Two years ago I took a tour of an organic coffee cooperative in highlands of Nicaragua. The Danilo Gonzalas cooperative was named for a teenager from the area who died fighting against the Contras in the 80’s. I reached the cooperative, traveling with by guide Jessica from ¡Un Buen Viaje!, by local bus from Matagalpa to San Ramon, and then 3km hike to the rural community of La Reyna.
Typical Local Bus
Our guide from the cooperative met us at the business office off the main square in San Ramon. She was a college student who was going to school in Matagalpa learning farming practices. She grew up in the cooperative and came back regularly (and to help the cooperative make a few extra dollars from showing tourists like me around). She was accompanied by her cousin of similar age, a single mom who lived at the cooperative and was raising a newborn.
As we hiked to the farm, it was explained to me (via translation by Jessica) that the cooperative was made up of local families, some who had long lived and worked the land. When the wealthy absentee landowners abandoned the region during wars and mines closed, leaving the locals without work. The community took control of the local resources and formed the cooperative which currently included 55 people. Now they work to sustain their own living. The families pooled their resources to grow, harvest, and process the coffee beans and restore land damaged from years of mining.
The cooperative was in a rural community in the hills/mountains of Nicaragua. It was a very pretty and seemingly peaceful area with simpler existence. The guides also explained a lot what their day to day life was like. Our cooperative guide explained once she was done with school, her plan was to return here to live the simple rural life.
As we hiked up the mountain, we passed a man-made water reservoir and then began to encounter coffee plans planted in deliberately uneven rows following the contour of the land wherever there was space on the hillside. This was very different from the machine harvested coffee plantations I visited in Hawaii, where all the plants were in neat rows. These coffee beans were harvested by hand and so did not need to be in the neat rows for the harvesters. Instead, more natural sustainable farming practices were used not only in the planting of the coffee, but in many aspects of the land maintenance. There were also plants for other fruits. One of our guides picked some fruit to be used later with lunch.
Following the trails through the coffee plants up the hill we eventually reached the center where the coffee beans were processed. Now that some time has passed I don’t remember enough to describe properly the process, but I was shown the aging equipment for extracting the beans from the berry. The beans were put into concrete pits where an older woman, barefoot, walked on and washed the beans.
Then the beans were spread in these large trays with wire mesh bottoms for the first round of drying in the sun. Periodically the workers would shake or flip the beans to facilitate drying. Afterwards, the beans would be spread out on plastic tarps to dry some more. Periodically, workers would use rakes or shovels to turn and re-spread these beans to facilitate drying.
Nearby there was a pavilion which had been built by a well-meaning American church missionary group that had traveled to the region. There wasn’t much purpose for it at this farm, so they used it as a meeting place to give lectures for the occasional larger tourist groups.
We wandered through the forests and hillside coffee fields some more. We eventually came to our local guide’s house complex where she lived with her mother, cousin and their family. The complex was split across 3 1-room structures. In one structure, the mother was busy cooking us lunch, which was served to us on the porch of another building which had a little bit of a view of the country side. The meal contained typical Nicaraguan food. Jessica explained to me the meal was a big deal for their guest compared to what they normally eat, especially since there was fresh meat.
Maps of the sites I visited in Nicaragua: on Google Maps or Google Earth
My travels in Nicaragua were arranged by ¡Un Buen Viaje!.
More Blog Posts or Photo Albums from this Nicaragua Trip.
- Managua and Coyotepe
- Granada at Christmas time
- La Granadilla
- Mombacho Volcano
- Empowerment International
- Masaya: the City and the Volcano
- Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua
- Calzado de Ometepe Kids 5k
- Cerro Negro Volcano
- Juan Venado Nature Reserve