Giving to
Bryn Mawr

Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center

Community Service Trip

Tarrazu: Sustainable Coffee Farming in Costa Rica

August 14 – 21, 2010

Join Bryn Mawr alumnae and undergraduate students as they participate in the first Bryn Mawr Alumnae Association international service trip next summer to Costa Rica. Discover the impact of your consumer choices first hand while helping coffee farmers and scientists create coffee farms that are better for the environment and their communities. You will be based in the town of Santa Maria, in the Tarrazu Valley. Your housing will be at the Cabinas de Cecila; cabins have either single, double or triple bedrooms and each has its own private bathroom.

On the Expedition

Discover the impact of your consumer choices first hand while helping coffee farmers and scientists create coffee farms that are better for the environment and their communities.

Your team will be based in Tarrazù Valley in Costa Rica. The word "Tarrazù" is derived from the indigenous Huetar word atarrazù, meaning 'rocky ground at the mouth of the mountain'. This area was first settled by Native Americans in 400 AD, with the first European settlers arriving in 1818. Coffee trees were first planted in the valley in 1850. Coope Tarrazù, where this research is conducted, is a farming cooperative located in the small town of SanMarcos de Tarrazù. It is here that the famous and delicious Tarrazù coffee is produced. You'll work side-by-side with local farmers and researchers at Coope Tarrazù which has about about 2,600 members (20% of whom are women); it is the largest employer in the area and a central part of the local community. The cooperative was founded in 1960 with an aim of creating better conditions for coffee farmers.

Members of the cooperative have introduced recycling and educational programs to the area, and the coffee itself is produced in a more environmentally friendly manner than on many other coffee farms. For example, the pulp is used to produce organic fertilizer, thereby returning nutrients to the soil and avoiding the pollution that would result from dumping the pulp elsewhere. For more information on Coope Tarrazù, see

As the invited guests of the farmers—whose families have often been growing coffee in the region for generations—you'll work with researchers to collect data on soil conditions, shade tree coverage, erosion, resistance to pests (not all teams), plant yield, and many other aspects of coffee plant production. You'll use GIS technology to map the biodiversity in the region and help determine the factors that affect farms' sustainability. This data will be shared with the farmers of the cooperative, about 20% of whom are women, who are committed to maintaining and improving their record of environmentally-friendly and economically-just growing practices.

While on the expedition, you'll have the opportunity to visit and conduct research on many different coffee farms, interact extensively with local farmers, visit a local coffee processing plant owned by the cooperative, participate in an official coffee tasting, learn about issues affecting fair trade and organic coffees, and sometimes revel in the very best of homemade Costa Rican cuisine.

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Expedition Research Summary

San Marcos de Tarrazù, Costa Rica – Coffee is one of the most widely grown crops and is a major source of export revenue for many countries in tropical regions. It is the world's fifth most widely traded commodity, with annual sales exceeding US$70 billion, of which only US$5 billion remains in producing countries. Over 25 million farmers in 56 countries export coffee and an estimated 100 million people are dependent on coffee for income.

Strategies for producing coffee crops vary from the more traditional practices where coffee is grown under the natural shade canopy of the original forest cover to much more intensive farming practices with coffee bushes growing in full sun. Many coffee-growing countries are being driven toward the more technological and intensive forms of production.

Costa Rica has seen some of the most dramatic shifts toward intensive coffee production, where many farmers produce coffee under full sun using synthetic fertilizers and highly toxic herbicides and pesticides. Large-scale technological and intensive coffee farms also often use lower quality but (temporarily) higher yielding coffee varieties, and farm on excessively steep slopes, thus promoting erosion.

But there's increasing recognition that such practices are unsustainable for the farming community, for maintaining coffee yield, and for the environment. There's a greater interest in market-based approaches that provide a premium to producers adopting more sustainable practices. For these programs to be successful, we must determine which farming practices are sustainable and economically viable, and help local producers incorporate them into their farming and land management plans.

Earthwatch volunteers will help increase sustainable coffee farming practices in the Tarrazù region of Costa Rica, and will help identify which practices can be replicated in other farms and coffee regions. This research is fully cooperative and participatory, including farmers, buyers, and the general public in its design, research, and education elements

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Team Itinerary

Throughout the expedition, there will be a few afternoon outings. On some days, volunteers will congregate in the late afternoon at one of the restaurants/cafes in the center of town. Below is a tentative itinerary for the expedition.

Day 1: Meet at Gran Hotel Costa Rica at 3:00 pm (see Rendezvous section). Team introductions and then travel to San Marcos after the meal. Evening: team dinner, orientation and introductory discussion of the project.

