and uneven distribution of wealth. Potentially, it will generate locally-sustainable economic profit and establish their land as the world famous bird watcher paradise by providing convenience and authentic service for tourists.

International Assistance
The local sustainable development group CEASPA was started in 2003, which spearheaded the initiatives of community development and the idea of women empowerment. They encouraged the restaurant owner and many locals to come up with self-sustaining business ideas, and offered them necessary funds and community support. Many international efforts are also behind the financing, construction, and development of the ecotourism restaurant. For example, the Peace Corp volunteer came up with the idea and stayed for a year to help the group to build the restaurant and support the women in 2005. A Spanish organization helped them build the protector around and over the well in case that clean water could not reach the community. As a community, they are guaranteed access to clean water for all seasons. Colorado State University professor and students from U.S.A came to visit and built the museum coffee house, where they can educate visitors about their organic coffee farm, original and modern production site, and manufacturing process. The U.S also provided the wood and materials already in place to construct the restaurant so that the locals do not have to cut the trees around. Therefore, although it started with individual will and community conscience, the restaurant by the community, for the community, and of the community, is a collective effort of an international community.

Economic development
Even though organic farms provide high quality food, and local ecotourism services enhanced experiences for customers, the farmers and workers are not reaping what they truly deserve. In the current economic system, comparing to the rest of the supply chain, the farmers provide the raw material such as coffee beans, staples, and vegetables that are not nearly rewarded as much as the commercial activities of distribution, promotion, packaging, and marketing by large corporations. The product’s added value is not recognized for its production, which has essential impact on its quality.  Rather, the profit flows unevenly to the far end—to reward the large global distribution networks (energy consumption monsters), marketing communication/advertisement (psychological manipulation), as well as in-store and shelf display (artificial aesthetics). The questions we must persist to ask are: what is the genuine value that customers eventually receive? Who contributes the most along the way? By calling question and doubts to the existing system in search of fair trade, we can come closer to envisioning an alternative model and reward system that will take consideration and care of all.

As the world acknowledged best bird watching spot, the community takes pride in its abundant natural resources. On one hand, the community establishes a close tie with the rest of the world; on the other hand, the world demands economic exchanges and a share of their resources. There is profit and danger in unchained development. In a global context, although they have embraced modern economy by welcoming visitors, they do not merely extract resources and use it for economic profit exclusively because they understand profit in a holistic and complete sense. For example, the owner told us that she does not distribute the restaurant’s profit, but rather the group bundles up the money every month and distributes it by the effort that members have put into the business. The restaurant also provides employment opportunities and provides support for women with no income. They never lose sight of the value in people that they love, planet that they live in, and plants that they rely on, in face of desirable economic profit and expansion opportunities.The locals seem to have recognized that like biodiversity, community activities needs to be diverse and serve different functions. It is hard to imagine the local economy, environment and community relationship if every family opens a restaurant. For future business ideas, people should think from a larger picture of the community needs, capability and capacity, not just from individual economic profit goal; because everybody can and should be able to contribute to the health and diversity of the community. So far there is still only one restaurant in the community, and people continue to come up with sustainable and profitable farming and trade activities inspired by local or neighboring community and organizations in Panama.

The ecotourism development goes hand in hand with community conscientiousness of sustainable development and business opportunities. The owner started the business by using seed money received from CEASPA (the Panamanian Center for Social Action) to invest and sell locally-made coconut bread and tamales. With the support of tourists and its community, it has grown from a small entrepreneurial venture to a sustainable restaurant business. It is an empowering idea that, without micro financing projects from large international financing and support, but with the help of local groups such as CEASPA and their own hands, the locals built and improved the community by forming organic farming groups and keeping promises they made to consumers. The locals maintained relatively low levels of extraction by reducing resource consumption and making full use of waste. The locals help protect the ecosystem & spread the word to others, which is essential in providing aesthetic services (birds, biodiversity and landscape), and provisional service (food, water, and energy, etc) to sustain and support family and create a prosperous community. In fact, the people requested that the restaurant stay open longer to serve the community, not just for tourist groups. Now it has become a business that can serve both internal and external demands, almost equally.

Obviously, the idea of the community has also been enlarged because of the economic activities of the restaurant. It becomes a chain of benefit in ecotourism, employment, community development, and economy. Based on economic theory, any exchange should provide value for trade partners so that they can focus on what they are good at and take advantage of what they have most effectively.  Hence, business relations should be established in order to share with others what we each have to offer for the betterment of the community and environment.

