ALEX KARNEY’S EXPERIENCE AT SPIRIT MOUNTAIN

I worked at Spirit Mountain Plantation from May to August of 2009, fulfilling my internship requirement for the Master’s Forest Conservation at the University of Toronto. I found it through a bit of a freak coincidence – when my family was vacationing in December 2008 in Puerto Plata, we got in touch with Sharla Megilligan of Makarios school, to see the Dominican countryside outside of the resort. I had long been interested in agro forestry, and as she showed us around, I wondered if there was any way I could do some kind of short-term work in that regard. When I was accepted for Master’s I knew I would need an internship, I asked if she knew of anyone who could use an intern. Sure enough, she ran the coffee shop Dominican Joe’s, which bought coffee regularly from Spirit Mountain Plantation, run by Chad Wallace. I talked to Chad in the Winter 2009, and when my supervisor and I had no further outstanding questions, we went ahead.

     

For the work itself, I was something of a hermit. I would go to the plantation alone and stay there for several days at a time. Since there was no electricity, my Spanish was poor, and I always had plenty of work, I tended to keep to myself, though I would go into town (Manabao) from time to time. Learning to get to the plantation on the motorcycle that Chad had purchased for my use was a steep growth curve, to put it mildly. I fell twice in the first three weeks, once with a friend riding with me. Thankfully, neither of us were seriously hurt (scrapes aside), and I was able to avoid both any further accidents and also the one-day delays involved in taking the gua-gua (pick-up truck transit system) to the plantation.

 

The first step of my work was to map out the plantation with a GPS, which helped me familiarize myself with the area. What followed was something of a shoestring (low-budget) approach to forest science, as I performed a variety of transects and small plots with a compass and make-shift equipment. In other words, I would enter the forest at a 90 degree angle to a given boundary line (usually the road), and evaluate the health of coffee trees at regular intervals (1 m, 5 m, 10 m, 20 m, and 30 m) along that line. This is intended to give a “random” (and thus somewhat representative) sense of what’s going on in the forest. What was most obvious was that the coffee was not doing well in full sun, with more healthy foliage (leaves) and berry (bean) development under shade. Coffee health was best under Guama (Inga vera) trees, which are native to the region. It was also doing modestly well under Grevillea robusta, which could also give a financial return for timber, though it is not native and could potentially become invasive. I hope some form of data collection has continued or could continue at a later date on Spirit Mountain plantation.

Experiences