Coffee farm harvest time

January 31, 2016

Hola amigos,

I arrived back in Nicaragua on January 9 after spending a very nice and peaceful time in Florida with friends and family. Since then I have been nothing but busy- which is something I certainly appreciate for now. We have had four volunteers. Keiran and Remi from Canada, Babu from Belgium and Elsa from France. Remi and Babu are participating in the coffee experience while Keiran and Elsa are living and helping in the huerta (house farm) and around the house in Mozonte. It has been very fun to get to know them all and I am happy that they are all learning, experiencing and enjoying Nicaragua. I do not have a large degree of separation for people that come for our project- and for that I am able to get to each volunteer pretty well. I have been happy meeting people from around the world and being able to hear their perspectives on life as well as how they react and feel about the way of life in our part of Nueva Segovia.

This next week we look forward to heading to the farm in Dipilto for the week. Tomorrow I will head to the market to secure the things we will need for the week, basically a large amount of different food (with rice, beans and corn being the staples). The final item before getting on the bus is always the toughest, as it is filling up the 5 gallon bottle with water. This becomes particularly difficult when we get off the bus to head up to the farm- a hike directly uphill to top off the journey. The harvest is in full swing right now and there is no shortage of work. Remi and I this past week participated in picking coffee for two days- neither of them producing a whole lot of success in volume. One would refer to the bag we filled as a “gringo bag”. Many workers end up collecting around 5-7 latas per day which would translate to about 150-210 lbs of wet cherry coffee. On top of the sheer weight they are carrying in sacks above their head up and down steep inclines- they are also only selecting ripe coffee cherries which are (depending on the color of the coffee bean) typically turning a bit purple (red cherries) or orange (yellow cherries).

At the end of each day the bags of coffee are turned into the beneficio. The workers will hang around the hacienda until it is time to turn in the coffee for measurement. This is when the lata comes into play. The lata is a standard bucket. The workers will fill the buckets with as much coffee as they picked during the day. Each lata is valued at 40 Cordobas (28 Cordobas/$1). Therefore workers are incentivized to pick as much coffee as they can, but they are not able to pick all coffee, only the mature coffee. This definitely adds to the work of picking coffee as not only are you striving to pick as quickly as you can, but also as accurately as you can.

Following this process the coffee will be sorted in a large water tank where coffee with defects or that was either too mature or picked too soon will float to the surface and mature healthy coffee will sink to the bottom. The coffee will then be separated according to the quality of the cherry. All cherries will fall into one of two depulping machines where the external part of the cherry (cascara) will be removed. After this it will fall into one of the fermenting tanks. Here it will either ferment for 12 hours until it is time to wash or will go directly to the dry mill to begin the drying process. There is one process called the natural process where coffee is simply washed after being picked and brought directly to the dry mill. When we were at the farm we participated in the washing process, packaging process and ultimately the loading of the truck. Some days we brought tortillas to the workers as they were picking. Other days we helped select ideal coffee beans that would be utilized for planting new coffee plants which will be done in March following the harvest.

Every day at the farm offered a new adventure. Each day we woke up at 6:45am to eat breakfast and make our way to the other farm this past week. What I really enjoy about our project is you don’t need to be a coffee enthusiast in order to enjoy our project. People can have different motivations for wanting to come but will still be able to walk away with a very valuable experience. We are given the opportunity to experience an integral part of life in the region of Nueva Segovia- and more specifically Dipilto. We are able to build a more realistic idea of what the coffee industry looks like at its base; without the skewing of information coming from major companies. Here in Ocotal you will not have a luxurious stay or a warm shower, but you will have an experience that you will never forget. I’m happy to have this experience for myself as well as to be able to witness it through others that stay with us.

Namaste y Saludos,

David

Coffee farm and our experiences

Hola mundo 🙂

The incredible Benito, the Mandador at the farm, a key person in our experience at the farm. To the right is a part of some of our first coffee farm volunteers and the director Claudia in the middle! 🙂 

t has been pleasing in the last few months.  Claudia is busy as ever and we have launched the specialty coffee experience. Thus far what this has encompassed has been living at the coffee farm, interacting with producers and a few buyers that have made the trip to Ocotal in the last month.  We have had a signficant increase in volunteer activity over the last month meaning I have been much busier. It has been enjoyable working with a range of different people and personalities from all over the world.

I have had the pleasure of staying with 7 volunteers in the past month which hail from 5 different countries. We have had volunteers from Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Whales and two from the US. We have enjoyed and endured some of the delights and difficulties of coffee farm life in Dipilto. Daily activities are not uniform and we adapt to different tasks and learning opportunities throughout the week.

In the past weeks we have taken tours through the farm discussing funguses and other debilitating factors facing coffee farms in Nicaragua. The fungus that affects coffee production the most is called Roya, a fungus that is found in the leaves and can ravish an entire farm if not adequately regulated. We have visited the beneficio húmedo (wet mill)- above which the female volunteers stayed the past month. In the beneficio humedo there are three main functions- to depulp the coffee leaving a grain, ferment the coffee briefly, and finally wash the coffee. We were lucky enough to participate in this whole process and we able to assist in the movement of the grains. The grains are washed in a canal that is almost a meter wide and probably twenty meters long (pictures on website- www.eco-nic.com. We were also able to select grains that floated on the surface of the water indicating numerous potential defects- but the main idea being that the less dense grains would float.

