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Planting Sustainability with IMPACT in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has become famous for its successful conservation efforts and its ability to seamlessly fold conservation into a thriving tourism industry. Costa Rica hosts 2.5 million tourists annually. Of those, 55% are from North America. Behind this success story, however, is a history of over-farming and unethical practices in the export industry. Costa Rica’s fifth-largest export is America’s favorite morning ritual, coffee. IMPACT Scholars on the Fall 2015 voyage took a day to volunteer at a sustainable family-owned and operated coffee plantation, to see what goes on behind their favorite beverage.

Semester at Sea’s IMPACT Scholars works closely with the Field Office to create unique service programs to offer the shipboard community. IMPACT scholar Lauren Tinnes, a nursing sophomore at the University of Colorado Springs, had previously visited this sustainable coffee plantation in Costa Rica and felt that a service program there would be beneficial.

“I feel like the impact programs are about what we learn. We’re supposed to take all these things and then apply it. This was a lot of learning but it was hands-on. We did something and they told us why we did it. They took a second to tell us, you are helping us. It’s not about making us feel special, but they made people know they were helping them.”

The sold-out program of 32 participants boarded an early bus from Puntarenas and headed to Monteverde, located in Costa Rica’s cloud forest. Gravel roads crisscrossed the green hillsides like tiny gray scars in the early morning light. IMPACT scholar Brennan Ackerman, a sophomore at the University of Vermont, said one of the best things about the IMPACT program was building a team all focused on serving the global and shipboard community.

“I started off immediately getting to know four other people who enjoyed the same things as me. And it immediately gave me something to do that was very specific. We all clicked really fast, which was awesome.”

The group unloaded at Life Monteverde, eager to learn and serve. Life stands for Low Impact For Earth. Voyagers were greeted with traditional coffee grown on the farm and a brief introduction from the plantation’s owner, Guillermo Vargas Leiton.‚ÄúIt‚Äôs coffee rehab,‚Äù he joked about the day’s activities. The main hall itself was lined with hardwood harvested from the farm. Life Monteverde strives to be as sustainable as possible. They define sustainability through three prongs, people, environment, and economy.

Lauren had previously visited Life Monteverde and was the lead in creating the IMPACT program.

“I thought that it would be fun for people on the ship because it showed us a family farm. This family is working hard and being successful and self-sustainable. Sometimes people don’t succeed at it, so this is a great example of an economically successful view on sustainability.”

Voyagers completed several activities around the farm including coffee harvesting and tree planting.

Baskets strapped around their waists, voyagers picked ruby red berries from the five feet tall bushes. After about 15 minutes, together they picked enough berries to make about 10 cups of coffee. On average, a worker picks enough to make 40 cups of coffee an hour and is paid US$2.00 for their labor. Life Monteverde pays US$3.25 and sets ethical hiring and labor practices.

Laurel Hall, junior at Hope College and IMPACT Scholar, especially enjoyed taking part in a process she benefits from every day.

‚ÄúI love coffee, so I really enjoyed harvesting. especially after we were told what the workers were paid an hour. It was fun to see where it comes from and you‚Äôre not just seeing it, you’re actually picking berries. It was great to see the entire process.‚Äù

The berries are then usually sent off to the community roaster for processing, but the farm still houses a bicycle-run processor to shed the berry skin from the beans. The beans must then be dried through one of two processes. Whole wash, the most common method, removes the sugary coating and then the beans dry for around six days. The natural process keeps the sugary coating around the beans, which take more than 20 days to dry. Once dried, the beans are sent to the roaster and then come back to the farm or to local businesses for sale.

Life Monteverde keeps half of their plantation as forest and pasture, and half for coffee. Much of the land must be reforested due to past over-farming. Voyagers each planted at least one tree, and in total planted more than 50 trees on the plantation.

Back at the main hall, voyagers enjoyed a home-cooked lunch while reflecting on not just this IMPACT program, but the entire fall voyage.

Laurel says being an IMPACT scholar influenced her entire Semester at Sea experience. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs made me more intentional with the things I choose to do and see in port. It forces you to be on a wavelength of, ‘how can I serve others?’ But also taking ownership of that role as well on ship. How am I serving the crew, staff, and everyone I encounter?‚Äù

Lauren made it a point to serve in every country during the semester, and believes that the effects will last long after the voyage is over. “Every time I came back with something I felt like I could take home.”

Gabriel Molina Arroyo, junior at the University of Puerto Rico and IMPACT Scholar, said that IMPACT taught him that, “service occurs at all times. It is a daily task to help others and to be at the disposition of those in need. The goal should always be to educate as many people as possible about what is service and how it can impact someone forever, how it can change lives.”

Brennan’s advice to future scholars is to, ‚Äúprepare to go on a lot of trips that will show you things that are very unexpected. Go in with an open mind and expect to learn a lot of things.‚Äù

  • Life on Land

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