MCF Nusery Team: Aladino Meza, Andres Cuascota, Leila Lopez Krohnke, Roberto Vera

Meanwhile in Ecuador, Covid-19 has made life not so different than many of us are experiencing in the rest of the world.  In fact, our partners are under strict stay at home orders that only allow them to travel for necessary tasks 1 day per week, with a 2 pm curfew.  Besides the risk and disruption to daily life, this is occurring in the middle of the wet/planting season, throwing a wrench in what was the start of the new bio-corridor era of their reforesting program.  Never the less, they are happy to be safe so far and send their best wishes to all of humanity, as we are in this together.

A silver lining: we now have time to tell their story in more detail – we’ll start at the tree nurseries: trees don’t grow on trees down there (well, at least in tree form). In a process that takes months, seeds are collected, germinated then cared for as saplings until they are ready to go in the ground.  This is not creating mono-culture tree farms, MCF’s four-pronged mission – Ecological Inquiry, Habitat Conservation, Ecotourism, and Reforestation and Restoration – extends to their nursery operations, creating co-benefits beyond gourmet carbon sequestration. (Shameful advertising and seo-bot plug: by drinking Carbon Negative Organic Tiny Footprint Coffee you directly support everything that follows. You Drink Coffee. We Plant Trees.)

The Nurseries

MCF operates three nurseries at their main nature reserves or Bird Sanctuaries: Rio Silanche, Milpe and Puyucunapi. While only 80 kilometers apart, the nurseries span a 1600 meter change in elevation (Silanche at 400 meters, Milpe at 1100 meters, and Puyucuanpi at 2000 meters) that creates significantly different micro-climates, necessitating a unique selection of tree species at each location. Each nursery grows the trees from seed to sapling and then distributes them to MCF’s reforestation parcels or other buyers (e.g. community members and municipalities) based on where they would fare best according to elevation and other biological factors.

The People

These nurseries offer an important economic impact within the community as well by providing jobs and opportunities.  Directed by MCF forestry professional Leila Lopez Krohnke, local staff members Roberto Vera, Aladino Meza, and Andres Cuascota collaborate to manage the nurseries. In a unique twist, Aladino has many years of experience as a chainsaw operator, felling trees for the logging industry. These days, he says he’s glad to be part of rebuilding the forest, rather than helping take it down. Still, with all of his experience, he’s an expert on local species, seeding methods, and overall forest health.

Ecological Inquiry

These nurseries also offer an important space for scientific inquiry and experimentation. Consider that in the forests of Northwest Ecuador there are more species per acre than found in all of North America. So, while growing trees for forest restoration, MCF is creating a seed bank with an online database available to researchers around the world within their center for education and research at the Milpe reserve.  The Foundation maintains many species from seed to sapling, and are currently looking at 8-9 that are potentially new to science. This variety allows them to have the right tree for the job depending on the elevation and relative soil degradation, while preserving one of the wettest, most biodiverse spots on the planet.

Habitat Conservation

The species diversity within the nurseries is key in regenerating native forest within each ecosystem.  Giving MCF the expertise and genetic material to start a new chapter, in partnership with other Ecuadorian conservation groups, international researchers and you the Tiny Footprint Coffee drinker, creating trans-altitudinal bio-corridors and flyways between their reforested areas, cloud forest reserves, river basins and other existing forest parcels. These forest restoration areas intersect with Birdlife International’s “Important Bird Areas” and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund’s “Key Biodiversity Areas” in Northwest Ecuador.

Roberto Vera collecting fruits from one of the numerous tribe of trees that produce “aguacatillos” or little avocados, similar in structure and related to the ones we use to make guacamole.

Reforestation and Restoration

MCF´s complex of nurseries support the work of planting the right trees in the right places, so that over a few years the soil and shade conditions allow the native seed stock in the ground, seeds air-dropped by birds, and seeds and spores floating in the air to regenerate and restore highly biodiverse forest.  The saplings begin the transformation, catalyzing the power of evolution and the pacha mama (mother nature) to restore, heal and renew beauty, the cycle of water and the cycle of life. With a little bit of sunshine the greatest things on earth start in the soil and the muck, just like a fine cup of coffee.


As we like to say, “You can go there” (sometime, hopefully in the not too distant future). There is lodging, trails to hike, interpretive information.  We can also hook you up with birding tours, suggested activities and even nature photography classes by Hans Heinz who shot the video below of a club winged manakin at the Milpe reserve. Their sharp chirp doesn’t come from their beaks like you might expect, rather it’s the result of their wings rubbing against each other like a cricket would, but with highly adapted wing bones that rub and vibrate against each other more than 100 times per second. MCF is protecting and re-creating the habitat for this incredibly unique bird, several other manakin species (one that moonwalks) and much much more.  Listen closely to this video and you’ll hear the males trying to out-chirp one another to win the attention of the females.

