August was full of big birthdays and celebrations in Atenas, Costa Rica. On Aug. 7, the town and county of Atenas celebrated its 148th birthday.

Founded officially on Aug. 7, 1868, 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.

The town and region have grown over the years, but still retain their small-town country charm. Atenas’ oxcart history is remembered by the famous Oxcart Monument in town, by sculptor Manuel ‘Manolo’ Torrecillas Lopez.

The oldest and biggest business in Atenas, the cooperative CoopeAtenas, celebrates its 47th birthday on Aug. 10. And, of course, we honor all of Costa Rica’s mothers in the national holiday of Costa Rica Mother’s Day on Aug. 15. In honor of the dual August birthdays of Atenas and its oldest business, here is the story of CoopeAtenas.

From Coffee to Commerce: How the Oldest Business in Atenas, Costa Rica Got its Start

For more than two centuries, coffee production has played a central role in Atenas, Costa Rica. The town’s history and development is based on coffee. 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 to process and be sold, which was becoming unprofitable.

In 1969, a group of 92 coffee producers in Atenas joined together to create their own company, and chose a cooperative for its organization. Long before the fair trade movement, workers around the world have formed cooperatives to protect their interests, share in profits and democratically run their businesses.

And so, on Aug. 10, 1969, CoopeAtenas R.L. was born.

Nowadays, there are 1,250 coffee growers participating in CoopeAtenas, mostly 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. The cooperative proudly holds the international certifications of Fair Trade, UTZ, the ISO 14001 for their 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

Today, CoopeAtenas has grown to include a supermarket, gas station, automotive center, liquor store, and a hardware and agricultural supply store. It is a pillar in the Atenas economy as a source of employment for 175 residents, for the income that is distributed among its associates, and for the social assistance it provides to the community.

Coffee farming has dropped to third place in the cooperative’s 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.

Alvarez said the cooperative recently donated the uniforms to the boys’ and girls’ volleyball teams from Atenas; and they helped build a playground in the Alto Naranjo community.

Two years ago, Alvarez said CoopeAtenas began a project to buy land in the higher parts of the San Isidro neighborhood near natural springs in order to protect the water resources of Atenas. So far, about 50 acres of land have been purchased.

“We want to reforest these areas to be producing water for the community,” said Alvarez. CoopeAtenas employees also get involved with organized trash pick-ups around local streams, and planting trees in the areas the cooperative is reforesting.

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.

Written By Shannon Farley: Shannon Farley is a travel blog writer for Enchanting Costa Rica and Profimercadeo in Costa Rica. Originally from Southern California , Shannon has lived, worked and traveled all over the world for 20 years; she has been living and working in Costa Rica since 1999. She lives in Atenas, Costa Rica with her husband, 5 dogs and 2 cats.

Cooperatives in Costa Rica. CoopeAtenas is the economic cornerstone of Atenas.
Article ID Number 6952

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