One more food blog. The subject this time is the jump-start to the mornings of many: coffee.
Coffee was introduced to Costa Rica in the early 18th century, and today is one of the major crops in Costa Rica’s economy. There are coffee fields throughout Costa Rica, but there is a very high concentration in San Vito, where Las Cruces Biological Station is located. At one point during the history of the town, if a person wished to cultivate a crop, there was a law stating that the ONLY crop that could be grown was coffee. That resulted in LOTS of coffee plantations in the surrounding area. It appears that the climate is perfect for growing crops in the area, and we have seen at least three brands of coffees in local stores from the immediately surrounding regions.
Buying coffee in the US is similar to buying pineapples….we usually don’t have an idea of where it comes from, or how it got there. We were able to have a close-up view of the growing part of the process. This is a coffee plant…
Here’s a closer view….
These are the coffee fruits. When the green fruits are ripe, they turn yellow or red and are ready for picking. The coffee-picking season in San Vito is from about October to December. The picked fruits look like this…
When the fruit is broken, the inside looks more like you might have been expecting…the coffee bean (there are two in each fruit, nestled together)….
After being picked, there is a fairly complex process of drying (usually in the sun), fermentation (which smells interesting–we drove past a location where this was taking place), and roasting. Then it looks more like what we would recognize as whole coffee beans that can be bought in the store in the US.
Unfortunately, like the pineapple industry, there is a darker side to coffee. Coffee picking is a seasonal activity, and many of the workers that pick coffee are indigenous people that migrate to the area for the season to pick. San Vito is near the Panama border and there are many migrants who move back and forth across the border to pick different crops. Constant migrations and poverty don’t allow much time for education on worker rights and fair wages, and perhaps the coffee plantation owners are not very concerned about such issues. What we saw was this:
This is part of a large room that is meant to serve as living conditions for as many as 20 families.
This is a small area in one corner of the buildings where they cook. The outhouses are outside of the buildings.
There are many coffee plantations throughout the area that have similar conditions. Plantations owners can easily take advantage of poorly educated workers. Workers are often not even aware of health care options, which contributes to health problems in a large proportion of the population. Since our interest in the courses is the health of the people, we were also told that despite many horrible conditions, there is an organization that is helping. “Finca Sana” is a term (“healthy farm” in English) for a coffee picking operation where the owner lets the organization come to educate workers on things as simple as properly washing their hands. The owners can display their participation in the program by posting this sign:
Though there are many disparities in the migrant indigenous populations that harvest the coffee on many of the plantations around San Vito, with Finca Sanas this is at least beginning to improve. With education and supplies, the coffee industry’s treatment of its workers may start to slowly improve.
Do a little research about where your daily morning drink may be coming. Check out fair trade brands, and also what the company’s or brand’s definition of “free trade” is.