Atenas, Costa Rica celebrates two important birthdays in August 2016: the town’s 148th birthday; and the 47th anniversary of Atenas’ oldest and largest business CoopeAtenas.
Two big birthdays are celebrated in Atenas, Costa Rica in August.
Atenas celebrates this month the 148th anniversary of its founding on Aug. 7, 1868. The town and region have grown over the years, but still retain their small-town country charm. Atenas was once the strategic meeting and resting point for Costa Rican merchants traveling by oxcart with goods and coffee from the fertile Central Valley to the Pacific coastal port of Puntarenas. Over the years, the traditional roots of coffee farming have developed Atenas into the lovely, prosperous town it is today, a favorite place to live for Costa Ricans and international residents.
Also founded on coffee farming and community, the oldest and biggest business in Atenas, CoopeAtenas, celebrates its 47th birthday on Aug. 10.
From Coffee to Commerce: How the Oldest Business in Atenas, Costa Rica Got its Start
CoopeAtenas has always focused on community and the town’s centuries-old tradition of coffee production. Before CoopeAtenas began in 1969, farmers in the principal Atenas coffee-growing neighborhoods of San Isidro, Morazan, Estanquillos, and San Jose Norte used to have to transport their coffee beans over rustic roads to Palmares, 20 kilometers away, to process and be sold. A group of 92 coffee producers in Atenas decided that this process was unprofitable, and joined together to create their own company. Wishing to democratically run their business with mutual support, fairness, and equal share in all profits, CoopeAtenas was founded as a cooperative on Aug. 10, 1969.
Nowadays, there are 1,250 coffee growers participating in CoopeAtenas, mostly families from the Atenas area, with 250 associates from nearby Puriscal and Turrubares. Warm sun and cool ocean breezes filtering through the green mountains nurture 2,158 tons (40,000 quintals) of coffee produced on average annually by CoopeAtenas growers. All of it passes through the CoopeAtenas processing plant in San Isidro where the cooperative proudly holds the international certifications of Fair Trade, UTZ, the ISO 14001 for environmental standards, and C.A.F.E practices by Starbucks.
While 85% of the coffee beans from CoopeAtenas are sold to the USA, Canada and Europe to brands like Starbucks, Green Mountain Coffee, Serengeti, and Royal Coffee, of the 15% that remain in Costa Rica, 4% are the brands known locally as Atenas coffee: La Villa, El Ateneo and Villa Diamante.
More than Coffee: Community Development and Growth in Atenas
Now in 2016, CoopeAtenas has progressed to include a supermarket, gas station, automotive center, liquor store, and a hardware and agricultural supply store. As a pillar in the Atenas economy, the cooperative provides employment for 175 residents and regularly gives social assistance to the community.
Coffee farming is no longer the cooperative’s principal economic activity, due to unstable world coffee prices and urban development. “Coffee is the blood and heart of this company, but it is not the main economic activity anymore,” said CoopeAtenas General Manager, Juan Carlos Alvarez.
The big, beautiful, modern CoopeAtenas Supermarket in town is CoopeAtenas’ top producer, followed by the gas station. In 2012, the supermarket more than tripled in size and moved to its present location below the gas station and automotive center from Highway 3. It is now the largest in town with great diversity in products, paying special attention to items requested by the international population, like organic and gluten-free products, said Alvarez. Priority is given to locally-sourced fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy products (including goat milk and goat cheese), and baked goods, he added.
From the annual revenues generated by these activities, CoopeAtenas gives back to the community an average of $100,000 in financial support to schools, community halls, sports teams, coffee-producing neighborhoods, the Atenas Nursing Home, Red Cross, and police station, to name a few. CoopeAtenas employees also get involved with organized trash pick-ups around local streams and planting trees for reforestation.
CoopeAtenas has started an important project to protect the water resources of Atenas. They are buying land in the higher parts of the San Isidro neighborhood near natural springs to reforest and safeguard. Since starting two years ago, about 50 acres of land have been purchased. “We want to reforest these areas to be producing water for the community,” said Alvarez.
For nearly five decades, CoopeAtenas has been a driving force in the development of Atenas, Costa Rica, dedicated to bettering the quality of life for its residents. Reflecting Atenas’ core values of solidarity, equality, and social responsibility, CoopeAtenas continues its role as a passionate community leader into the future.
Article by Shannon Farley