The rest of the week we worked on a few different projects, including doing normal maintenance of plants around the farm including removing the moss that can drown the plant as well as cleaning the weeds out of the plants.

For the volunteers and I we have reminisced and discussed our experiences at the farm. We have generally been the most intrigued with the social conditions and way of life of the workers. Workers make very little money and work very hard. They work from 6am-2pm and make about $5/day. It is difficult to understand how this can be possible as a westerner, as it would be beyond impossible to live on this wage in the United States. We have reflected a lot about the privilege of being able to have an experience like the one we are currently having, where we are forced to feel our privilege. The question we have to ask ourselves is how we will react, or what we will do with our privilege. One thing that is true for the coffee farm trabajadores (workers) is that they do receive room and board complementary with their work. While this may seem minimal for some, it is a significant benefit. Our program is not designed to paint a pretty picture, but to paint a real one, the by-product of this experience will be yours to decide.

Outside of the average workdays we have had various adventures. One day we headed up to Dipilto Nuevo from Ocotal in pursuit of a ferry that did not exist that day. When we searched for a place that was showing El Clasico (between Barcelona and Madrid) we found out that they don’t get that broadcast! Overall it was a fun trip as when we returned we grabbed food by the park in Ocotal and drank Pinol in a supermarket in Ocotal (a traditional drink of cacao, ground corn, milk and sugar that is delicious). We also went out to eat last weekend at Sports Bar in Ocotal, which is far from touristy outside of the name. Claudia and Pedro accompanied us as it was one of the last nights of a volunteer named Jonathan from the United States. Jonathan was very interested in coffee and we hope that as he parted he walked away with some new knowledge and an experience that he will carry with him on his journey into the coffee industry.

In this past week we had a very interesting experience at the farm. Pablo (Spain), Lewis (Whales) and myself headed to the border to check out some of the restaurants. We figured it would be a fun trip as the border is only 30 minutes away on foot. As we approached the border a policeman called us over and asked for our passports. None of us had brought our passports with us and explained that we actually had no intention of crossing the border, but just wanted to check out the stores. It didn’t seem to be overly important after a while as he started joking with us about where were from and how american English was secondhand and created in England; which as a stubborn American I will refute wholeheartedly. In the end a truck came and picked us up and a border official hopped in the back as another followed us on motorcycle behind. I took a selfie of all of us. When we got to the building they informed us that we were detained until we could provide our passports- copies, passport numbers, nothing else would be sufficient other than the physical passport. In the end it was nice to be in good company as none of us were terribly panicked. However, I was not terribly satisfied that Claudia had to bring our passports to the border in the middle of her day- but I was happy to be free. Thanks/sorry Claudia!!

With this week proving to the the Purisima in Nicaragua- a catholic holiday. We have returned from the farm and have enjoyed some of the change in Ocotal. The Purisima is a holiday very important to the Nicaraguan people; it is the celebration of Virgin Mary and you will witness nationwide celebrations with Leon being the epicenter of the party. This week was marked largely by the parting of our first wave of volunteers staying at the farm with everybody heading different ways. However, we do have a whatsapp group where we all exchange photos and a bit about our journeys! I have met some really awesome people in the first week, and we have shared a very unique experience. It is very special to gather people from different walks of life that are willing to put themselves in a new situation together, learning about a completely different way of life and offering their presence, ideas, openness and working a bit along the way.

Want to give a special shout out to Marina for helping out so much with the website!! I think you have really helped improve the look and some tips on content as well! We appreciate volunteers that are willing to get their hands dirty and help us out a bit!

This marks the end of this almost 6 month stint in Nicaragua but I look forward to coming back in January and working with eager volunteers, with the beautiful homestay family and learning more about the coffee harvest in full-swing!

Saludos,

David Jones

Visa fun-Costa Rica Trip

Blog post

It is time for me to update my blog here in Nicaragua.

It has been a few weeks since I last updated as things have been quite busy. I think the most noteable thing, or the largest adventure- although every day holds adventure, was my adventure to Costa Rica. Last week, I headed to Managua to get an extension of my Visa for 90 more days. My trip went smoothly and I spent my time in the cheapest hostel I could find in Liberia, Costa Rica.

When I first arrived to Liberia, I asked around hoping that the local park would have free wifi like the parks in Nicaragua; no such luck. However, I asked a guy in the park where I could find an internet cafe and he referenced me to a place across the street. I purchased 30 minutes worth of internet to do a bit of research on different places I could stay. My friends Feras and Wilmer, Earlhamites, both suggested me different options in Liberia, as they had both stayed there. In the end one of the owners of the shop asked me if they could help me out and I asked them if they were aware of any cheap hostels around. A woman working at the shop offered to show me a nearby hostel, I accepted and we headed over.

