Friday, April 5, 2013

My Costa Rica: A culture of Sustainability

The minute I heard about a field trip to Costa Rica to study about sustainability in the Coffee Industry I immediately signed up and made a few friends sign up too! We took a course on sustainability particularly focusing on the Costa Rican coffee industry and visited the country for a week in the month of January 2013.

Honestly before reaching the country I had no expectations about it, and coming from India I did not have a clue of how it was going to be. However, while my plane was about to land, 5000 feet up in the air I knew I would like it. All I saw was lush green forests on one end and the beautiful ocean on the other! It was simply marvelous.

Our trip began in San Jose and we visited regions across the country, right from the capital, to Alajuela, Arenal, Monte Verde, to Manuel Antonio. Each region was very different from another and each had its own beauty.  What surprised me was how every single person in Costa Rica, no matter of their social standing, they all had the same vision of being sustainable. What was more surprising was how the government was so proactive with their sustainable efforts as well and kept their people at the forefront of any decision which had to be made.

Farmers changed their farming methods to be more sustainable so that they could respect their land beneath and use it for longer periods, so that their children would enter a better world free from harsh chemicals and pollution.  Coffee grown was grown under sustainable methods, the soil beneath was nitrified with compost, and pests were kept away in a natural manner. I was amazed to learn on a spice farm about their methods of keeping monkeys and other animals away from the cash crops. They created natural fences with the help of trees, something that I’d never seen or heard off before. Fruits and other sweet plants were planted at these boundaries in order to feed and fill the stomachs of these animals, thus keeping them full and hence they would not venture into the area where the spices were grown! Isn’t that amazing!
Did you know that Costa Rican’s do not believe in flushing down their toilet paper due to the septic sewage systems they have! Instead they throw it in a waste basket. This was quite shocking to me at first but then I got used to it! Hotels were conscious in every single aspect including their backend operations. This one hotel we stayed at called The Parador, situated in Manuel Antonio (which was THE place!) made their own soaps and used soap free detergents so that the water could then be reused to water the plants on the property!  

                                                                          This one other ranch we visited known as Rancho Margot was amazing, it was not carbon positive, not neutral but in fact carbon negative! This meant it removed more carbon dioxide from the surroundings than it gave out! I was shocked! The ranch was amazing, in order to keep rooms cooled they planted crops on top of tin roofs, which I thought was very creative!

I learned so much about sustainability throughout the entire trip and it definitely played a huge impact on my daily lifestyle.  For example, nowadays I find myself making a conscious effort of taking shorter showers, and switching off electrical points at night.  

This trip completely opened up my eyes by making me think of how important sustainability is in our daily lives. I am really glad that I was given this opportunity and will definitely incorporate a lot of these practices on a farm that I would like to start back home in India. 

Armaan Kapoor

Monday, January 21, 2013

Day 7: Thrilla at the Villa Vanilla Spice Plantation

The Bryant Sustainability Marketing Group has now made its way from Monteverde to the beautiful coast of Manuel Antonio where we have spent the last two nights of the trip at the luxurious HotelParador. Parador is one of ten hotels in Costa Rica to receive the 5-Leaf rating from the Sustainable Tourism Program, the highest rating a hotel can receive! We were lucky enough to get a behind the scenes tour at Hotel Parador’s sustainable practices from the lovely Silvia. On this tour we saw their back offices as well as the kitchen and learned all about their sustainable efforts. The most interesting sustainable practice we found is not only that they reuse all of their water but also collect all rain water. This water is use for laundry, the pools and the water the guests use. The receptionists also reuse all their paper and once it cannot be used anymore it is sent out to be made into new paper. Parador is on the Central Pacific coast of the rainforest and has various nature walks within the property, so there is no surprise when you encounter an exotic animal crossing your path on the 12-acre property.

On the last day the Bryant Sustainability Marketing Group toured the Villa Vanilla Spice Plantation located in the fertile hills above the city of Manuel Antonio. Villa Vanilla is a sustainable biodynamic spice farm that grows vanilla, black and white pepper, Ceylon cinnamon, cocoa, turmeric and allspice. Here we were led on a tour by Gisele who has been working on the plantation for close to four years. She let us smell all the spices while those brave enough tasted the variety of spices that where grown on the plantation. She explained to us the very long process of growing and extracting vanilla from a vanilla plant which takes close to a full year.

The group was then led down the Epiphyte Trail which brought us to a little villa where Gisele made all of us a few treats. We got to try some cinnamon water, cheesecake, cinnamon ice cream with a chocolate cookie, and finally hot chocolate with vanilla or cayenne peppers. All of the food was completely homemade from the spices on the farm and everyone went for the hot chocolate with cayenne peppers. We were all surprised at how good the taste was! Gisele then added vanilla to each of our hot chocolates and a chocolate chip cookie to really extract the taste.