Day 2: Training sessions in the morning, including introduction to farming practices, sustainability issues, the research program, the daily routines and health and safety. Visit to a coffee farm in the afternoon to practice field research methods. Discussions in the evening.

Days 3-6: Fieldwork (lab work in the event of rain). Evenings will consist of relaxation time, lab work, presentations and/or discussions. A visit to and tour of a coffee cooperative will take place one or two afternoons. One evening, the team will be invited to dinner at the home of a coffee farmer.

Day 7: Final day of fieldwork. In the afternoon, volunteers will finish data entry and organize the lab. Research staff will offer a summary of the team's contributions to the project. Final celebratory dinner in the evening. Return to accommodations to pack up.

Day 8: Breakfast at the accommodations. The group will leave just after breakfast in order to reach the airport in time for afternoon flights. Volunteers should consult a travel guidebook for information on local attractions. See the Helpful Resources section for suggested guidebooks.

Earthwatch Recreational Time Policy
Earthwatch has a duty of care to our participants from the rendezvous to the end of the expedition. In order to ensure you are as safe during

your recreational time as you are during research time, we have put a number of measures in place.

  • If there is a recreational day during the expedition, the project staff will offer either a planned team activity or a small choice of recreational activities that have been vetted and comply with Earthwatch standards. You will also have the option of remaining at the project accommodations to rest. All participants are strongly encouraged to take part in the group activity, but if you are determined to pursue other options you will be asked to sign a release before doing so, stating that Earthwatch is not responsible for your welfare.
  • When there is a period of free time scheduled into a regular research day, the staff will ask you to sign out of the project (using a means which may vary by project and project location) if planning to leave the group. This will include your destination and estimated time of return. If participants do not show up to the next activity the project staff will then know where to begin a search.
  • In the evenings when you can go out at night, you will again be asked to sign out of the project as above. The project staff will give you 24-hour contact information for them should assistance be needed. The sign-out is informational only and will not be used to enforce a curfew.
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Contribution* . . . . . $1,800 (land only) Through a unique method of funding, 100 percent of your contribution is used to support research and exploration sponsored by Earthwatch Institute. By balancing costs across our program, we are able to assist research that would not be self-supporting.

In the United States, Earthwatch Institute is a non-profit organization described under Section 501-C (3) of the Internal revenue Code. Because of this, 100% of your contributions in the form of your project cost are tax deductible. Also, volunteers may deduct reasonable out-of-pocket expenses including transportation to and from research sites.

As a result of this, if you or your parents itemize deductions on your tax return, your real cost to participate in the Earthwatch expeditions may be significantly lower.

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Meals and Accommodations

You'll stay at the Cabinas de Cecilia (Cecilia's Cabins) in the quiet, rural town of Santa Maria. The town center has various restaurants, small shops and an Internet café, and is about 15 minutes' walk from the cabins. The cabins are rustic but comfortable and each has its own décor and layout, with a combination of single, double bedrooms, or triple bedrooms. Each cabin has a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower. There is a common area where volunteers may gather; this area is partially enclosed to allow guests to enjoy the breezes and surrounding gardens while staying out of the rain. Cecilia's offers breakfast on site. For a small additional fee, volunteers may request laundry services.

On a typical day, breakfast will be provided at the accommodations, and a packed lunch—often prepared by members of the local community-- will be taken to the field; the team will eat dinner together at a local restaurant. On days when fieldwork starts earlier, light breakfasts and snacks will be taken to the field and lunches will either be brought to the field by the community partners or eaten at local restaurants. Volunteers may also be invited to have dinner at farmers' homes throughout the expedition.

A staple of Costa Rican cuisine is rice and beans. In general, meals often include starches (rice, potatoes, plantains, etc.) with meat (chicken, beef, pork, seafood). While vegetarians may find meatless meals, these meals will likely be heavy on starches and may be cooked with or near animal products (e.g. cooked in the same pan as the meat dishes or with some animal fat).

Below are examples of the foods and drinks you might expect during your expedition. Please bear in mind that variety depends on availability. This list is intended to provide a general idea of food types, but it is very important that volunteers be flexible.

Breakfast: Bread, cereal, eggs, fruit, gallo pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans)
Lunch: Packed lunches with sandwiches
Dinner: Rice, beans, seafood, chicken, sausage, pork, beef, tortillas, pizza
Snacks: Fruit, bread, cheese
Beverages: Water (bottled water will be available, though the tap water is fine to drink), coffee, tea, juice (soda, beer and wine may be purchased at your own expense to drink with dinner)

Special Dietary Requirements
Please alert Earthwatch to any special dietary requirements (e.g. diabetes, lactose intolerance, nut or other serious food allergies) as soon as possible, and note them in the space provided on your volunteer forms.

