Student Stories: A Costa Rican conference, with a side of coffee

Caitlyn Reilley

Join Sustainable Forest Management student Caitlyn Reilley on her journey to Costa Rica to present research.

I traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica to present part of my master’s research at the 2022 International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR) conference. The IASNR is an interdisciplinary professional association of social scientists, policy makers, and practitioners studying and managing human relationships with the environment and natural resources. IASNR was founded in 2001, but the association that preceded it started in 1986 at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.

I presented results of a research project analyzing 27 years of wildfire ignitions data for the Pacific Northwest that examined the social and economic factors that influence the occurrence of human-caused wildfires in the region and what policy interventions may help reduce them.

The day before the IASNR conference, a group of attendees traveled to Coopedota, a coffee cooperative the promotes sustainable production, with hundreds of members nestled in the ‘Dotas,’ a handful of towns in the Tarrazú region, one of Costa Rica’s six coffee regions. Costa Rica is not afraid of color — all of the major towns in Costa Rica have these colorful signs located in major parks.

The tour started with a tractor ride out to a coffee field where the coffee plants, which are more of a shrub than a tree, grow under the shade of Erythrina poeppigiana trees. The plantation we visited was rather flat, but most coffee plantations are on the sides of mountains that have been terraced, making harvesting the ripe coffee berries a difficult and dangerous job. Most of the coffee in Costa Rica is harvested by migrant workers from Panama and Nicaragua.

Coopedota has educational stations where we were able to see the equipment used to harvest and process the coffee berries. After harvest, the skin and pulp of the berry are removed leaving just the bean, which is then soaked and washed again to remove the remaining “mucilage” -a sticky coating of sugars that remains around the bean. At Coopdota growers are encouraged to repurpose byproducts from the processing as much as possible. The “sweet water” that remains after washing the mucilage from the bean is used to irrigate nearby cow pastures. The cows love it and it keeps contaminated water out of the rivers where it can adversely affect aquatic species. The beans are then dried with mechanical driers or under the sun, and the final bean, called the “golden bean” is what is sold for roasting.

After learning about how coffee is grown, harvested, and processed at Coopdota, we set off for Café Haug, a small roastery and café. Café Haug processes 100% of the coffee they grow using the natural method, meaning they dry the bean inside the berry under the sun on large screens before removing the pulp. You can see the dark colored beans drying in the sun here with the lush green hills of the Terrazu coffee region in the background (you can’t tell but the mountains in the background are covered in coffee trees too!)

We also got to watch the owner of Café Haug roast a batch of beans and then enjoy a cup of coffee from the cafe. Café Haug is the kind of place where each cup of coffee is prepared with the utmost attention to detail. Scales, thermometers, and coffee making apparatuses that look more like they belong in a science lab than kitchen adorned the shelves behind the counter of the Cafe.

After drinking my weight in coffee, I said goodbye to the Dotas and headed back to the capitol city of San Jose to try to get some sleep before I presented part of my master’s research into human-caused wildfire ignitions in the Pacific Northwest at the University of Costa Rica.

After the IASNR conference I headed north out of the city to Monteverde. Costa Rica has two seasons, a dry season, and a wet season, and do not be fooled, the wet season is VERY WET. Thank goodness I grew up on the Oregon Coast! Even though tropical storm Bonnie was making its way across northernCosta Rica, I donned my finest Gortex and still explored the Monteverde Cloud Forest and sky bridges built to allow you to explore the canopy of the rainforest. Unfortunately, I think the sloths had taken cover for the storm and most of the wildlife I saw that days was on postcards at the gift shop. Thankfully Monteverde was full of coffee shops to dry off in and I had an amazing Israeli breakfast at a place called the Open Kitchen.

Monteverde was beautiful, but a trip to Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without seeing the coastline. I headed south to the Country’s most popular national park, Manuel Antonio, where I saw a variety of wildlife –monkeys, sloths, butterflies, frogs, crabs. The national park was really a treasure. I spent the day hiking, swimming, and looking for seashells. I grew up on the Oregon coast, so to be able to swim comfortably in the Pacific was really a treat! And to top it off, I found a whole sand dollar (or I suppose, a whole sand Colón), something I was always searching for on the beaches near my hometown on the Oregon coast.

One of the best parts of my trip was stopping along the sides of the highways to buy snacks. Fresh fruits and pastries were everywhere! A nice man named Richard helped me figure out how to eat Lychees, the spikey pink fruit pictured here. I also stocked up on avocados, mangos, and papayas.

This last photo is from the plane on my way home to Oregon. I’m not positive but I believe this is the Tárcoles River, home to lots of crocodiles, which runs from San Jose to the Gulf of Nicoya.

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