Three representatives from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) Dining Services visited Selva Negra estate and coffee farm in Nicaragua to learn more about the university's new direct relationship coffee supplier.
The three representatives — Ted Faulkner, Don Harvey, and Holli Drewry — arrived in Nicaragua on November 6 last year for a tour of the coffee farm that included picking coffee beans, observing the coffee production process and visiting neighboring farms. They returned to Virginia Tech five days later.
The journey was not easy. The 15-hour trip down included a car ride, two flights and a two-hour night time bus ride capped by climbing a winding dirt and gravel road up the side of a mountain.
The Selva Negra estate, which boasts both organic certification and Rainforest Alliance certification, promotes a unique type of sustainable coffee production that emphasizes ecological preservation, worker satisfaction, and coffee bean quality.
Worm farming, shade growing, and an expanding hydroelectric system are among a few of the programs that allow the estate to maintain a minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystem. The farm also produces its own organic fertilizer and compost, and uses coffee by-products to produce methane gas for cooking.
“The sustainability program of the entire estate was more than we ever anticipated; every possible resource was used and reused,” says Faulkner, associate director of dining programs. “It was humbling to see a third world coffee plantation outpacing the majority of the world in regards to sustainability.”
“Collaborative, innovative, and progressive: Those are the three words we kept hearing on the tour,” said Holli Drewry, marketing and publications manager for Student Programs. “It really impressed us how they emphasized those three ideas in everything they did.”
The innovation extends to the programs Selva Negra offers its workers as well. Although the going pay rate for coffee harvest is fixed by the Nicaraguan government at $1 per basket, Selva Negra also provides benefits like health care, a school system, housing, and three meals a day. It also offers off-harvest employment opportunities to workers so they can be employed year round.
“We harvested coffee as part of the tour, and between the 15 of us working, we barely filled one basket in an hour,” says Don Harvey, unit manager for VaTech's Deet's Place campus coffee shop. “Experienced workers can harvest around six to ten baskets in a day, but that still doesn't add up to a lot. The benefits that Selva Negra provides their workers really make all the difference.”
“Dining Services of Virginia Tech is proud of its direct relationship coffee program with Selva Negra,” says Faulkner. “We feel it provides the farm the best opportunity to re-invest in their workers and their sustainability program. A producer like Selva Negra provides a quality coffee bean that has been produced in a manner that exceeds our expectations in being good stewards to the earth.”
Selva Negra organic coffee is now available at Deet's Place, where it can be purchased by the cup. Eventually, Dining Services plans to extend availability to the D2 and Shultz dining centers as well.
To read more about the trip, visit the Selva Negra trip blog at http://vtcoffee.wordpress.com.