A Local Coffee Grower Teaches Himself Organic Farming

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Day 105: Fortuna Cloud Forest, Panama

When a local coffee grower decides to go organic he earns the nickname “El Loco,” at least that’s what happened to Don Cune.

After years of blasting his crops with pesticides he became concerned about the number of deaths and cancer-related ailments in the area.

Each day he’d come home from the crops with itchy skin and eyes.

That was well over a decade ago and at the time farmers were using twice the amount of pesticides recommended on the back of the canister because more must be better.

But then a German pesticide company began holding a series of workshops to help farmers understand how much pesticides they needed and Don thought he could apply those techniques to abandon pesticides completely.

He’s the first to admit that becoming an organic farmer is a difficult thing to do. Without any examples around him it was a series of trial and error.

But he explains it was a spiritual exercise for him as he learned that he needed to listen to the earth and maintain it’s balance, the goal was no longer to eradicate pests but to simply keep them from his coffee crops.

Visiting Don Cune’s farm it’s far from what you’d imagine a industrial farm to be, citrus trees and other plants are intertwined with coffee plants to deter pests.

He explains that you cannot have only one plant taking nutrients from the soil as it becomes unbalanced.

He monitors the pest population by using a series of modified tricks the Germans taught him, a greased post that insects will stick to indicates if there is an infestation simple hanging planters with sweet juices attract the fruit flies and keep them away from the berries.

Unlike other farmers that undertake the arduous process of becoming certified organic, Don doesn’t make much more money from it.

While he typically grows 6000 pounds of beans a year, His wholesaler doesn’t offer organic beans and therefore pays Don the regular price of $1.50 a pound for his beans to be mixed with pesticide-laden beans.

The real profit is in selling direct as the beans can command $6.00 a pound but he needs to find a distributor as his current method is selling at local markets and backpackers who take the tour or buy from the hostel.

But like all trail blazers, Don is adamant about succeeding, teaching himself along the way and looking for ways to improve.

With a grant from Spain, they were able to secure more efficient machinery and he’s convinced eight other farmers to only process organic beans.

It’s really inspiring to visit the farm as you meet a man who wants change and was so determined to make life better for his family that he found a way to do it himself.

You can meet Don Cune by booking through Lost and Found Jungle Hostel who are helping him reach tourists. Read TripAdvisor Reviews here.

Join the Conversation

  1. Drinking organic (and shade grown) coffee is also one of the easiest things we can all do to help save the songbirds. I wish there were more guys out there like Don.
    Great pictures BTW.

  2. One of the biggest things we can all do as individuals to help save the songbirds is to drink organic (and shade grown) coffee. We need more ‘Don’s in this woorld.
    Great pictures too.

  3. That is an inspiring but ultimately economically disappointing story. I would like to think that with the internet it would be a quick Google search to find a distributor that would be willing to pay a premium for Don’s organic beans. I would guess getting certified is the first step. Maybe there is a grant available to help with that?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      @Keith Don is actually certified, unfortunately now they need to find buyers. I know that the people at the Lost and Found Lodge are trying to help him potentially find a buyer in Canada but I’m not sure if it’s worked out.

  4. What a great story. How do you find such interesting people, Ayngelina?

    And beautiful photos, as always.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks @Adam, you’re too kind.

  5. Christine says:

    I agree with Adam, you do find the coolest people on your travels! This is a great story, and it’s a bit depressing that he’s the only one in the area who’s decided to take this route. We need more people like him in the world!

  6. Ryan Aldred says:

    I’ll punt this over to Francesco’s, a coffee company in Ottawa which specializes in organic coffee. Maybe they’d be interested in ordering some of the coffee.

  7. This is such an amazing and inspiring story!!! I wish there were more people like him this world. Thanks for sharing this. Now I want a cup of organic coffee!

  8. I agree with many of the above – what an inspiring read! I really hope he can find a buyer…it’s unfair & sad that he shouldn’t earn a better wage…and that his organic beans end up mixed in with the others. I really hope, through this post, someone is able reach out to Don and help him get a buyer!

  9. Wow, i totally agree and respect that coffee guy when he says “listen to the earth and maintain it’s balance”. Now a days we really need to give back to the earth instead of stripping it off all it’s goodness. What goes around comes around. We need to protect all these gifts for our future generations. excellent post on coffee. my favourite hot beverage;)

    this is a gorgeous website btw, glad u stopped by ours!

  10. Great story and such a shame that he is the exception, not the rule. Can he perhaps sell coffee online direct to people who would appreciate it? With the WWW I am sure he could make a few more pesos off people like us if he had the right tools.

  11. This is a fantastic post!

  12. I love organic coffee for the health benefits for ME. Now I am learning more and more about what can be done by coffee farmers to protect birds. As consumers we need to be on the lookout for coffee like Don’s!

  13. Great story,totally agree with the importance of supporting the small farmers,and organic absolutely,i think the problem also,theres tons of folk in europe who would buy from guys like him, its the shipping in small quantites, costs an arm and leg, its all controlled by the big boys, whats needed is some bigger wholesale organic buyers, who can give the guy a good price, and offer here in europe, distributing the beans and the story,there would be no problem selling..most sensible caring ppl,want green goods now!!

  14. Ayngelina

    was googling panamanian coffee as i’m panamanian (and irish) my american father met my canal zone panamanian/american mother in panama. summered there as a kid with noriega roaming about. i’m writing to ask how do i get in touch with Don? i know the buyers from organic grocery stores that have distribution in the southern states, as well as direct to consumer options as well. can u help. great pics of panama.

    i’ve been looking for an excuse to go back. big fan of slow food movement. thanks for your help


    @mattafactworld on twitter

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Matt you could try through the Lost and Found hostel in Panama, they know him well and are trying to help him out.

  15. An amazing post! Many of the old men in agricultural Spain know how to grow crops organically. Much like you mentioned, there are simple techniques that can be used. But modern farmers opt for what they consider the “easier” and “faster” method of pesticides, despite the consequences. Of course, as in any case, proper knowledge and even a basic education in regards to the topic is key. Sometimes I really wish the young agricultural works would listen to their elders in this respect. Thanks for the educational post! 🙂

  16. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ says:

    I agree with Mike, he should try to sell online maybe?
    It’s a inspiring story though.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      He’d need help with that one, there is no internet in the cloud forests 🙂

  17. Federico says:

    An interesting story, there are so many people doing good things out there who remans unknown. Perhaps this post might help out, maybe via Matt’s actions?

  18. I’m super-impressed that you found organic in that part of the world. I don’t even like coffee, and I’d drink it from him!

  19. Cornelius Aesop says:

    Never had organic coffee, but I bet when it is fresh picked it is even better. Combine the two and you probably have something pretty awesome.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      A while back I made the decision only to buy organic coffee, not because it was better for me but because the workers wouldn’t have to deal with pesticides so this day was really important to me.

  20. DTravelsRound says:

    Such a cool story! And gorgeous pics to accompany!

  21. Hey Ayngelina…an undying post…possibly more relevant now than when you wrote it?

    I feel these stories bring voice to the unsung heroes of the human experience…people who are problem-solving and assuming a lot of risk for personal, communal, and environmental change…and doing so nearly always without recognition.

    thanks for sharing!

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