The farmers involved at the COMSA coop are very serious about organic farming. After all, COMSA stands for Café Organico Marcala S.A.. At the co-op the job of maintaining the organic standards falls to everyone involved, but the man who heads up the division, is Fredy Perez. On the first day of our trip, Fredy took the morning to explain how growing organically is not only a method of farming but a lifestyle and a means to bring life back to the community at COMSA.
The first thing we learned from Fredy was the actual practice of organic farming practices at the Co-op itself. We learned about the lifecycle of the soil and how it was enriched with quartz, a very helpful mineral in producing organic fertilizer. By grinding the quartz rock, adding microorganisms, charcoal, cow manure, and micro-nutrients the farmers at COMSA can produce an organic fertilizer in 30 days. They also create a liquid form of this same fertilizer. These two products are the basis of the organic farming in the area. There is a dedicated test farm devoted to the creation of organic fertilizer, where they also experiment with their products before making it a part of the co-op's regime. Not only that, they also have a very special area where they create nutrient soil called humus.
A lifestyle and a ritualistic aspect emerged as we learned more of their organic routine. They use the skulls of cows and bury them in the earth with a few other items, letting them decompose along with a block of nutrient rich wood. In about 90 days they dig the skulls back up and use this soil on their farms. It’s said this soil matches the original soil of the earth, and you only need a small amount to help regenerate today's depleted soil. We were able to touch and smell the humus soil and it smelled like the richest black soil you have ever smelled. It smelled like life.
In order to be a certified organic farm you have to plant your seedlings 36 inches deep in the fertilized organic soil with a 36 inch diameter circle around the plant. The soil must be added first to the holes that are dug and let sit for 30 days before planting. The Farmers add liquid fertilizer to the soil and also spray it on the leaves. A seedling takes about three years to grow to an adequate size before it starts producing coffee cherries. In those years the plants will receive a continuous amount of organic fertilizer, and the earth in that field will come back to life and become fertile living organic soil. If you remember the first blog I posted from my Honduras trip, and when I talked about the La Casita farm, Fabio Claros remarked that he’d never seen such healthy plants as the ones he started growing in this manner. It was this remarkable product from the humus soil that convinced him of organic farming.
It is awesome to see how the COMSA co-op farms are able to create all of their own organic materials to fertilize their entire coffee crop through the biodiversity of their farms. On most of the farms we visited we were able to see the areas where they built structures to create the fertilizers. One such farm also used excess cow manure to create methane gas that heated the house where the farm manager stayed and enabled him to cook on a gas stove. Many of the farms not only grow coffee, but are also full-fledged farms, growing lettuces, strawberries, tomatoes, and other crops. They raise cows, pigs, chickens, and many have ponds for fish farming. Several of the farms have bee hives thanks to the COMSA Bee Project we were able to help them start. The bees help pollinate the crops as well as add to the biodiversity of the farms.
The COMSA Co-op is now over 60% organically farmed with the goal to be 100% organic as soon as possible. The farmers are genuinely excited to be a part of the coop, and the coop is ready to support them in any way they possibly can. You can most certainly drink your COMSA grown coffee with assurance in the knowledge that the product in your cup is organically grown by farmers who care as much as you do. One last thing I wanted to leave you with is what Fredy told us about organic farming. He stated “What we do here is life.” Thank you Fredy and all of the organic farmers of COMSA, our lives are richer for what you do.
Woodrow DeCasere, Licensed Q Grader for One Village Coffee