We Visit Selva Negra, a Sustainable Coffee Farm in Nicaragua

The view from Selva Negra sustainable coffee farmLocated in the highlands of Nicaragua, between the cities of Matagalpa and Jinotega, Selva Negra leads the way when it comes to sustainable coffee production.

The beginnings of Selva Negra stretch back to 1891, when German immigrants settled in the area. They recognized the potential of the land so planted coffee on what they named La Hammonia farm. More than three quarters of a century later, the farm was sold in 1974 to the current owners, Eddy and Mausi Kühl. Both descendants of German farmers, the Kühls refurbished the La Hammonia farm and made it totally diversified and sustainable in less than a decade. They have preserved a third of the property–renamed Selva Negra Ecolodge–as virgin forest, another third as shade sustainable coffee forest, and the last third as intensive rotational pastures for cattle and organic farming. The Kühls also built a hotel and complex of cabins for eco-tourists.

sustainable coffee in NicaraguaOver the last 30 years, alternative sources of production have been developed, whether for in-house consumption or income generation. These include organic meat and milk products (including cheese, sausages, eggs, etc.) as well as vegetables and fruit crops. Environmental projects are carried out each year always seeking for new, better, and more efficient systems. Some of these projects include having earth tubs decontaminate coffee wastewater, improved systems for treating sewage, reforestation, methane gas production, microorganism production to improve soil quality, etc.

For all of their hard work and dedication, Selva Negra won the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Sustainability Award in both 2007 and 2008, the Sempervirens Award from the Environmental Protection Information Center, and has received many other sustainability accolades.

Picking sustainable coffee

Coffee roaster Chris Bennett picks beans at Selva Negra.

Our coffee roster Chris Bennett was able to visit Selva Negra in January on a tour with a small group of other coffee industry professionals. He shared a few thoughts about his experiences:

“My first impression was that it was beautiful. The ecolodge part that helped sustain the whole business in general was beautiful but they do an amazing job of making everything look nice. They have a lake, beautiful orchids everywhere, banana trees and orange trees. There are some coffee trees grown close to the lodge but the main lots are a walk away. Coffee isn’t the only crop; they had a lot of sheltered growing areas for all the food they produced on the farm for the hotel as well as the workers.

It’s a big property so they drove us around to different areas where people were picking the coffee. They let us pick coffee cherries for about an hour but we were all really bad at it. Then they had someone come show us how to do it properly and he was much faster. It’s definitely hard work.

sustainable coffee sprouts at Selva Negra“The sustainable coffee operation was amazing. I want to say they estimate four million coffee plants on the property, grown in the shade of larger trees. They also had a couple of greenhouses where they showed us the seedlings and small plants that they were getting ready to plant for the next season. Selva Negra wasn’t the only coffee plantation in that part of Nicaragua; when we were driving down the main road, towards Managua, we would see these massive farms and mills with coffee laid out on tarps to dry.

“I’d never been to an origin country before so it was an overall awesome experience. I’d love to go back.”

If you’re not familiar with the coffee of Selva Negra, call 800-835-5943 to find out more or email customerservice@dilworthcoffee.com.