Energy cost and hidden costs
The restaurant uses butane gas and wood as its primary source to cook food. The wood is directly cut down from nearby trees, and is used sparingly for additional fuel to supplement the butane gas, which is bought from the nearest city. It is important to recognize that despite the local’s effort to provide ecotourism while preserve the environment, any human or business activities inevitably places energy and resource demand on the local environment. Butane is used commonly by campers as fuel.  However, it does have negative effects on the environment and human health. Butane burns to form water vapor and carbon dioxide, which contributes to greenhouse gases. Furthermore, inhalations of butane can cause health concerns such as euphoria, drowsiness, narcosis, asphyxia, cardiac arrthymia, and frostbite. In fact, the paper “Emission of nitrogen dioxide from butane gas heaters and stove indoors,” from the American Journal of Applied Sciences, indicated that that burning butane gas can create nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas, and therefore represents a human health hazard. Nevertheless, the restaurant’s only alternative to burning wood is using butane, which is a highly flammable gas.

What’s available and prevalent in the energy market and in their natural environment determines the extent of impact and amount of waste that we can make. Technology for renewable and clean energy faces tremendous inertia in reaching down to the common people because of its high cost and limited availability. Given available energy resources, the best individuals can do is to minimize energy consumption and resource extraction. The restaurant buys the 100 pound gas tank that lasts for 20 days for $62 dollars: Thus consuming 5 lbs. of butane costing approximately $1.61 per day. Using only 5 pounds per day represents the restaurant’s understanding to use as little butane as possible while creating healthy and delicious meals to its customers. Moreover, the wood the restaurant uses is mostly wood that is picked up from trees that had previously fallen. The restaurant uses cutting down trees as a last resort, and when the one does cut down a tree for the restaurant, all parts of the bark is used for fuel.

Traditional Food and Waste Treatment
During an interview, the owner identified one of the major differences between her restaurants and others, especially those in the cities. She claimed that her group promotes a circular system, where the locals benefit. The food in the picture is one of the main dishes served at the restaurant. It contains rice, chicken, beans, lettuce, tomato, and bean paste. The restaurant buys the materials needed for creating this delicious and rich plate by buying them from the local community that sells various vegetables, fruits, and meat. The restaurant also hires people to cook for them, which in turn provide an income for the cooks, who can invest money into sustaining their crops, vegetables, fruits, and meat, which they would sell to the restaurant for food. This type of circular system is only possible because of the local community, and is far different from the linear system one tends to see in the United States, or in many bigger corporations and restaurants, which solely rely on externalizing and reducing costs for a bigger profit margin. Instead, the restaurant focuses not only on its annual revenue, but the wellbeing of its community that surrounds it. This is a display of true community consciousness and responsibility. The restaurant is fulfilling its obligation to operate in the greater interest of the greater society.  That is: Providing jobs, wages, and buying food from locals, while pursuing their mission of creating economic value for the owner.

In the rare occasion that the food is not finished (because the food tastes amazing), the restaurant does not act irresponsibly like the bigger city restaurants and catering services, which simply throw away their leftover food along with other inorganic wastes. Instead, the owner collects all the leftover food each day as a primary source of food for her pigs she has at her home. The waste returns to become nourishment for animals and decompose in nature—human waste can integrate naturally into the circular system of the ecosystem gain. Indeed, the food itself is not wasted at all, and as the ecotourism group’s name suggests, the restaurant owner uses all possible resources to their maximum potential.

Owner Interview and Additional Thoughts
The owner confidently stated in the end that the restaurant and the group is a replicable, and in fact she started her business within one year. She was able to create a sustainable restaurant with the help of the land, its resources, the community, and international help to accomplish this significant step in true sustainable development, instead of solely economic growth. This is not one success story of a talented or lucky individual. As the owner said: "any women from the village could do it".  However, it should not be mere replication of the same restaurant business model, but rather a sustainable community mindset, ethic, and effort.  At the same time, whether building similar restaurants that would end up as success is questionable. While there is no doubt that her circular system should be replicated and adapted to fit different communities, there is only an extent to which restaurants should be built. While the restaurant may not be the best initiative to replicate, the inspiration and ideas behind the restaurant are certainly a display of social responsibility and sustainability. Whether it is preserving the environment while taking full advantage of what it gives the people, creating bonds and trust in the community, providing jobs and wages for cooks, educating about women’s rights, or minimizing and efficiently using waste to provide other means, the existence of this restaurant and ecotourism group creating this sustainable community and environmental is nothing short of miraculous. The group has managed to persuade the community to work and trust each other to develop sustainably in ecological, social, and economical means.  This local sustainable development effort is simple but not easy. It requires substantial and persistent amount of individual dedication, natural resource, family support, community participation, as well as international assistance. Furthermore, many intangible values pave the foundation of their success, the local’s traditional belief of self-sustaining and respect for nature, value simple attitude of joy and contentment from family, and nourish the sense of community and solidarity.

