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Last Wednesday May 17th was our first day back picking coffee this year at the Tambo Quinde nature reserve, not a full pick, just a scan, a run-through to get the handful of first-ripe beans and begin prepping for the real deal that´s on the way soon. We were joined by a little dipsas, snail-eating snake and an anolis lizard both common where we are and very welcome members of of our pest-control team. You can see them in full attack mode in the picture above. If you take a close look at this caturra variety coffee bush taken Friday at Tambo Quinde, you can see that we have harvesting ahead of us, tons of green beans to pick, depulp, ferment, wash and dry. Fun fact: for every pound of roast coffee you enjoy, someone, somewhere picked and processed between five and six pounds of coffee fruits or cherries. Heavy lifting for sure! This year we´ll be taking all the cherries downhill to the Alambi Reserve where we´re been building the new harvest center or beneficio where the depulping to drying stages will take place. That work is coming together and will be the subject of our next blog.
Sneak-peak: The new kitchen/coffee bar and bathrooms are just now having the walls covered in boards from a couple “Uva” or jungle-grape trees that were blown down in a storm at Mindo Cloudforest Foundation´s Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary. These are pioneering, fast-growing trees with pretty light and soft wood, but just fine for walls that will be protected from the rain. We like that we were able to put this good wood to a good use, considering that the downed trees were blocking trails through the reserve and otherwise may have been left to rot. The rest of the construction news is coming soon for sure!
Meanwhile, you may have seen on the news that Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have had a pretty rough winter, tons of rain, landslides, washed out roads and worse, some very serious damage like to the Colombian town of Mocoa where hundreds lost their lives. Our region has been hit too, but frankly it hasn´t seemed that much different from an average year. Lots of rain with some sunny mornings and some big storms. Logically we do get rain, it´s cloud forest after all, perhaps easier to think of as rainforest above a thousand feet elevation, and in our case near six thousand feet up the slopes of the Andes mountains. Of course there was some damage, there always is, and we should always thank the courageous and kind road workers from the Provincial Government who keep us connected and who lost a young companion when his front-loader went over the edge and got partially buried while trying to clear the Tandayapa – Bellavista road last month. Horrible and tragic news. RIP.
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Blogs
So today is your Earth Day, sweet happy mirth day. Frankly there´s too much nasty news out there to even joke about, but joke I do, perhaps to keep from crying, whistling past the graveyard in a perhaps too literal way. Over the decades of working in an environmental organization and projects, I´ve never wanted to celebrate or commercially exploit the concept of Earth Day. Damn, every day must be earth day and FAST if we´re going to get out of this current sixth extinction jam alive. Come on, can we shop our way to salvation, to sustainability? I don´t think so. However, like a friend and collaborator gives as advice to any and all would be green-entrepreneurs – I´m paraphrasing here – Well, sure, okay, it´s true we cannot shop our way to sustainability, but if we don´t offer sustainable products, someone else will be more than happy to step up and sell non-ethically produced or sourced goods. So, in short, let´s take their market as best we can! With that string of caveats and Hamletesque parading around the parapets, let´s get back to business. We´ve been busy since last I wrote. Maybe you´ve seen some news reporting on the floods in Peru and in Colombia? Guess where Ecuador is: smack between the two, and the rain didn´t skip us here, be sure of it. It´s been muddy and the different roads close sporadically with mudslides and the like. We had a small flood after a culvert got jammed up with rocks and sticks, gunk and mud. Etcetera. The good thing is that I´m stubborn and own some pretty slick $9 rubber boots, Hechas en el Ecuador. So, now we have our new greenhouse for drying coffee ready; a new structure for the depulping, fermenting and washing equipment collectively known as “el beneficio;” substantial progress on the old house we´re rebuilding in the Alambi Reserve and a new structure that will have bathrooms, a small kitchen and coffee bar so that our visitors can taste the wares. The biodigester is still in planning but we have the space ready where it´s going to go!Before I forget, the area where we´re doing all this, within the Alambi Nature Reserve, was once an Ecuadorian Army Corps of Engineers road building camp. The cement pads and much of the infrastructure was already here, slowly disintegrating from years of disuse, just waiting for Cloud Forest Coffee Farms to come along and re-purpose it! The upshot is that while we did hire a backhoe for a day of help, we´re not pouring much cement and we´re keeping our footprint small, even Tiny. The harvest season where we are, higher and cooler than most of the area coffee farms, doesn´t start until June, so we´re on schedule and almost on budget, please note the operative term “almost.” Help push this idea forward buying some of our high-grown, bright and aromatic specialty coffee. You can see that the “Store” area of our site is now updated and by clicking on the Indiegogo button you can find a new promo for Earth Day: 2 bags of our 2016 harvest for $28 including shipping within the USA. For other destinations please send a message via our “Contact” form.
