In Hojancha, a small town nestled in the mountains of Costa Rica, coffee is life. The small co-op of Café Diria employs 187 associates from the area. Byron, a man of small stature and a bright smile, leads us around the vast equipment. He lasted a mere fifteen days as a coffee picker. “It’s a very difficult job,” he says. Too short to reach the highest cherries, he would pull the plant down to gather the fruit, accidentally snapping many of the fragile branches — he was fired.
Coffee in Costa Rica is grown and produced by small co-ops like this one. Founded 50 years ago by five families, the Café Diria coffee plantation is ingrained in the community, touching everyone in some way. In fact, many parents send their teenagers to the fields to learn responsibility, to earn their own.
Coffee is grown in the mountains, at higher altitudes. When harvest is finished, pickers are sent to collect the cherries — the fruit that yields coffee beans. The terrain is steep, and one must watch for venomous snakes, wasps, and other pesky animals. The farmers set out with baskets strapped to their waist, looking for ripe, red cherries, disregarding green ones that are not ready to be picked.
There is no machinery to aid in the fields here — it is all done by hand. Each farmer fills their basket discerningly, and then empties the cherries into sacs, only to begin again. “There’s no storage room in the mountains,” Byron jokes, so a farmer is usually carrying a back-breaking amount. Toting sacs of coffee (and lunch too!), the farmer moves along the fields filling their basket all the while. Compounding this is the rain — the harvest in this area is picked during the months of October through February, October being one of the wettest months of the year, causing farmers to work in rather difficult conditions. “Sometimes they eat lunch full of water,” Byron tells us.
Nonetheless, it is a very social job — the farmers are out in the mountains together for long hours, five days a week, building a strong bond. They are not paid by the hour, but rather by the kilo; each hour must be fruitful.