Author: Yangzi Jin and Tetsuro Miyatake
Foundation of Sustainability, Professor Karian
2011 Semester At Sea Short Term Voyage

San Lorenzo: Colonialism to Conservation

Protected Area
The San Lorenzo Protected Area is located at the northwestern entrance to the Panama Canal and is currently part of the Mesoamerican Corridor of protected areas extending from the Yucatan of Mexico to Panama. The Mesoamerican corridor is designed to join protected areas throughout Central America by ecological corridors, or land bridges, so that the habitat necessary for migration of the region’s wildlife can be protected. The protected area includes features such as Fort San Lorenzo, Fort Sherman, and about 12,000 Ha. of additional land for biodiversity. In addition, the area provides scenic views of the river. The Caribbean Sea, Limón Bay, and Chagres River are major nearby waterways. The Chagres is the largest river flowing through the San Lorenzo Protected Area, separating the area into a northeastern and southeastern portion. Our class got a taste of the vegetation and surrounding landscape while driving through the protected area to get to Fort San Lorenzo.

Fort San Lorenzo
In 1534, Philip II of Spain foresaw the need for a fort at the mouth of the Chagres River to protect Spain’s gold route over the isthmus. In 1597, the Spanish initiated a water level battery and later built a fort called San Lorenzo. Cannons were fitted in 1626. Some facts about the fort are that it was built 25 meters above sea level on a cliff overlooking the mouth of the Chagres River. Also, the walls on the landward side are surrounded by a 10 meter wide dry moat and drawbridge. Features within San Lorenzo are an interior parade ground and several enclosed cells designed for prisoners and the storage of equipment and supplies. In 1748, the Spanish abandoned the Chagres route over the isthmus, favoring travel around the tip of South America at Cape Horn. Therefore, during the 19th Century the fort was used as a prison. In 1980, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, declared Fort San Lorenzo and its surrounding 5 Ha. as a World Heritage site. Walking around you can sense the history and importance of the site. In addition, visitors who are not aware of its significance can read the narration boards that are abundant and give a quick easy description.

The San Lorenzo Protected Area has at least 81 species of mammals, or 35 percent of all the mammals found in Panama. Bats are the most common group with 41 species, followed by rodents with 17, and carnivores with 9. Some examples include Howler monkeys, Slaty-tailed trogon, Toucan, and Leaf Cutter Ants. Upon our arrival to Fort San Lorenzo we found a trail of Leaf Cutter Ants carrying leaves more than five times their size. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that watching them and the way the colony works together was fascinating. Panama has about 930 known species of birds of which 75 percent are residents and 14 percent are regular migrants. Reptile and amphibians are also abundant with 127 species of snakes, 81 lizards and iguanas, 15 marine and freshwater turtles, 3 worm lizards, a crocodile, and a caiman. With such a wide variety of organisms and biodiversity, this place has become attraction for ecotourism.

Ecotourism and Conservation
Environmentally speaking, previous activities including military activities, the impacts of canal operations on surrounding waters, the threat of inappropriate development, poaching, and the unauthorized use or exploitation of natural resources have taken a toll on the San Lorenzo Area. However, since these activities are no longer allowed because the land is protected, it has become a popular destination for ecotourism. Visitors enjoy the high faunal and floral biodiversity, activities such as hiking, kayaking, birdwatching, crocodile photographing safaris, game fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. There are future plans to use the grounds on Fort Sherman for an interpretative center highlighting its historical and cultural past. In addition, there are plans to develop a butterfly and botanical garden. My class enjoyed the scenic views of the river and exploring Fort San Lorenzo.

The San Lorenzo Protected Area has three ecological life zones: tropical moist forest, tropical wet forest and tropical premontane wet forest. This land also contains three life zones, 12 vegetation types, and at least 500 species of higher plants, about 5 percent of the total recorded for the country. The high diversity in the San Lorenzo Protected Area can partly be attributed to its variable topography, different vegetation types, and the proximity of large undisturbed tracts of forest to the west. Another critical factor is the relatively large size and limited human disturbance. The San Lorenzo Area is a important part of the inter-oceanic corridor across the isthmus, and of the Caribbean coastal corridor. Future research will add new species to the list and also help determine the impact of humans on its environment.


Starting in 1943, Fort Sherman was used as a training site for the Pacific Theater because of its rugged terrain, notably the Piña Range. In 1909, the U.S. Secretary of War requested plans for the defense of the Panama Canal. The plans included building and maintaining Fort Sherman, named in honor of General William Tecumseh Sherman, a renowned Civil War commander. The conservation of resources in the canal watershed involves several issues: damage and hazards from past military activities, the impact of canal operations on surrounding waters and shorelines, the protection of archaeological and historic sites, the threat of inappropriate development, and the unauthorized use of natural resources including lax law enforcement. Upon our visit to San Lorenzo Fort, it was obvious to see that it had military roots, especially because of the canons and trenches that were built along the exterior.