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Blogs
The scientific evidence continues to accumulate, telling us that restoring forests and farmlands is one of the most effective ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere – not just reduce carbon emissions, but actually reverse them! The carbon is captured and stored in the organic matter of fertile soil as well as in the living vegetation that grows in that soil. So while we work to end deforestation in the Amazon basin, we can also look to the work of nearby Cloud Forest Coffee Farms as a model, a living laboratory, for repairing the damage. For the past twenty years, Cloud Forest Coffee Farms’ Brian Krohnke has been restoring and preserving forests in the Andes Mountains in Northwest Ecuador. He is among the founders of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation and has led many reforestation efforts. He has also worked as a coffee grower, roaster, and exporter. As you may know, the best coffee is often grown in the shade, where a slower ripening process allows the beans to develop a more nuanced flavor profile. So, in 2010, Brian combined his two interests to create Cloud Forest Coffee Farms, an alliance of private nature reserves that supports reforestation by cultivating coffee in the shade of replanted forest canopy. With proper management and respect for the environment, these restored lands are regenerating the natural ecosystems while also fueling the growth of a local, sustainable economy. Cloud Forest Coffee Farms shows that the living forest can create a stronger economy than cleared forest lands. It’s a model for restoring a damaged ecosystem, creating sustainable jobs, and building a thriving economy in the ashes of an environment damaged by thoughtless “development.” How do we know it’s working? Honestly, it will take decades to fully restore the biodiverse ecosystems that once flourished here, but already we have some evidence. Birds and other wildlife are returning in growing numbers. The soil, eroded by ill-conceived cattle ranching, is building a layer of organic matter, increasing its fertility and its carbon sequestering capacity. And our coffee, grown in the shade at 6,000-feet elevation, right on the equator, is everything you could want in a premium coffee. There is a method in our madness. We prefer to restore lands adjacent to or near forest preserves or other tracts that have been left undisturbed. As we plant trees, the vegetation and animal life from the preserves naturally spreads to the adjacent reforested parcel. For this reason, we are incredibly happy to welcome the newest partner in our alliance, the Alambi Nature Reserve. Also, we welcome new project partners Mario and Rhonda Ugoletti from the US. We´re excited that they are now on board. As our alliance grows, so do its operations, requiring more sophisticated equipment and infrastructure to manage our growing harvests. Today, we are launching an Indiegogo fund-raising campaign to help us build a biodigestor and continue expanding our wonderful agro-forestry alliance. What is a biodigestor? Honestly, it’s a very boring piece of equipment that accomplishes several wonderful jobs for the farm. A biodigestor is a very large, sophisticated composter for the pulp of the coffee fruit. Coffee beans are the stone that grows at the center of the coffee cherry. For every pound of beans we harvest, we remove and discard about five pounds of coffee cherry fruit pulp. The biodigestor will allow us to compost the pulp effectively, providing several benefits. We can capture the CO2 and methane that are released as the pulp decomposes. We’ll use the methane for fuel, reducing our farm’s greenhouse gas emissions and saving money on fuel. And the composted pulp becomes a valuable addition to the soil, helping us restore organic matter, sequester carbon, and increase the fertility of our soil. Our world needs more projects like Cloud Forest Coffee Farms, lots of them. It’s a living laboratory leading the way toward an economy that creates more value by restoring the environment than by tearing it apart. It’s a project that is quite real and already successful. Your help today will enable Brian and his partners to continue growing this amazing forest-farm.

Please click on either of the bats to offer your support – at most contribution levels, you’ll receive a package of Cloud Forest Coffee Farms coffee beans – so you’ll literally be able to taste the fruits of your investment!

 
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Blogs
These are scary times. My generation was the first to be born with the absolute knowledge that nuclear weapons could erase human civilization from the face of the earth. Then, over the last decade or so, we´ve come to understand and even feel in our bones that climate catastrophe might also threaten our existence. Before that knowing, that fear, began maybe we could muddle along in our innocence, imagining that things would work out for the best. Now, though, all those bets are off. The evidence is in: coffee is one of the agricultural products already suffering the effects of a warmer world. Farms are moving uphill to higher altitudes, always one step slower than the fungal diseases and insect infestations that make growing great coffee that much harder. With some friends, we´ve formed an alliance high up in a privileged valley. We restore land, turning low-carbon, degraded cattle pastures, once hacked out of the hugely biodiverse cloudforest into high-carbon, forested habitat perfect for shade coffee. Maybe before we awakened to our responsibility to address climate change, we thought conservation was enough. Now, and with every new day, we know that it´s time to pass from nature conservation to nature restoration if we want to stand a chance. Now, in 2017, we are adding a new plantation area to the Cloud Forest Coffee Farms Alliance, this time at the private nature reserve, Alambi, named for the Alambi river which flows at the lower edge of the property. We aim to remake the grassy bits, the stripped land, into agro-forestry shade coffee like we´ve done at the Tambo Quinde nature reserve and elsewhere. With our commercial partners, Tiny Footprint Coffee in the USA and Aekvator Kaffe in Denmark, we invite you to accompany us on this journey. In a series of articles over the course of this year, we will document what we are doing and give you the opportunity to enjoy the coffee and contribute to our efforts. Sure, in a dozen hectares of coffee we are not going to change the world, but we are not alone. There are many different farming approaches in many countries. Taken as a whole, returning carbon to the soil represents a powerful tool for CO2 mitigation and – enough doom and gloom – we’re also having some fun along the way.