Hans Heinz

If you want to learn more about the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, check out our Q&A for more stories and information about their reforestation projects. Follow the link below to learn more from them directly. If you so wish, there is a page on their site with a secure link to make donations.

As we all experienced here in Minnesota, these past few weeks haven’t exactly been typical for our Februarys. We’re used to snowstorms and bone-chilling cold, but a few weekends ago, we were graced with the presence of warm sunshine, 60+ degree temperatures, and lots of chances for outdoor activities. Though this heat wave was a bit of a welcomed surprise, and we understand that not every weather event is directly tied to the changing climate, it may point to a more difficult and dangerous future due to climate change.


Part of that uncertain future, is the future of coffee and climate change’s impact on coffee production. The risk for coffee comes from a variety of factors, including the changing climate’s potential increasing effect on detrimental pests and disease, in addition to the precarious nature of coffee’s limited genetic diversity.


Cloudforest 19


Already, climate shifts have affected crop yields in various countries of origin. For example, a severe drought in Brazil destroyed a third of their crop and the rainfall in Mexico and Central America has declined by 15 percent.


Though the coffee the world drinks comes from either Arabica or Robusta tree species, the genetic diversity among these two is slim. While little diversity may not seem innately dangerous, it will be harder for the plant to adapt to new threats. And with environmental shifts, the original forests where the coffee plant originated have decreased over time. Currently, these forests are one tenth as large as they once were, meaning that at this pace all naturally occurring coffee would be extinct by 2100.


Hotter and wetter conditions due to climate change also make for a thriving environment for pests like the Coffee Berry Borer. This beetle bores through the coffee cherry, causing damage to the seed itself, and in turn, damaging entire crops. In the past, the borer could only survive at lower altitudes, but with temperatures rising, it’s able to move away from the equator and up to new, previously unaffected land.


Another risk for coffee plants is the plant disease known as Coffee Leaf Rust. Infected leaves on the coffee tree will drop prematurely, leaving a barren branch, resulting in a lower yield of coffee cherries for the next season. If the infection is severe enough, it can kill the tree altogether.


In 2012 and 2013, Mexico and Central America suffered a massive outbreak in Coffee Leaf Rust, causing an estimated $500 million in damages, and affecting more than 350,000 jobs. This wave in plant disease is thought to be a result of unusually high temperatures and high-altitude rains, allowing the disease to spread quickly through the crop.


leaf rust climate

Here at Tiny, we frequently work with smallholder farmers and cooperatives (they also make up 80 to 90 percent of the coffee farming community). Many of these farmers may have little capacity to fight these complications or simply adapt to the changes that the environment will face. The changes in climate can affect not only their crops, but also workers’ health, resources, and careers. It’s estimated that some 120 million people rely on coffee for their livelihood, a number that would dramatically decrease if crops aren’t able to produce due to climate change.


By ignoring action against this issue, the area suitable for coffee production could be cut in half by the year 2050. So what are we doing about it? On the production end of things, more cooperatives are focusing on diversifying their crops, developing better production systems, and moving their farms upslope. In conjunction with diversifying crops, many farms are emphasizing agroforestry, and integrating their agricultural crops with a natural landscape.


There is also a big push within some producing countries, most notably Colombia and Mexico, to plant more Arabica x Robusta hybrids, hoping to gain the disease and pest resistance of robusta, while expressing the cup quality of Arabica varieties. From a specialty perspective, the jury is still out on whether this trade-off is ultimately possible and is compounded by the worry that continued loss of heirloom Arabica varieties and their strains will lead to a further loss of both genetic and flavor diversity. But coffee farming is not a favor done for coffee consumers, it is a business that must make a return or provide subsistence relative to the effort in the smallest scale family farms. If farmers become convinced that the hybrids provide enough added assurance that a sapling planted today will produce an exportable crop 3-10 years in the future, they will plant more hybrids. Castillo a relatively new hybrid variety bred by the Colombian Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros and an even newer hybrid, what our friends at Cloud Forest Coffee Farms like to call Afro-Azteca, have made headway towards fulfilling this promise.


On the business end of things, more companies and communities are vowing to make an effort toward carbon neutrality. Recently, the City of Saint Paul launched a Climate Action plan as part of an ongoing attempt to become carbon neutral by 2050– starting right now, with a crowd-sourcing effort for sustainable ideas.


Soon then, the questions become what can we do on a personal level? For starters, being aware of the issue and taking it seriously is an essential first step. Taking note of the ways you can reduce your personal carbon footprint and following through on those habit shifts is a great way to change while encouraging others to do the same. Continue to pay attention to the sustainability efforts of the companies you work with or buy from, and continue to do the same.


It is with this awareness and these initiatives that we will work to secure a healthy future for our morning cup of coffee, the livelihoods of many people, and most importantly, our existence on this planet.


For an even more nuanced perspective, check out the report, “A Brewing Storm” from The Climate Institute.