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Monday, February 2, 2003 Summer School in Monteverde

Saludos from high in the mountains of Costa Rica. Here in Costa Rica the kids are just finally coming to the end of their summer holidays. School has been out since mid-December and the back to school buzz is now on. Everyone is buying their supplies and decorating their notebooks, all in preparation for the beginning of the new school year that commences on the 9th of February. The final coffee harvest has also begun.

The dates for the ‘summer holidays’ here in Costa Rica are not coincidental. In fact, the holidays in this country have been established around the coffee harvesting season and are designed to ensure that there are extra hands available for the most labour intensive phase of coffee producing—the picking of the beans!

The situation is no different in Monteverde, even though the coffee from this region receives one of the top 5 prices in the country. While the high-altitude Café Monteverde is worth a lot on the market, and the producers receive higher prices than the average Costa Rican producer, the cost of living is also very high in Monteverde, the result of the explosion of tourism over the last 10 to 15 years.

The growth of tourism is a big incentive for agricultural families to sell off their land, which is now worth a great deal, and move into the tourism business, or just out of Monteverde. For Victor Jose Torres and his wife Nery Rojas, one agricultural family in Monteverde that we met, the temptation is high. Their love of rural living and their goal of leaving something behind for their 5 children, however, have kept them on the land.

The property is a beautiful mix of coffee fields, dairy farm, and primary and secondary forest. It is so beautiful that none of the 4 sons wants to leave, let alone sell the property, and so the entire family works together on the shared land. When we visited the farm it was full of life. The final harvest is underway and each of the 5 children has a few of their own children and the coffee fields were alive with picking hands—little and big. I never knew picking coffee could be so much fun! Brothers and sisters and cousins laughed and played with some breaks to pick coffee. The kids got especially keen to strap on their baskets and pick the beans when we pulled out the cameras.

Almost everyone that we have met here in Costa Rica remembers picking coffee as a child. Guillermo Vargas, the manager of the cooperative in Monteverde has very fond memories from his coffee picking days. Still, aside from their obligatory summer school in the fields, his father insisted that Guillermo and his 12 brothers also attend the regular school. So too will the grandchildren of Nery Rojas and Victor Jose Torres.

Sadly, we have heard about children that for economic reasons do not have the opportunity to go to ‘regular’ school and instead form a crucial part of the family’s labour force. One of the things that Coocafe’s Foundation Hijos del Campo does is try to ensure that the children of all of their members have access to education.

We will write more soon about the role of Hijos del Campo. For now, it is back to work. We can now be found living in Alajuela and spending most of our days at the Coocafe office.

We will be in touch soon.

Pura vida, Meghan Casey

9 year old Ruth taking a break from the games to pick some beans.
4 year old twins David and Judith playing on the woodpile.
4 year old Judith tasting and showing off the fruit of her work.
Mario at work with his basket.

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