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An Eye-Opening Experience in Costa Rica

By Sam Starnes, editor for Widener Magazine

Widener juniors Peter Pulhac and Katie Randolph will never forget the panoramic scenery on their first rocky ride down a rain-rutted road through the mountains to reach the tropical farm. “It was a huge valley of coffee beans,” Randolph said. Pulhac added, “You could just see green everywhere.” 

The two environmental science majors were among six students and two faculty members who spent 10 days in January on the farm. They were the first of what Professor Steve Madigosky hopes will be many students to delve into the research and reality of coffee production in Costa Rica.

Randolph’s and Pulhac’s research contrasted organic, shade-grown coffee with conventional coffee farms where pesticide and herbicides are used and natural forests are cleared. “The shade- grown looks more like a paradise,” Randolph said. “The conventional farm is more like a desert.”

The experience opened their eyes to how coffee is produced and the negative effect that traditional coffee farming has on the environment. They also spent hours harvesting coffee beans, learning how to pick the fruit and identify ones that were not ripe. “I definitely have a new appreciation for where my coffee comes from,” Pulhac said. 

Picky, Picky, Picky

WU Brew, in addition to being available by the bag online, is served at all catered events on Widener's campus and in the Widener Pride Café where Randolph gets her daily cup of coffee. “Every time I get a cup, I think ‘This could be coffee that we picked,’” she said.

Students from other disciplines have also gotten involved with the WU Brew project. Three communication studies majors made the trip to Costa Rica and helped to develop the brand name and a video promoting it. Business students in a summer management class also connected with a local roasting company to develop a business plan to help the company place single-serving machines in office settings.

The project has resonated for Randolph and Pulhac. Both plan to return to Costa Rica next year, and Pulhac started studying Spanish in order to better communicate with farmers. They said for them the eye-opening experience of learning how coffee is grown is a beginning, not an end. “It’s a huge step to a better earth and healthier planet,” Randolph said. “I really want to help the world out by making it cleaner.”


Excerpted from Widener Magazine, Fall '13 

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