Friday, February 1, 2008

Coffee Picking Season

I really enjoy learning about traditions in other countries and one that happens to be close at hand here in Costa Rica is the coffee picking season. The season begins around November and continues through February for most plantation owners although we learned that those plantations at higher altitudes can extend the season until May.

Before we had moved to our new home, the only thing I knew about coffee I learned from reading the labels on all the different brands I bought and watching a special on the Discovery Channel. Being here in Costa Rica and living amongst the coffee fields, I now understand a whole lot more but I still feel I have a ton more to learn.

Towards the end of October, I became anxious to see the coffee pickers in action. Every time we would be near a coffee field I would stare at the beans and wonder when they would be red. I know that only the red beans are considered ripe but the beans in our area never seemed to turn red. Most appeared to still be green while a few would be yellow.

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that on early morning on November 1st I heard singing and family chatter outside our bedroom window. I looked outside to see an entire family in the coffee field. A father, mother, and two young children were walking between the plants. While the parents picked beans, the children would run around and play. They weren’t there long, for as I said not many beans were ripe.

As November progressed I began to see trucks full of people driving past the house in the morning and then back again in the afternoon. I knew these people must be picking coffee somewhere but still didn’t see them in the fields next to us. I wish I had a picture to post of these trucks full of people but I never happen to have my camera in hand when I see them. They are quite a sight to see, though. Imagine a truck with a large back end and fencing around the sides. Now fill that truck full of people usually packed in like sardines. Now imagine seeing trucks similar to this one several times a day (one day we even saw one in a downpour and the people wore everything from nice raincoats to garbage bags). Also picture these same trucks late in the day filled with coffee beans. Amazing!

Eventually one day, the entire field next to us teamed with pickers of all ages (Patrick said kids are allowed to pick at age twelve but some parents bring younger kids and allow them to play as I mentioned before). I enjoyed watching them pick. Some obviously handled the plants much quicker than others. The faster pickers used one hand to hold the plant sideways while the other hand would fly through the branches pulling all the beans into their basket. Others seemed to use both hands to pick. The baskets they used generally were ordinary laundry baskets tied around their necks and/or waists. Then we would watch some of them hike up the hill to another field possibly to pick more or to get paid for their baskets. All the pickers also carried a bag of one sort another presumably full of their clothes since the majority of pickers in Costa Rica come here from Nicaragua.

We personally have coffee plantations on two sides of our property and the pickers have been to both fields several times now. Each time they come only some of the beans are ripe so the process takes several trips to each field. As a matter of fact, the field to the east of us was being picked this morning. They started around 6AM and seemed to be finished by 9AM. I never know quite how many pickers there are at any given time but each time they’ve picked they have been done by noon.

I find it quite interesting that the pickers always seem to be happy. They sing loudly, whistle while they work, and joke and laugh with one another. It always makes me giggle. Anyway, I’m glad to see them smiling even at the end of the day they will wave to me from the truck as they pass. I’m sure it’s not the best job in the world but they are with their family so things could be worse!

I really didn’t want to pry and take pictures of the families picking but one day a young boy thought he was being wickedly funny by throwing handfuls of green coffee beans onto the roof of the lower house. The sound of beans hitting the tin roof echoed throughout the valley. He and his buddy would laugh and throw another handful. But since no one lives there I guess the joke was on them. Also, since the young boy didn’t mind being destructive, I felt okay about sneaking photos of him while I stood on the balcony watching him throw the beans. Eventually his buddy noticed me taking photos and the boy started making rude gestures but since I have pictures to capture the event, I think I got the last laugh

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