After spending Monday compiling the data from our first week in the field, we hit the road on Tuesday and set out to another nearby coffee-yu region to continue interviewing farmers and taking soil samples. After our experiences the week before we felt much more prepared for field work and were able to increase both the efficiency and quality of our work. Team members conducting interviews were able to ask their questions more precisely, quickly, and effectively whereas team members in charge of soil analysis not only took samples but involved the farmers in some of the soil tests.
One of the most popular tests amongst the farmers was the pH test. As a color-based visual indicator of pH, soil acidity, and ultimate soil health, people of all ages and backgrounds could participate. Our team leader, Juana, came up with an excellent analogy for explaining the importance of pH. She would ask the farmers to imagine the best San Cocho in the world (a traditional Colombian soup that we often had for lunch that includes all three original staples of the region: yucca, corn, and potato). “If the San Cocho is too salty you won’t eat it no matter how good it is,” Juana explained. She went on to relate soil pH and level of acidity with a plant’s ability to utilize or “eat” nutrients in the soil. If the soil is too acidic, the plants will not “eat” the nutrients no matter how abundant they are. Farmers and their children enjoyed watching the colors of the pH kit dyes change before their eyes and then matching the color they saw with that on the pH value card.
It can be tantalizing to walk through fields of thousands of coffee trees. Thankfully, each farmer generously welcomed us into their home and gave us plenty of coffee and homemade treats. By the end of the day we had collected some of our best data and felt prepared and ready for our final day in the field.