Recently our restaurant consultants had the chance to take a private tour of family-owned El Toledo coffee farm
in Atenas, Costa Rica. Three generations of coffee farmers have been harvesting coffee beans from this farm, and our consultants jumped on the opportunity to learn about the newer organic and permaculture techniques the owners are using to create a good product, as well as to become more sustainable.
Settled into a hillside of the thick, lush forest, the family switched their methods to be strictly organic several years ago. The change was not an easy one, and many of the coffee plants suffered. It was so important to the growers, however, to make the change, that they sought supplemental income to support the farm as they made chemical-free adjustments.
The solution they found was permaculture. Now their coffee beans thrive alongside all sorts of other plants and produce--from lemons and oranges to raspberries and even apples. They let the forest trees grow tall, and they collect the produce that drops from the vines and bushes that are protected underneath the canopies. This produce feeds their family, and the rest is sold at market.
In the midst of all this vegetation, decades-old coffee plants yield pounds and pounds of fruit, which is harvested and roasted on-site. El Toledo's farmers have also kept an eye on water conservation when harvesting the beans, a process that is more laborious but important to the integrity of their final product. They save more than 500L with each batch of coffee using eco-friendly machinery.
One way in which this farm is especially unique is a lab they have developed to experiment with coffee-fruit products. Coffee, which is actually a cherry fruit, is normally only recognized as what we call the "bean" but is actually the seed. The rest of the fruit is typically discarded in the harvesting process. El Toledo is making a point to conserve the fruit, which has nutritional value, and finding unique ways to use it, including making coffee flour and coffee wines.
El Toledo's farmers were very open about the difficulties of permaculture and organic farming. They also acknowledged the nature of selling a luxury product like coffee. But they were enthusiastic about the good work that they are doing, the small measures they are implementing on their farm that make a world of difference in both product and thinking. It was refreshing to see some traditional practices revisited and to hear how these local farmers were eager to stay on top of their practices.
Do you know where your food comes from? Where do you buy your coffee? One thing that the El Toledo farmers stressed was getting to know your local agriculture professionals. Our restaurant consultants specialize in farm-to-table options, and we can aid you in forming relationships with your local distributors. Contact a restaurant consultant today.