Photo by Pete Oxford
San Cristobal transforms from one of the most arid, barren-looking tropical islands you could imagine to a verdant tropical beauty in about half an hour. We're driving on the muddy roads through the Galapagos' capitol island en route to its highlands, and it seems a couple hundred meters of elevation has made a world of difference. Exotic-looking miconia plants and ferns cover the hillsides we pass, thorny blackberry limbs whip at the bus windows, and we drive by a freshwater lagoon draped in dark red algae.
Our destination is Puerta Finca, an organic farm in Galapagos, where they grow coffee, plantains, bamboo, and an endemic strain of tree tomato, among other crops. They also raise organic, disease-free cattle. Thanks to the burgeoning market for organic goods the beef and coffee have, for the first time, become highly in-demand exports.
The bulky bus gets stuck in the mud on the final stretch of the road, so we get out and walk. The owner of the farm meets us halfway, beaming. We follow him up the hill, and from time to time he enthusiastically points to his crops behind the rusty barbed wire.
Galapagos' Cash Crop
The farm's owner tells us that coffee is one of their biggest operations—and that they harvest 5,000 pounds of organic coffee every season on their little farm alone. In fact, discounting fish, coffee is probably the biggest export in the Galapagos. It's renowned for its rich, full flavor, and its fresh organic quality, and it's exported as far as Britain, Japan, and the US.
They grow, gather, and grind the coffee right onsite, and package it up for distribution in flimsy plastic pouches.
The other big export from the islands is beef—there's a high demand for Galapagos since the cattle are raised organically and the meat is sold disease-free. This farm currently has 45 cows, one of which the farmers encourage the teachers to milk. Reluctantly, a few sit down with an orange plastic bucket and get to business.
We strap on boots, and tour the beautiful farm—from the cattle pen, there's a dramatic vista of the coast through the mist. After a twenty-minute slog through thick, gurgling mud, (a trek the farmers make every day) we arrive at the coffee and bamboo crops. The owner's young son arrives right behind, riding a noisy burro.
No pesticides of any kind are used in their crops or feed, and the operation seems entirely family-run, making the coffee appear to be up to fair trade standards.
The Future of Galapagos Farming
Given the rigor of Galapagos' regulations for sustainability, farming organically is pretty much a mandate—and it's arduous, challenging labor. It's good news then that the international fair trade and organic food markets continue to expand (even in south America, albeit more slowly). Galapagos coffee currently retails at $15-20 a pound, and the price is rising. And though regulations will limit the expansion of their coffee trade, the delicious Galapagos blends may yet continue to grow into a sort of delicacy in international organic markets.
And that would bode well for folks like this farm's owner, who proudly serves us his coffee, plantains, and watermelon after the tour. He's still smiling wide as we set off back down the muddy slope.
30 of the top teachers in the US are making a trek from the Florida Everglades to the Galapagos Islands in order to engage a series of global conservation issues in the Toyota International Teacher Program. I'm traveling alongside the educators to report on what we discover about the threats and wonders of modern day Galapagos.