Accommodating special diets is not guaranteed and can be very difficult due to availability of food, location of field sites, and other local conditions.

Special note to vegans and strict vegetarians: Please be aware that it is often difficult to accommodate strict vegetarians and vegans. It may be possible to get meatless meals but vegans and strict vegetarians may have a problem avoiding animal products altogether. If this poses a problem, then participation on this Earthwatch expedition should be seriously reconsidered.

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Volunteer Training and Assignments

The Principal Investigator will give the team a more detailed onsite project briefing when you arrive. Volunteers will visit around 5 - 8 farms throughout the expedition. They will be organized in small groups, usually pairs, to conduct research tasks. Below are the tasks expected to be carried out by volunteers:

  • Coffee plant productivity and health assessment: You will sample random coffee plants to model their productivity and assess their health. This includes counting the number of nodes with fruits in specific branches and diagnosing fungal diseases in leaves and pests in roots. They will also be spatially located using a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver.
  • Shade tree characterization: You will list different characteristics of shade trees, such as species, height, diameter at the base of the trunk (DBH), presence of epiphyte plants, etc. They will also be spatially located with a high precision GPS receiver.
  • Insect biodiversity estimation: This includes setting up traps to capture insects that will be used as biological indicators.
  • Mapping the coffee fields: Using a track function in the GPS receiver, fields will be mapped to accurately estimate their area.
  • Foliar and soil sample collections: Volunteers will collect foliar (leaf) and soil samples to estimate the nutrient conditions both in the plant and the soil.

Field Scientist Sebastián Castro and Field Coordinator Natalia Ureña will provide training on potential hazards and how to stay safe in the field, as well as on the history and culture of the Tarrazù region and Costa Rica. On the first evening volunteers will be asked to introduce themselves and share their expectations for the trip. Throughout the expedition volunteers will work in groups with different staff in order to allow team members to share their expertise and experiences. Coope Tarrazù staff will also talk to the group and volunteers will have the opportunity to talk with local farmers about issues and concerns in the region.

All data collection methods will be demonstrated during the second day of the expedition and work will be carefully supervised. Most of the methods used are fairly straightforward and volunteers with proper attention to detail should be able to learn them quickly.

Volunteers should be in fairly good physical condition and able to walk on steep slopes. Because it often rains during summer afternoons, volunteers will normally spend the mornings working outdoors and the afternoons will contain a mixture of outdoor and indoor activities; indoor activities will include lectures, data entry and preparation for the following day. On some afternoons the team will work outdoors or go on outings, as weather permits. The ability to speak some Spanish is helpful, but not required.

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Earthwatch Expedition Leaders

Mark Chandler, Ph.D.
Earthwatch Institute

Dr. Chandler is Earthwatch's International Director of Research and has been at Earthwatch Institute since 2001. In this role he has spearheaded various conservation research initiatives, including the development of Earthwatch Regional Initiatives in the Pantanal, Brazil; Samburu, Kenya; Skagit Valley, Washington State, USA; northern Queensland, Australia; and southern Belize. Dr. Chandler earned his Ph.D. in Evolutionary Ecology from McGill University and his Bachelor's degree in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Guelph, both in Canada. Before joining Earthwatch, he worked at the New England Aquarium as a research scientist for eight years. He has extensive research experience working on biodiversity conservation in Latin America, East Africa, and New England. Dr. Chandler has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals on marine biodiversity and fish conservation. Dr. Chandler will generally not be in the field with Earthwatch volunteers on this project, but oversees all aspects of the research and project design and implementation.

Dr. John E. Banks
University of Washington, Tacoma

Dr. Banks is an associate professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma. He earned his Ph.D. in Zoology at the University of Washington, Seattle, his M.S. in Applied Mathematics at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and his B.A. in Mathematics from Pomona College in California. Dr. Banks has been using a mixture of field experiments and mathematical models to explore issues at the interface among insects and managed and natural vegetation for the past several years. He is particularly interested in the effects of integrating natural vegetation into agro-ecosystems in order to bolster crop production, insect pest control, and biodiversity. His recent work involves conducting field experiments in both temperate and tropical agro-ecosystems, as well as using mathematical models to explore insect population dynamics in eco-toxicology.