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Blogs
Maybe it was before we came of age, before we lost our innocence, before we knew that climate change was the greatest threat, not just a threat to some random or vague biodiversity, but to our lives. Climate change is also threatening the production of coffee, the world´s second most traded commodity, after petroleum if you can read that without the irony choking you. Maybe before this awakening we thought conservation was enough; Let´s help save some of the beautiful bits of the world and the rest will sort itself out… Now, and with every new day, we know that it´s time to pass from nature conservation to nature restoration if we want to stand a chance. Bill McKibben´s elegant carbon math makes it ever more clear… 350 parts per million of CO2 is the limit where we can keep enjoying a stable climate, and all the benefits and joys of modern living, like incredible specialty coffee from all over the world. This hits us harder and harder as citizens, as parents as people who care: September, 2016, saw us pass 400 parts per million, perhaps permanently. It´s time to do more! The atmosphere needs to be cleaned up, and land restoration is one way, even if a humble way, to do it. What we are doing and showing here at our Cloud Forest Coffee Farms is that you can produce great coffee while restoring and at the same, create jobs and bolster a local economy. Another way to think about this distinction perhaps is simply ‘old and new economy’, during and after the age of climate innocence. The new economy does not consider the possibility of doing damage to the natural ecological succession or forest succession process as part of its productive processes, rather on the contrary. Even if nature is always under pressure from human activities and resources are scare, our new formula considers the organic process as the beginning point where with minimum external inputs we are working to build rich soils and forest stocks, in and around coffee plantations. We´re storing carbon in the trees, carbon in the soil and carbon in the rest of the biomass found in biodiverse cloudforest, bromeliads, orchids, mosses, ferns, you name it. This earth first approach to quality is reflected in the cup scores and other, objective, specialty evidence we are producing. Turns out that coffee from shade and from higher altitudes ends up tasting better. It is better. We see this as a step beyond being responsible or having a sense of giving back, like we hear so often. This isn´t just giving back but is about actually creating a living possibility, the possibility for life. Sounds lovely but maybe there are skeptics out there, so as we´ve just finished our 2016 harvest, we are also beginning to organize our organic certification, such that before too long we will have one more piece of objective evidence to show our friends and customers, as if the mind blowing green where we work weren´t enough.
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Blogs
The harvest at Cloud Forest Coffee Farms is in full swing right now. The timing is a bit different from most other growers in Northwestern Ecuador, who have already completed their harvest. We are at a higher altitude, and so our coffee cherries ripen later. This suits us just fine, since we can hire experienced pickers whose work at lower altitudes is finished, like Inés Andagoya seen in this post. Experienced pickers make a huge difference to the quality of our harvest. Coffee cherries don’t ripen uniformly on any individual coffee tree, as you can see from photos elsewhere on our site. Our master pickers instinctively know which beans are ready and they have a gentle touch. This means they don’t damage the fruit or the tree when picking. It’s an important skill. We make half a dozen or more passes on each tree, at two-week intervals, in order to get each bean when it is perfectly ripe. When we first started planting, other growers warned us that we were planting at too high an altitude. But planting at a higher altitude was just one of the rules we broke. Another was planting on land that had been worn out after years of use as a cattle pasture. Ranchers had used slash-and-burn methods to clear the forest for cattle grazing and now the topsoil was giving out. Maybe we’re unrealistic, but we saw the chance to conduct a great experiment. Could the worn-out pasture, bordering one nature reserve and near another, be restored to the diverse ecosystem it once was? And could we grow premium quality coffee at the same time? The idea was that a coffee farm could fund on-going restoration of larger and larger tracts of land. Economically, that made sense. And coffee trees grow naturally in the shade, so it also made agricultural sense to plant coffee among the restored cloud forest trees, if the soil could be improved enough for healthy tree development. The problem was that we had no instruction manual for the project. So we’ve been experimenting. We weren’t too worried about the coffee part of the equation. I had been in the coffee business for more than a decade as a broker and exporter, and I had noticed that many of the winners of regional cupping contests in Panama, Colombia, and Peru originated at higher altitudes – 6,000 feet or more. I began thinking that this might be part of a formula for growing outstanding coffee. We planted the first forest canopy trees in 2010 – mostly fast-growing nitrogen-fixing species like Andean alders, erythrinas and calliandras to begin to re-create the cloud forest shade. Then we added slower-growing hardwoods of various kinds. Once those were established, crews got to work planting coffee beneath the taller trees. We tested small batches of beans in the early years – tentatively happy with the results, but the trees were very young. Last year, Cloud Forest had its first small but commercial size crop. We were very happy with the cup quality, rich red fruit flavors with marked floral aromas. This year’s crop will be much bigger and the quality should improve as well! I can’t wait to taste it. Follow the harvest and the results of our great experiment at www.cloudforestcoffeefarms.com
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