Last week we spent several days with Cesar of Chacra D’dago, the certified biodynamic award winning coffee growers from the Villa Rica area of Chanchamayo. What an interesting place!
(Authors note: A chacra is a small farm or ranch, it can be just a plot of ground where a family will grow some fruits and vegetables mostly for home use, or it can be larger such as Chacra D’dago which has 50 hectares (123 acres.)
La Merced to Villa Rica
We were already in San Ramon for the Curibamba Coffee Workshops, so we decided to take an opportunity to visit Villa Rica & one of the best coffee producers in the area there: Chacra D’dago. We met with Cesar Marin, son of Dagoberto Marin in La Merced, which is just a short drive from San Ramon, and from there it’s about an hour and a half to Villa Rica. also joining us was Sara, a volunteer from Tenessee. After a delicious lunch in Villa Rica, we headed out to the farm. The road was rough, but we eventually made it to the Chacra D’dago.
All along the way were many coffee trees, many appearing to be nearly mature. The crop looks good for this year. Hopefully, it will be tasty in the cup as well.
The Biodynamic Difference
We left our bags in the room and took a brief tour of the chacra and headed to the coffee fields to see what biodynamic really means. I had a vague idea, but truly didn’t understand the full significance. Cesar showed us first hand the difference between a living, flourishing ecosystem vs the traditional method of planting a monoculture of shade trees.
The ground was soft & full of life in every step. The wide variety of trees not only appeared interesting and diverse, but also seemed to invite a large number and variety of birds as well.
Rather than plant a few strategic trees for shading the coffee, Chacra D’dago has a tremendous number of different species which not only allow for a “complete” living system, but many also which produce fruit, or in the long run, wood for use around the farm, so it’s considerably more sustainable long term. We walked past the beginning of another farm and one could immediately see the difference between the lush, verdant Chacra D’dago and the neighbor’s cleared, dry fields. While D’dago is full of life on every level up into the canopy above, the other farm appeared sterile and less healthy.
All of this extra care has a noticeable effect on coffee quality. in part due to the availability of trace minerals and nutrients that a more monoculture type of farm will not have. While planting a few pines or bananas does provide shade & is better than not having something, these farms lack the biodiversity to create a full “mini-ecosystem.”
Shade is just one part of a healthy biodynamic system. In addition to maintaining vibrant plant life, the chacra has an abundance of animals for food, and more importantly manure of many kinds that along with recycled organic waste, creates a rich natural organic fertilizer that nourishes the soil rather than temporarily adds rapidly depleted synthetic chemicals.
In addition to a wide variety of animals, there are several ponds on the chacra that are used to raise Tilapia. Algae is also gathered from the ponds to be used as an additional natural soil supplement.
Along with so many types and species of plants, at D’dago they also have a varied mix of coffee itself. Rather than just one kind, the chacra has multiple species for a balanced flavor in the cup, and the diversity allows for some “insurance” in case of an outbreak of plant disease such as the coffee rust of recent years. Since all varieties are not equally susceptible to disease, the difference allows for easier culling of sick plants, and quick restoration of health to the overall plantation.
Farm Fresh Dinner
After a hike through the coffee “forest,” we headed back to the kitchen area for a scrumptious dinner of all farm produced foods. An extraordinary salad containing no lettuce at all presented exquisite flavors, and was followed by a wonderful soup accompanied by fresh yuca, bananas & beans. It truly is special when food is this fresh. You never knew that there could be so many subtle tastes in every bite. The next mouthful more scrumptious than the one before.
After the scrumptious meal, we headed over to a nearby coffee lab for a quick sampling of several coffees. We were able to taste several coffees from D’dago as well as some nearby farmers to get an idea of their work and also to blind-taste the Café D’dago.
We tasted and made our scores & notes. Afterwards, we helped with cleanup, and stumbled back to the main house. It had become quite dark, and I was able to view the Southern Cross for the first time. (I’m still singing that Crosby, Stills, & Nash song…)
Another Day, Another Coffee
Breakfast was yet another culinary delight of fresh juice, fruit, bread and a variety of cooked vegetables, along with some delicious coffee of course!
The morning was quiet and a sense of calm and tranquility pervaded an almost reverent atmosphere. At least for me. I imagine Dago was off somewhere doing the many tasks on the farm.
We next went to the D’dago coffee bar with Cesar & Sara for some more sampling using a pour over, and my personal favorite, the Aeropress.
After the cupping the day before, it was decided that we would taste the coffees using a more typical roast in order to get a full idea of flavors & aromas. We tasted and recorded our impressions again.
Awards Galore – Demeter Biodynamic Certification
Chacra D’dago has won many awards for their fine coffee, including from the prestigious L’Acadamie de Caféologie in France, and also the coveted Demeter award for being a biodynamic farm.
Demeter, whose slogan is “Healing the planet through agriculture,” promotes not only organic agriculture, but goes beyond to a holistic approach to farming using ancient traditional methods of planting and harvesting. Being biodynamic is the gold standard for growers who not only want the best crops, but want to preserve the balance that exists in nature. Commitment to sustainable practices & best methods are the parameters for this increasingly well known & respected certification. For more information on Demeter & biodynamic certification click here.
In the Orchid Garden
Our time at D’dago passed quickly & it was soon time to think about our return to Lima via San Ramon. We reluctantly packed up our bags, but before leaving, we decided to take a stroll around the chacra one more time, and to stop and see the orchid & botanical garden.
Natural and Honey Dried Coffees
Chacra D’dago also produces some of the finest honey and natural cured coffees for the discerning palate. With delicious fruity overtones, these amazing coffees can command top dollar. Each batch is hand prepared, and carefully dried.
No tale of the Chacra D’dago could ever be complete without a look at the man himself. A traditional farmer in every sense of the word, Dago himself generates an ambiance of calming warmth and one immediately feels a connection to the man, and to the living farm that is his life’s work.
Planting by the stars and cycles of the moon, Dago holds true to the ways and traditions of thousands of years, using simple, but effective and sustainable means to achieve a decent living for the family. A healthy system provides abundance consistently. The term biodynamic may be recent, but the connection to nature is timeless, spanning generations.
As far as longevity goes, his father lived to the age of 98. So, they appear to be doing something right.
It was a brief respite from the cares of the day to visit this harmonious and tranquil place in the cloud forest above Villa Rica – Chacra D’dago. A hug for luck & a fond goodbye.
© 2015 Ben Gangloff
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