Romancing the Bean – Rebecca Edwards

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If you go for coffee in a cafeteria on North Campus, you may be drinking a cup of joe from Miramar, Costa Rica. This coffee is called Caf’ Solar. It is grown as part of a coffee collaborative in the mountains above Miramar and then is harvested and brought to the town to be dried.

For the green community and environmentalists in the house, now the story gets interesting. Instead of burning firewood to produce energy for drying, the sun along with biomass from coffee bean husks, is what dries these beans, via solar panels and a solid fuel boiler. Many of the necessary parts for the solar drying system were manufactured in locations around Massachusetts and sold to the coffee collaborative by the MesoAmerican Development Institute (MDI), which is housed on our very own, UML north campus.

The Mesoamerican Development Institute, led by Richard Trubey and Raul Raudales, and the Fair Trade Cooperative Montes de Oro, work closely together, ensuring high-quality coffee that is dried using cutting-edge, green technology. The coffee is roasted in Upton Massachusetts at Red Barn Coffee Roasters, and it can be found online at as well as the shelves of local Market Basket supermarkets, who are happily stocking the solar dried, organic product. The MesoAmerican Development Institute also has a coffee collaborative partnership in Honduras, and they are currently seeking grants to spread this technology throughout Central America. The goal: to help coffee collaboratives transition to solar/biomass dryers, for a much more environmentally sound product with higher margins for farmers due to lower energy costs.

The story of Caf’ Solar and the Mesoamerican Development Institute is a fairytale partnership where everyone wins, and therefore it is a story to tell! And so it has been told, in a documentary called Romancing the Bean, a movie that sets out to show the interconnection of the global economy through this local example. Romancing the Bean was made in collaboration with the MDI, Cooperative Montes de Oro, the department of Regional Economic and Social Development at UML, and two Community-Psychology graduate students at the university.

I was one of the two graduate students who had the opportunity to work on the film, and I lived to tell the tale. I visited the manufacturing plants where the parts were made, and I interviewed people in the industry who need more of this type of work in order to keep manufacturing alive in this part of the country. I saw the beans being roasted, and watched the intricate process of timing, temperature, and care. I traveled to Miramar, Costa Rica and witnessed solar drying in person, as sun beat down to generate enough energy to dry all of the little coffee beans that I find so delectable. I traveled up to the mountains and spoke to farmers who explained the differences between growing organic, non-organic, and shade grown coffee. They happily talked to me about their plants, about working with the cooperative, while they showed me the freshly picked beans. I stayed with a biologist, studying migratory birds. Yes, even wildlife wins in this story! The birds migrate from Massachusetts to Costa Rica and nest in the very trees that surround the coffee plantations. I saw the partnership first hand as we filmed Romancing the Bean. For me, this was an example of Community Psychology at work.

It is valuable to shine light on examples of international interdependence, because these remind us all that working together makes a happier, healthier planet. When Community Psychology is extrapolated to the global arena, this is a core principal, and it is playing out more and more each day. As you can see, one such example lives right on campus, and its hand of partnership is linked to Miramar, Costa Rica in the story, Romancing the Bean.

See the video here.