Sebastián Castro Tanzi
University of Costa Rica

Sebastián Castro Tanzi is from Costa Rica and will serve as the field scientist for the project. After finishing studies in Agronomical Engineering with an emphasis on Plant Production Sciences, Sebastián worked in the commercial landscaping industry where he became aware of the negative impact of development on land resources. He later went on to obtain a Professional Master's Degree in Geo-information Sciences and Earth Observations with an emphasis on Planning and Coordination in Natural Resource Management at the International Institute for Geo-information Science and Earth Observation in The Netherlands. He is currently finishing up a degree program in Geography at the University of Costa Rica. Sebastián's current interests include the integration of information technologies in natural resource management to improve monitoring and further planning towards sustainability. He believes Tarrazù offers an ideal setting for this due to the farmers' capability and their interest in improving the way they manage their coffee farms. He hopes participants in these Earthwatch Expeditions will have the chance to experience how state–of–the–art information technologies can be combined with traditional cropping practices to procure more sustainable coffee production.

Natalia Ureña Retana
Field Coordinator

Natalia Ureña Retana is also from Costa Rica and will serve as the field coordinator for the project. She is a tropical biologist and specialist in integrated watershed management from the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) located in Turrialba, Costa Rica. Natalia received her B.S. from the National University of Costa Rica in 2002 and her M.Sc. from CATIE in 2004. She was born in the Los Santos region in the small mountain valley of Santa María de Dota, which neighbors San Marcos de Tarrazù. Her father and many other members of her family are coffee farmers in this region. Natalia loves coffee and also wants to promote sustainable coffee production in Los Santos. She has been working with local schools, leading educational programs for children about conservation, the environment and natural resources. She enjoys working and coordinating activities with stakeholders, especially farmers, and is excited to show the expedition participants the many beautiful things about the area's culture, natural resources and more.

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Earthwatch Institute

Earthwatch Institute engages people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. We believe that teaching and promoting scientific literacy is the best way to systematically approach and solve the many complex environmental and social issues facing society today.

Earthwatch is a diverse community of scientists, educators, students, businesspeople, and resolute explorers who work together to get the fullest benefit from scientific expeditions. In addition to 150 dedicated staff in the United States, England, Australia, and Japan, Earthwatch supports more than 130 scientists each year and builds networks of hundreds of students and teachers.

The Earthwatch community also includes 20,000 global members, 4,000 eager volunteers each year, 50 collaborating conservation organizations, and 50 corporate partners, all of whom work together to make a difference. Below you will find out more about our leadership, employment opportunities, and contact information.

Earthwatch is one of the largest private funders of scientific field research. Each year, they support as many as 100 field research projects with grants, and provide as many as 3,500 volunteer field assistants to scientists conducting research around the world. Earthwatch support not only provides scientists with valuable people-hours of data collection, it also helps scientists communicate the importance of their work to motivated volunteers who in turn share their experiences with friends and family. Currently supported projects include everything from measuring the release of greenhouse gasses in the Arctic to preserving the ancient culture of Fijian seafarers to studying the crocodiles of the Zambezi River, and range across ecosystems as diverse as Brazil's Pantanal, the Greek Mediterranean, and the Mongolian steppe. A Strategic Approach to research

Earthwatch supports research projects that address the world's most pressing environmental and cultural issues, and focuses its support on applied research where our citizen science model can most effectively make a significant difference in these central global ecological and cultural challenges:

  • Ensuring the sustainability of coastal, forested, agricultural and freshwater ecosystems through optimization of multiple ecosystem services.
  • Managing protected areas and species at the landscape and seascape levels to enhance biodiversity and provide local and regional ecosystem services.
  • Restoring, revitalizing, and conserving our global cultural heritage through a better understanding of socio-cultural links to natural resource use, environmental management and bio-cultural diversity.
  • Addressing the challenge of climate change and its threat to global sustainability.

Earthwatch is a respected leader in the field of experiential education, with programs ranging from improving the quality of geography instruction to "live from the field," web-based virtual expeditions reaching classrooms worldwide. To date, more than 3,500 students and 4,000 classroom teachers have received training and inspiration on Earthwatch expeditions.


Earthwatch establishes strategic international and community partnerships to support multi-disciplinary research projects in some of the world's outstanding areas of ecological and cultural value. By engaging communities in setting priorities and securing their investment throughout the process, Earthwatch implements an effective community-based conservation model.

The Earthwatch Model: 3 Steps to Conservation

Step 1: Plan conservation strategies with local stakeholders and communities
Working closely with community members, partners, local stakeholders, and non-governmental organizations, we help identify and prioritize important environmental problems and cultural issues that need attention.

Step 2: Conduct research to find solutions
Earthwatch zeroes in on critical research to create viable strategies for regional sustainability by finding the right scientists and moblilizing volunteers, who support the research and accelerate the collection of data required to find solutions.

Step 3: Engage people in conservation
Educators and students, business and conservation professionals, local landowners, artists and the members of the public lend their time by working side-by-side with scientists in the field. They learn by doing, finding solutions to local and regional issues and gaining tools to activate change in their own communities

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