AUTHOR: Stacey Delgado

The San Lorenzo Protected Area: A Summary of Cultural and Natural Resources
     by: Peter L. Weaver  & Gerald P. Bauer
Panama’s Caribbean Treasure by Peter L. Weaver, Gerald p Bauer, and Belkys Jiménez

Achiote: CSU Alternative Spring Break

This small, colorful house marks the starting location of the path that leads to the Borbua family coffee farm. The coffee farm is one of twelve other farms in the small community located in Achiote, Panama. It helps contribute several different kinds of coffee beans to the local coffee processing plant that is located near the town. In 2007, a group of students from Colorado State University (CSU), in Fort Collins, Colorado, helped restore and repaint the house for the Borbua family. Through an excellent program known as Alternative Spring Break, a group of 18 students and two faculty members from CSU volunteer their time for a week to help the community with multiple projects around the town. The project in Panama is one of many, but it is the only one outside of the United States. For the past five years, different groups of students from Colorado have been traveling to Achiote to volunteer in the community for their spring break vacations, and another group is expected to spend their upcoming spring break there as well.

This picture shows the Sendero Ruta del Café, the pathway that leads from the Borbua Family coffee house to the coffee farm. The coffee farm has many different types of plants that produce various types of coffee beans ranging from small beans to large beans. The pathway is one of many other roads that were built by CSU student volunteer groups. The pathway helped to create a safe walkway that the family could travel on to get to the coffee plants to harvest. It also was created for tour groups that would come see the coffee farm in order to view the coffee bean plants and learn more about the sustainability of the environment. Ultimately, the pathway helps the economical, social, and ecological aspects of the family farm. The pathway is lined with large stones and is made out of gravel rocks that are loosely packed together. In 2007, this pathway and the house located on the Borbua family coffee farm were completed. Other Alternative Spring Break trips built other pathways and decks that are located in the community of Achiote.

In the house that is located on the Borbua family coffee farm is where some of the coffee is produced from the beans that are harvested from the coffee farm. First, the beans are picked from the coffee bean plants when it is the harvesting time of the year. Next, the shells are removed from the coffee beans. Local farmers demonstrated the traditional de-shelling process using a 'pilon' (wooden stand and hammers). An alternating hammering method between two people is used to extract the beans from the shells, as seen in this picture. The beans are then separated and ready to be roasted on a open fire pit, as the remaining shells are often used as fertilizers. The coffee beans can either be left in the roasted stage or put through a metal grinder that grinds the beans into coffee grounds. This 'pilon' was also built by the student volunteer groups, along with the gravel pathway and coffee house in order to improve the family’s social and economical environment in the community of Achiote.

A group of 18 students and two facility members from Colorado State University would travel down to the small town Achiote in Panama for an Alternative Spring Break volunteer trip. This is a picture of the rooms in which the students would stay when they were visiting the community. However, most of their time was not spent in these rooms, but instead their time was spent in the local communities doing various volunteer work and projects around the community. Students from the university would apply to go on this Alternative Spring Break in order to get a great cultural experience while also volunteering in the community and helping people. Upon arrival to Panama, the group of 20 people would get a chance to first visit Panama City and see the nearby Indian village for two days. Then for the next four days the group would stay in the El Toucan Community and Visitors Center. While they were staying there, the group would be split up into two separate groups to work in the community. One group would work in the morning doing the various volunteer projects, while the other group was able to travel around the town and interact with the members of the community. The groups would then switch in order to get a chance to play as well as work.

While students from CSU were staying in the small town of Achiote they got a chance to leave one gift to the community. Not only do they help build and restore multiple buildings and pathways in the town, they also leave a lasting impression on the people in the community and improve the ways of life for several families. Each student that volunteered in the town was invited to create a painting on a piece of fabric that represents the time they spent in the community. As seen in this picture, a string of student-made paintings hangs in the local restaurant as a reminder of the support to the community that the students provided. These colorful decorations can be seen in other buildings, such as the house that was built on the Borbua family farm, where students helped. The colorful art work seen on the walls of buildings were also painted by the students from the university. Many drawings are of the activities that the students participated in and notes to the town in which they spent time in. The string of artwork shows the connections and bonds made by the community and students and how two different cultures can come together to help each other.

In the small community located in Achiote, Panama, a group of kids are seen playing in the street outside of their homes. The kids also play soccer and baseball together for fun. This is a community in which the families help and support each other in personal aspects as well as creating a safe work environment. They live off of the land as did their ancestors. The CSU group helped the community by building houses and pathways. But most of the students also ended up taking back more from the trip than they expected. After getting the chance to live in the community surrounded by close family ties, the students can see the differences between their own communities back home and the one seen in Achiote. The trip is often times a very motivational and eye opening experience to the students that get to visit the town, and many times students wish to return again and again in support of this great community.

AUTHOR: Kristie Wilson