Los Santos, part II: The case for organic coffee

If you’re like me, you saw this title and groaned. The need to buy organic seems like a constant drain on the wallet and a niggling worry, since I live in a country with the highest rates of agrochemicals per hectare in the world and often can’t find organic options here for products that might be available in a U.S. city. As I prioritize, health-wise – for example, I try to find organic strawberries, thinking about those porous skins that sit right on or near the ground – organic coffee is way down my list. Not even on my radar, to be honest.

But I’d never stopped to think about the benefits organic coffee might be bringing to a region I love, Los Santos, and the people who live there. Until a rural tourism advocate named Jonathan Cerdas, whose region I visited thanks to Travel with Ann, explained it to me.

Travel with Ann volunteers make an organic pest-repellant substance to spray on coffee plants.

The coffee farmers of Los Santos are nervous. The climate crisis and other factors have started to skew weather patterns, causing rainy-season dryness and dry-season rain, fatal for coffee. Water is in short supply in the towns, yields are down, and some of the outrageously gorgeous rolling green hills are bare on top as farmers expand their farms to make up the difference. Overall, coffee monoculture – like any monoculture – has driven down biodiversity in the region. Farmers tend to like “clean”-looking farms without other plants around the coffee, or they plant foreign trees like eucalyptus for price reasons, all of which keeps away vegetation that could help the soil with a host of positive consequences for the region.

The lush vegetation of an ecological coffee farm.


Cerdas and the Green Communities project he co-founded with Carlos Marín are boosting local economies by bringing volunteers to stay with families and help farmers go organic. They’re planting indigenous species to boost farm biodiversity and protect crops from unseasonal weather. They’re making organic fertilizer and pest-control substances to protect water supplies. Cerdas says that with time, these changes actually improve yields, and of course the organic market brings higher prices. (I’m also here to tell you it’s very delicious.)

Jonathan demonstrates how the first farmer to go organic volunteered at a community meeting.

I have to admit I had truly never thought about the fact that choosing organic coffee was about much more than my health. I can’t promise I’ll always go organic, but there’s some in my grinder right now – and I’ll never look at the choice the same way again.

Read Los Santos, part I: The case for homestays at all ages. And stay tuned for part III, The case for Costa Rica.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! Each month in 2020 has a monthly theme, and March’s is women’s rights, so stay tuned for posts focusing on this issue.

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