Finca Corsicana, on the Caribbean slope in Llano Grande de la Virgen de Sarapiquí, delivers a delightful behind the scenes tour of the “only farm in the world that produces certified organic pineapple,” according to Jorge Pan y Agua, tourism department manager for the finca.
A two-hour bus ride from San José, northeast through the lush rain forest of Braulio Carrillo National Park, the tour provides a delicious introduction to pineapple production with a conscience.
Costa Rica is the number one pineapple exporter in the world, according to the Ministry of Production. One of the leading tropical fruits for international trade, pineapple is Costa Rica’s second largest agricultural export after bananas, surpassing coffee in 2003.
While pineapple is an economically potent export for Costa Rica, its cultivation can have environmental and health impacts. Large-scale pineapple plantations can be the cause of deforestation, destruction of wildlife habitat, erosion, soil degradation and high use of agrochemicals that pollute rivers and air and threaten wildlife, worker and community health. Finca Corsicana represents a unique venture to decrease these negative effects.
Collin Street Bakery, based in Corsicana, Texas, found an ideal partnership with Industrias El Angel in Costa Rica to produce pineapple for its popular pecan pies and fruitcakes. The Finca Corsicana plantation went into operation 13 years ago and inaugurated its Pineapple Tour in 2003. Though deforestation and other impacts remain concerns, Finca Corsicana together with Collin Street Bakery stand out for their dedication to utilizing best practices to reduce harmful impacts.
The road approaching Finca Corsicana is lined by seemingly endless rows of dusty green spikes – hectare upon hectare of the low-growing fruit. La Virgen de Sarapiquí has an ideal climate for pineapple: a minimum of five meters of rain a year, virtually eliminating the need for irrigation. Its sandy clay allows water to run off quickly, without risking rotting the sensitive roots of the pineapple. The Caribbean port of Limón is only three hours away by truck, facilitating international export.
The tour begins with a brief introduction at the plantation’s open-air cafeteria. We board a brightly painted, 45-person tram and follow a red dirt road toward the fields.
Our guide Danny Acuña clicks on his microphone and begins with a history of the pineapple from its origins in Brazil to present-day consumption around the world. On his second voyage to the new world and the island of Guadalupe, Columbus brought back the natural treasure to Europe, where it became known as the fruit of kings, both for its golden fruit and royal green crown. Today the fruit is consumed across the globe and grown mostly in tropical, developing countries.
Fair Trade and Organic Production
The pineapple is the only bromeliad consumed commonly for food. But not all pineapples are created equal. Acuña cheerfully explains the differences between conventional and organic pineapple production.
Because organic production eliminates the use of agrochemicals, these pineapples require constant care and protection from pests, diseases and weather.
“We treat the pineapple like a newborn baby,” Acuña says. “It is one of the most delicate fruits I know.”
At present, the 3,200-acre plantation is 40% organic and 60% conventional, with 370 acres devoted to organic production. Acuña says that next year the plantation will go 100% organic, eliminating the use of synthetic agrochemicals and transitioning to natural methods of pest and plague control; for example, black plastic tarps surrounding each plant reduce 80-90% of soil erosion while preventing weeds from choking out the plants. After the pineapples have been harvested, the plastic is recycled.
“Organic production is 40% more expensive than conventional,” Acuña explains.
“Dole (company) pays 15% more for (organic pineapples) than for conventional (pineapples).”
According to Acuña, the company is investing and expanding production of a product that is not yet profitable because of its hope for future organic pineapple sales and its interest in the environment and fair trade policies.
In addition to reducing its use of agrochemicals, Finca Corsicana has dedicated portions of the plantation as protected areas, reforesting 74 acres along the river with native trees. Collin Street Bakery ordered a wildlife survey that found sloths, coatis, raccoons and monkeys, in addition to a species of ant in danger of extinction.
According to Acuña, Finca Corsicana holds SA8000 certification from Social Accountability International, in addition to certifications from Fairtrade Labelling Organization International (FLO), Europe’s BCS Öko-Garantie and EurepGAP, a global partnership initiative for safe and sustainable agriculture. These measures aim to systematically monitor agricultural practices for fairtrade and organic certification by international standards. A portion of every dollar of profit goes to social causes in the surrounding community, Acuña says.
As we enter the fields, harvesting machines and field workers advance parallel to our tram under the pounding sun. They hand us pineapples freshly cut from the field. With the dexterity of a sushi chef, Acuña swiftly chops the dripping fruit and passes slices to the visitors.
“It will be the best pineapple you have ever tasted in your life,” he brags.
We can’t deny his claim. Organic golden pineapple is 35% sweeter than conventional, because it ripens 16 months on the plant, as opposed to 14 months for its conventional counterpart. The additional two months allow for the plant to accumulate more sugar, making it one of the sweetest pineapples on the market.
We disembark from the tram to the washing area where hundreds of fruits are being washed and sorted by a group of yellow-gloved women.We then don hairnets to enter the packing area, where workers skillfully hover over a conveyer belt in a concentrated juggling act, packing, sorting and labeling thousands of pineapples a day at a furious pace. After being packed into boxes, the fruit is stored in refrigerated rooms to await shipment to the United States and Europe.
Reluctantly leaving the chilly room where we can see our breath, we return to the blistering sun outside and follow a short path to the ornamental plant section of the plantation.
Finca Corsicana grows three varieties of ornamental pineapple for export: “Spanish Red,” “Purple” and “MD2” or “Golden Pineapple” varieties are produced for clients in the United States, Germany, France, Japan and Belgium.
The ornamental pineapple section employs 30 women and five men from the surrounding community.
“From a social perspective (the program) is important because it sustains the families in the community,” Pan y Agua says. Most of the workers are women homemakers, many of whom are the heads and sole income earners of their households.
The tour concludes with a virgin piña colada served in a hollowed-out pineapple, a nice end to this educational experience offering a glimpse into alternative agricultural practices and a taste of the sweeter side of pineapple production.
Getting There, Rates, Info
Finca Corsicana is three kilometers west of Llano Grande in La Virgen de Sarapiquí. Take the Guápiles highway northeast out of San José to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. From the crossroads at Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, take a left and follow the road 8 km to La Virgen de Sarapiquí. You will pass by many rows of pineapples and see a sign reading “Quinta y Collin Street Bakery”; make a right to enter. Follow the road 2 km and you will arrive at the guardhouse and private road to the operations center.
The tour (not including transportation) costs $22 for adults, $18 for students and $12 for children 4-12. A buffet Tico-style lunch is available at the farm’s restaurant for $10. A souvenir Collin Street Bakery Pineapple Pecan Cake and Chinchona Coffee Set costs $36.
Tours are offered at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday to Saturday by reservation only. To reserve, call 820-6489 or 820-5081, or e-mail [email protected]