Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beneficio Update 5: Finishing Walls and Laying Floors

Things continue to progress well at the Beneficio. We have been working on the main structure, and it is looking more and more like a processing center. The fermentation tanks are built, and are in the process of being smoothed out. After this, we will add the exits for coffee and ferment water and they will be ready to go.

The walls are finished, with a small area built in for storage of equipment and coffee as we process.

We are in the process of laying the floor and building the sorting and de-stoning apparatus. Cement will be laid by the end of the week.

We held a meeting this past Sunday afternoon to update farmers on progress and continue getting feedback from them. They were very excited to see things coming along well, and we discussed transportation issues. Some farmers are planning on sharing horses to bring coffee—by alternating days of picking, producers who live in villages near La Unión can bring their coffee without paying for transport. Other farmers are working to coordinate picking so that they can share a truck and keep their transport costs low.

Up next: finishing fermenting tanks, the storage room, laying cement for the floor, and beginning to install the water system. Check back for more updates!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beneficio Update 4: Tank done, walls going up

The water tank is lined with cement and ready to start collecting water for our daily use at the beneficio. The tank will hold water that the beneficio needs for coffee processing.

All of this water comes off the roof of the vermiculture from rain. Only part of the roof is currently connected, but will collect 1500 gallons of water for every 1" of rain that falls once completed.

Work on the beneficio itself is coming along well. The foundation is done, fermentation tanks are being installed, and the receiving area has walls almost completed.

Up next, finishing fermentation tanks, laying the floor of the receiving area, and beginning to install the water system!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beneficio, Systems Explanation: Vermiculture

As we continue the construction of the Coffee Processing, Training, and Quality Control Center (ie. beneficio), we will take a few moments to stop and break down individual systems to explain them in greater depth and discuss how they are related to the goals (quality, training, environmental sustainability) of creating the beneficio. First up: the vermiculture.

Coffee Pulp is normally left to rot in
large piles, polluting water sources 
Processing coffee conventionally causes a large amount of environmental damage, and one of the largest contributors is coffee pulp (the fruit of the coffee). This pulp, which must be removed soon after picking coffee to avoid damage to the coffee, is largely viewed as waste, and for good reason. If improperly disposed of, a pound of this waste contains as many environmentally damaging contaminants as a pound of human fecal matter. Left to rot and drain into water sources, it damages local wildlife and, worse, can work its way into the water systems that farmers use for drinking, washing, cooking, and bathing. However, there is another option: a vermiculture.

UMF Team member Gilberto
showing off a worm at the
UMF-IHCAFE training on
A vermiculture is a very simple idea: rather than allowing coffee pulp to rot, put it in an environment with controlled humidity and temperature and add worms to compost it (many readers with a green thumb will immediately recognize the ability of worms to help with decomposition). By shading the coffee pulp, protecting it from rain, and adding Californian worms (provided by IHCAFE), the coffee pulp gets composted. In doing this, coffee pulp transforms from a semi-toxic waste into an amazing organic fertilizer. It is only natural that, coming directly from a coffee plant, coffee pulp contains many of the nutrients required to grow coffee -- nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, boron -- in larger quantities than cow manure, pig manure, ash, and other conventional organic fertilizers. 

The vermiculture roof is
almost complete
Since this is a composting process, it takes approximately 3-5 months for coffee pulp to be fully converted into organic fertilizer. This process happens naturally, but adding worms (hence vermiculture) speeds the process and increases nutrient levels. Once fully composted, we will bag this organic fertilizer and make it available through our microloan program. This nutrient-rich fertilizer will be key as we work to teach farmers about the importance of improving soil health and decreasing the use of chemical fertilizer. Rather than using purely chemical fertilizers, farmers will be able to take a microloan for a mix of organic and chemical fertilizers. Not only does this organic fertilizer directly decrease the chemical fertilizer needed on fields, it can increase efficiency of chemical fertilizers if applied correctly (further decreasing chemical fertilizer needs). It will also increase organic matter and soil health, and will naturally create a slow release of nutrients to the plants (as opposed to the large, one-time nutrient infusion of pure chemical fertilizers).

Computer model of the finalized vermiculture
This is what UMF is all about, and an example of what we are trying to accomplish with this processing center:
  • Take a waste and make it productive (environmental sustainability)
  • Use it to decrease farmers’ costs and improve the health of their fields (training)
  • Increase quality and production of plants (quality)

This is just one of the many systems incorporated in the beneficio, so check back for in-depth explanations of the other systems,as well as construction updates.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Beneficio, Update 3: The vermiculture and tank go up

The roof is nearly complete over the lumbrecultura (vermiculture) site, and already the workers are using collected rainwater for use construction.

A pipe is set up at the low end of the roof to funnel water into a large bin. This recycled water will supply water for mixing cement and other needs at the construction site. Once the water tank is completed, collected rainwater will be channeled here.

The water tank is more than just a large hole in the ground now; it has a cement floor, and the sides are being lined with concrete blocks.

We will be finishing the water tank and getting walls built for the beneficio in the next few days. Be sure to check back and see how it is coming along!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beneficio, Update 2: Construction begins

The road that we started to build last week is now being used to bring supplies and workers (by car, truck, bike, wheelbarrow, and foot) to the construction site. We built a cement
bridge to drain water under the road so it won’t collect at the bottom of the hill and wash out the road.

At the end of the road we have almost finished 2-meter-deep hole. We will soon start laying brick to create a 3,700 gallon holding tank for the water that we will collect and use for coffee processing. This tank is designed to hold enough water for a week, and will provide all the water needed to run the beneficio.

We’ve also put up the supports for the roof of the vermiculture site. The vermiculture will serve a dual purpose—in addition to providing organic fertilizer from coffee pulp, the roof is designed to collect rainwater and run it into the holding tank. This way we won’t be taking water from the city system, leaving more water for town residents and ensuring that we are always using uncontaminated water.

Finally, work has begun on the beneficio itself – lines are up as guides, and we are preparing the supports that will be installed for the floor of the structure. New materials are coming to the site every day as work continues on the beneficio.

Up next: putting the roof on the vermiculture, laying bricks for the water tanks, and laying the beneficio foundation. Stay tuned for more!