Fun Facts:

  • In 2000 the Villa Vanilla Plantation was the only certified Biodynamic plantation in all of central America. A biodynamic farm is completely self-sustainable and is completely derived from the farm.
  • The cocoa bean was used as currency prior to the development of Colones (Costa Rican currency).
  • Vanilla is the only edible fruit out of the 35,000 orchid species that are native to Central America, southeast Mexico, the West Indies, and northern South America.
  • Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice due to the labor-intensive growing and cultivation process.
  • Vanilla is a vine and needs a host tree to grow on.
 Written By: Armaan Kapoor and Sean Foote

To learn more follow us on twitter @Bryantsusmkt385

Saturday, January 19, 2013

On our fifth day studying in Costa Rica, we checked out of the beautiful Arenal Manoa hotel and began our trip to Monteverde. This region is appropriately named for its mountains covered in thick green forests. We crossed the man-made Arenal Lake by pontoon, which gave us the opportunity to see wildlife such as kingfishers and blue heron.

We then met up with our bus, which took us to the Don JuanCoffee farm. Our tour guide explained that most people preferred to drink instant or flavored coffee to avoid the bitter taste but really good coffee is a complex blend between bitter, acidic, salty and sweet . We realized that most of us have probably been drinking bad coffee back home.

Our tour began with an overview of the Fair Trade coffee practices in the area. We learned that Don Juan Coffee produced both fair trade coffee and organic coffee.

Premium price in fair trade is used as an incentive for organic farmers to grow natural coffee beans.
Holland and Germany are examples of European countries that take part in fair trade

Next we were shown examples of coffee plants at the early stages of their life cycle, which Sean, Jordan, Armaan, and Federico are holding here.

Mucilage (part of the coffee bean) can be used to make biofuel.

Next, we picked some coffee cherries ourselves. Brad, Steve and Dr. Attaran competed to pick the most berries. 

After that we learned about the process of producing chocolate from the cocoa plant. Everyone loved the fresh hot chocolate that John and Nick helped make.

Next we moved on to sugar cane, and used a machine to squeeze the liquid sugar out of the plant. Sharath and Arman got a nice workout in churning the sugar cane press. This sugar was mixed with the juice of a sweet lime, which was delicious as well. Finally, we had a great Costa Rican meal and met Don Juan himself!

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a Mariposario to see many species of butterflies and insects native to Costa Rica. Some of us were brave enough to handle scorpions, tarantulas, cockroaches, walking sticks, giant swallowtail caterpillars, and bush katydids.

Fun Facts:
  • Good coffee is a wholesome and complex taste with a mixture of sweet, acidic and bitter.
  • Fair trade coffee ensures that farmers and producers are paid equitable wages.
  • Price of fair trade coffee is about two times higher than regular coffee.
  • The Costa Rican youth does not tend to adopt farming, preferring jobs that are less labor intensive and higher paying.
  • Organic farms do not use pesticides or herbicides, and must take steps to prevent the erosion of soil. Instead, they utilize all natural fungicides such as citronella and skunk.
  • On sustainable farms production is lower than traditional farms but the fair trade prices are higher
  • In Japan high end fair trade coffee is sold for $2,000 a kilo.
  • Bananas, pineapple and macadamia are grown at Don Juan’s coffee plantation to bring in additional income.

John Costello, Brad-Oneal Gillings, Sharath Jagannathan 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Day 3: Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation

Today’s visit to Espiritu offered a very different point of view than our visit to Café Britt yesterday. Espiritu is situated on 630 fertile acres and is located in the Alajuela region (north-central Costa Rica).   Espiritu is part of a cooperative with over 2,500 farmers and exports the vast majority of their coffee to companies we are familiar with such as Caribou (nearly 95%).

The cherries on the coffee tree begin to grow in early March which conveniently coincides with the beginning of the rainy season and harvest begins in early October and lasts until early March. After two years of growth, the trees will begin to produce cherries and they will continue to produce cherries until they reach the age of 25, although overtime, their productivity will diminish.

During our visit we had the opportunity to prune a coffee tree. During this process, the coffee trees are cut down to their base which allows the tree to grow new cherries at a faster rate. After this we experienced the wet mill process and learned how a cherry is converted into a coffee bean. Following the wet mill process we had the opportunity to rake out coffee beans allowing them to dry. Finally, once the beans dried, they were transported to the roasting room, a large room filled with roasting equipment and a wonderful coffee aroma.

