Coffee is one of Costa Rica’s top export crops. As a student here, this means that coffee perfumes the air every morning and that I will carry home several bags for my family; however, I was curious to go behind the scenes to see how coffee was grown in Costa Rica. The coffee farm that we visited went far beyond my expectations. We went for a tour and lunch at El Toledo Organic Coffee Farm, a farm only twenty minutes away from our home in Atenas—but, I didn’t know that it would give me a greater appreciation of the culture of this place that I currently call home..

The family that runs the farm switched to organic because the chemicals sprayed on the coffee crop were having a negative effect on their health. Switching to growing organic coffee enabled them to better support the local community and invest in the quality of the coffee rather than maximum productivity, which is the focus of most agriculture today. I found this shift in emphasis very refreshing. I was inspired by the son who was following in his grandfather and father’s footsteps, caring tenderly for plants that were twice my age and knowing the look and feel of ripe coffee cherries.

As we left, I couldn’t help comparing this farm to the Dole plantation we had visited earlier. Our tour guide seemed like he was trying to convince us of Dole’s merits (environmentally and ethically). But, the farm could have been in any tropical locale; there was no connection to the community except the agrochemicals they polluted it with. Leaving El Toledo with a full stomach and the smell of coffee still lingering in my nose, I felt hope and contentment from the “sense of place” that came with witnessing the success of sustainability in action.