From an article by Claire Luke in the Nicaragua Dispatch:
As Nicaragua continues to make a name for itself as an international travel destination, the country’s old and new economies are joining forces in the mountains of Matagalpa for a unique brand of coffee-farm ecotourism. Many fincas that were once dedicated exclusively to coffee production are now expanding their operations to include hotels, farm-to-table restaurants, research stations, bird-watching tours, nature hikes and other family fun that allows visitors to experience how a traditional farm works. The embrace of eco-farm tourism is opening a new door of economic opportunity in an area that didn’t get too many outside visitors before.
“People here didn’t know the word tourism when we started,” said Lonna Harkrader, who with her husband Richard founded Finca Villa Esperanza Verde on an abandoned coffee farm in San Ramón, Matagalpa, in 1998. “Now, we have artists who can sell their paintings and crafts to tourists, cooks and jewelry makers who offer classes to visitors, and dancers and musicians who can share their skills.”
North of San Ramón, between Matagalpa and Jinotega, the region’s original coffee eco-lodge, Selva Negra, has also received international accolades for its efforts to promote sustainable tourism and organic farming. Tour guide Jose Luis Garcia says the farm has allowed tourists the chance to relate directly with Nicaraguans, and given many local Matagalpinos the chance to earn a decent living.
“Coffee is the main industry here, and it has changed everything. Now we have a lot of opportunity because more people have visited over time,” Garcia says.
Garcia was able to study English and tourism thanks to a scholarship offered by natural food chain Whole Foods, which buys half of Selva Negra’s 400,000 pound annual harvest of coffee. The U.S. company visits the farm once or twice a year with staff to provide farming tips and offers 15 to 20 academic scholarships for Nicaraguans, says Selva Negra co-owner Mausi Kuhl.
Kuhl says the 600 coffee pickers working on the farm earn an average of $675 per month, depending on how fast they pick. Fulltime employees have the chance to work on sophisticated engineering projects such as converting the farm’s locally produced methane into electricity.
Kuhl says in addition to providing jobs to workers from Matagalpa, the hotel, restaurant, and tourist attractions provide an international showcase for organic farming.
As more foreign visitors trek up to visit the mountains of Matagalpa, the relationship between organic farming, eco-tourism and cultural preservation is proving to be symbiotic.