Sustainability Efforts
Sustainability was a clear theme throughout the entire farm. Some of their most impressive initiatives included:

History Lesson
The oxcart is important to the Costa Rican coffee industry as it was the first means of transportation for the coffee industry. They would put 10 to 12 bags of coffee in the cart and use it to transport the coffee to different regions of Costa Rica. The present day saying “Get on the wagon” comes from the oxcart’s history. When coffee producers walked next to the ox while it pulled the cart they drank to pass the time. After drinking a little bit too much, they would get drunk and lay down on the wagon. To this day Costa Ricans still say “Get on the Wagon” when they want to go out to the bar and drink with friends and family.
We ended the day with a relaxing trip to the natural hot springs where we able to unwind and reflect upon a fantastic three days here in Costa Rica.

William Allen and Jordan Harris
Bryant University, Marketing 385

For more information about our trip follow us on twitter @BryantSusMKT385

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Our First Lesson in Farming and Sustainability

Today we started out our sustainable farming studies in Costa Rica. We began with a comprehensive study of the fruit grown in the area and what specific fruits were grown on a farm. The owner of the farm came out and gave us a demonstration of all of the fruits on the farm. According to the story the farm started out as a dairy farm with a total of 6 cows in the rainy season, May to November, and 3 in the dry season, because of a lack of pasture land to graze on. A rising cost of living caused him to expand into new things. He expanded into different fruits and currently entirely produces fruit. He then got into some interesting facts about growing the fruits.

We then left and went to the restaurant that was included with our tour. It was situated right next to this wonderful waterfall. 

We then jumped right back onto the bus and continued our tours for the day with our first coffee tour at Cafè Britt. Cafè Britt is a coffee roaster started in the 1985 to produce high quality coffee for the Costa Rican people. We started our tour by meeting Mario and Maria. We learned about the discovery of coffee in Eithopia. It was stolen to to the Americas in 1723 where it grew to reach Costa Rica in 1750.  After the Costa Ricans gained their independence in 1821 the newly formed government started a brand new program to give out both coffee plants and land to as many people as they could. They gave out free coffee plants to everyone in the country and included the land necessary to grow the plants. Then we learned about how the coffee beans were picked, sorted, dried in the sun, roasted and finally ground. Two of our group members, Jordan and Sean, volunteered to help out in some fun skits and smelled, mixed and slurped, the best way to fully aerate coffee,  their way to becoming a little more knowledgeable about coffee. 

Fun Facts
  • Federico translated for us today with the owner of the fruit farm.
  • Avocados grow best on hills where water constantly moves through the soil.
  • Costa Rica has a strong Middle Class because of their free coffee plant program.
  • Saudi Arabia was the first place to brew coffee as a drink.
  • Italy made the first coffee shop.
  • The best way to make coffee isn’t with boiling water but with water that has been boiled but also left to stop the actual bubbling.

By: Stephen Almagno and Ettore Carchia
Follow us on Twitter @BryantSusMKT385

Monday, February 27, 2012

Making a Difference with Happiness

While in Costa Rica, I noticed how much we as a country, and even I personally, take for granted. Not only are we extremely wasteful in terms of our use of non-renewable resources, but our waste management and recycling programs simply aren’t working. In Costa Rica, their energy is almost completely generated by renewable resources, almost all businesses seem to either be sustainable, or on the way, and they are the first country to commit to being Carbon Neutral by 2021.

Since returning to the United States, I’ve made quite a few changes to my lifestyle to be more sustainable. I reuse my plastic water bottles, am constantly turning off the lights, and I’ve even resorted to wearing clothes more than once in order to cut down laundry loads. Going back to the topic of taking things for granted, I never really realized how lucky I am personally to have the things I have. I remember driving down some of the roads in Costa Rica and seeing houses built out of sheet metal. I’ve become so much more grateful for the things I have, and made sure not to let any of it go to waste – I don’t even let myself leave food on my plate at our dining hall anymore.
The thing that made the biggest impact for me personally was the happiness that every single person we came into contact with exuded. Being the happiest nation in the world, I expected to see smiles and some friendliness upon our arrival. However, the Ticos were so incredibly friendly and helpful that it was contagious. So building off of some of the other changes I’ve made sustainability-wise since I’ve returned from the country, I’ve also tried to change my general outlook towards others. I noticed that smiling for no reason causes others to smile, doing favors for others really does make a difference, and even though I’m just one person I know that between my changes in sustainability, our efforts to spread the word, and giving ample kindness towards others I can make a difference.
I miss every single thing about Costa Rica. We learned so much as a group that I’m sure none of us will ever forget. I’m proud to say I now feel like an expert to all things coffee related.

The delicious coffee, beautiful sights, warm air, and the absolute abundance of nature everywhere are all things I think about daily. I honestly can’t wait to return. And I sincerely hope countries like our own can follow in Costa Rica’s footsteps.

Pura Vida Everyone!

By Steph Lemire