It was October 2008 when I first visited the Selva Negra Farm in Nicaragua. The anticipation for the visit was immense. This was my first trip to Nicaragua. I was there for the Let’s Talk Coffee Nicaragua. During the conference David Griswold introduced me to Mausi Kühl and her son in law Stephen Franklin. Mausi spoke from her heart and soul about the farm. Champion Barista’s from all over the world had just spent a week on the farm. The Barista’s stories about the farm were told throughout the conference. Everyone was amazed with the stories and eager to visit the farm.
The entrance to the farm was impressive. We were greeted by an army tank left over from the revolution. We choose to get off the bus and walk our way to the restaurant. Once in the farm the road was lined with coffee plants and shade trees. All was neat and organized. Trash cans made of recycled bags were available for the workers to collect trash. The walk was peaceful and beautiful.
In Latin American countries trash is an eyesore. The population needs to be educated on the benefits of proper trash disposal and care for the environment. One of the principals of the Rainforest Alliance is proper recycling and disposal of trash. Over the years of visiting farms I can immediately tell if a farm has the Rainforest Alliance Certification by the way trash is handled and the lack of litter on the farm. Mausi goes way beyond the Rainforest Alliance trash requirements with her motto of “waste not”. With over 300 people living on the farm, the farm produces only one 55 gallon barrel of trash per week. The entire farm produces less CO2 than the than the average American household.
Our first stop on the farm was the farm’s restaurant. Not only is this a coffee farm, but it is also a hotel,
restaurant, ecological sanctuary, cheese farm, sausage factory, cattle vegetable and flower farm. All of the farm’s diversity works in harmony with the environment. Lunch was fabulous. We ate farm grown vegetables, cheeses and sausages on tables decorated with farm flowers overlooking a beautiful lake.
After lunch, it was time for the anticipated farm tour. Heidi, Mausi’s daughter guided us through the coffee portion of the farm. Our first stop was to the first water cleaning tank for which Selva Negra won the Specialty Coffee Association Sustainability Award. The farm has developed a system to purify the water used in processing the coffee. The first tank captures the methane gas. The gas is used to provide fuel for cooking stoves for the hotel, restaurant and workers homes. The water continues its purification through various ponds. Algae
that is grows in one of the ponds is collected and used as mulch for the young coffee plants. One of the ponds is a fish farm with workers being allowed to catch fish. Finally the purified water is used as irrigation at the flower nurseries. In my early years of visiting farms I was appalled at the water used in coffee processing being dumped back into the rivers. Today Selva Negra has taught hundreds of farmers how to treat the water without harming the environment.
We made our way through the fields of coffee where we saw healthy coffee plants loaded with cherries. The cherries were just beginning to ripen. In about a month the farm would be in full harvest season. We saw broca (coffee borer) traps made out of empty soda bottles and filled with local sugar cane alcohol to kill the broca. This is just another example of recycling on the farm. Being an organic farm all forms of pesticides and fertilizers are 100% natural with many components coming from farm waste. The restaurant serves eggs from the farm hens. The shells from the used eggs are ground up to make a calcium fertilizer for healthy coffee root systems. This is another example of Mausi’s “Waste Not” philosophy.
Every coffee farm produces wood from pruning the coffee plants and shade trees. In most cases the wood is used to provide fuel for stoves. Burning wood produces particulate air pollution. This is not the case at Selva Negra as they produce their own methane gas for the stoves. The wood is still used at the farm in a non-polluting manor. The farm has a carpentry shop. The shop makes furniture for the restaurant and hotel and many other wood needs.
We visited the vegetable and flower green houses. All of the vegetables grown at the farm are served at the restaurant. The flowers are picked and used to decorate the tables at the restaurant.
Our next stop was the wet mill and the drying patio. Even though the water is filtered and recycled the water process is designed to conserve water. The wet mill has been in operation since 1890. The farm is also known as Hacienda Harmonia. The name comes from the city of Hamburg, Germany the home town of the founding farmers. Next to the drying patio is the family home. The home along with the hotel cabins are all built with
German architectural elements again paying homage to the founders of the farm.
Our last stop was at the workers village. Once a year the farm hosts a fair for the workers. The purpose of the fair is to share with the employees all of the jobs and extracurricular activities of the farm. There were booths for coffee, cheese, flowers, vegetables, sausages, biogas model, Rainforest Alliance, health care, sports teams, school, construction, plant nursery, farm awards, certifications and the farm model. Children were dressed in their Sunday best. As an incentive for taking care of their homes there is a completion for the best decorated house. Many of the workers
grew up on the farm, were educated during their primary years at the farm, given scholarships for upper and college education and then returned to the farm to work and raise their families. Jobs aside from farm field work include nurses, teachers, biologists, carpenters, and managers and many other jobs.
This farm is truly amazing. Our Blue Heron Espresso Nicaragua Selva Negra is our most versatile coffee. The coffee is sweet and citric as an espresso, smooth and creamy as a cappuccino and is bright and fruity with chocolate notes as a pour over or drip coffee. This is one of my favorite coffees for not only the incredible taste but for all the sustainable aspects of the farm.