Upon arriving to the hostel, my fears were confirmed as I was unable to exchange Cordobas to Colones. I had to withdraw money from the local ATM, which cost me another $5 fee, but I was able to eat and sleep for the night, which I suppose is the most important. Ultimately, I secured a room at a reasonable price.

The next day I headed to a beach called Playa Hermosa, people told me that it was a very nice relaxed setting, and I thought that would be a nice setting to explore for the day. When I got off the bus I asked a boy the best way to get to the beach and he referred me to his dad, who offered to show me the way. The second we started speaking I noticed his accent, as Nicaraguans have a very different accent than Ticas. Ticas, in my short time, seem to speak a clearer Spanish, and maybe one that’s a bit closer to the book. He told me he had been living in Costa Rica for over 20 years and it was his home. He said he missed Nicaragua but could never raise his family the way he wanted to there, and said he could make a better living in Costa Rica.

When I reached the beach I quickly realized that the relaxed, pretty beach that was explained to me was indeed a relaxed, pretty beach- without many people. I grabbed a couple beers and swam for a bit, read my book, and headed to the bus stop. I had a while to wait, about an hour and a half. After a few minutes a guy walked up to the stop wondering what time it was, and then told me it was going to be a while till the next bus. He headed down to a store, bought some bread and then headed back. When he returned we started chatting, and once again the Nicaraguan accent was on full display. He told me he was from Leon and was working in Costa Rica in order to send money back to his family, he told me his dream was to build a house for his family, and open a hamburger chain in Nicaragua.

I was pretty interested to talk to a Nicaraguan working in Costa Rica, and specifically in his situation. He was not attempting to become a citizen of Costa Rica, but was one of thousands and thousands of Nicaraguans that traveled between Nicaragua and Costa Rica to work. These workers utilize the same strategy I did in going to Costa Rica to prolong my time in Nicaragua, every three months they have to cross the border to receive a new stamp. According to the law, you have to wait 72 hours after crossing the border in order to reenter and receive the stamp to extend your time. However, as I was offered at the border, you can pay $10 (my offer) in order to return immediately.

His name was Reynaldo and he told me that he worked 11 days on and 3 days off. Meaning he would work Monday through the following Thursday with Friday-Sunday free. Not sure how common this is but I thought it was a bit strange. He told me he made about $20/day. Which is about 4-5x more than what he would make working a similar job in Nicaragua. He explained that he lived with his parents, who had the same Visa situation as he did, and that they rented a house from the owner of a local hotel owner. He didn’t want to live in Costa Rica and missed his home, family, and friends but he said it was worth it in order to pay for a better life in the future. I couldn’t help but think of the parallels between immigrant labor in the US and in Costa Rica. Meeting people like Reynaldo really enforce the idea that targeting immigrants as if they were bad people is wrong. I think of what I am hearing everyday regarding the remarks of Donald Trump and his stance on immigrants. At the end of the day it is a complicated issue and the pros and cons need to be taken into account, but by and large it seems to be a mutually beneficial process. I was glad that Reynaldo was able to help his family out by working abroad, but also knew it was quite a sacrifice being away from his family.

The final day, I went to a beach called Playa Coco, which was recommended to me most likely because I was a tourist, and apparently there were a lot of tourists there. When I was waiting for the bus, I started chatting with a middle-aged couple that was also headed to Playa Coco. We discussed the difference between pipas and cocos (coconuts), which apparently is size related, and that pipas have a sweeter flavor (they are good). They started to talk about their church after a bit and asked me if I was religious and about my vices. It was a good conversation and they gave me good instruction on how to get to the beach. Shortly after I noticed a white guy with a baby on the bus and asked him where he was from in English. He told me California and asked where I was headed. When I told him to the beach he said he was headed the same way so we headed over together. When we got there there were two old white guys sitting at a table, drinking beer. They were both from the USA and one was an old retired boxer, and the other a retired science teacher with a heavy New England accent. The old boxer showed me pictures of him and his son with Floyd Mayweather, accompanied with a whole lot of commentary about how Floyd Mayweather is an a-hole.

The most interesting part about Playa Coco was undoubtedly the number of old American and Canadians that had resettled there living off of their pensions. Before I left, an old retired Canadian lawyer came and sat at the table and was complaining about how difficult it was going through the process of selling property in Playa Coco. They told me there were at least 1000 foreigners, mostly retired Canadians and Americans, that were living permanently in Playa Coco. The teacher, who had lived there for 10 years, and spoke very little Spanish, explained to me that he noticed that the number of locals that could speak English drastically increased, a McDonalds and a few other businesses were built, and that prices started to increase.

That night I returned back to Liberia, grabbed some food, and packed everything up. Back to Nicaragua in the morning. The border crossing went smoothly, made it to Managua, and then made the final four hour trip for Ocotal. I was really excited to get back to Ocotal, when I made it there was Nacatamal- a delicious way to end the trip!

The next morning, I worked on the website and exchanged e-mails with volunteers that are interested in staying on the coffee farm with us. It is a cool project and I’m excited for people to come and stay on the farm with us. Later in the afternoon the next day a volunteer- Alex- from Sweden arrived. She is now staying with us in Mozonte with our home-stay program. This week I decided that I would go to the house every day, and that we would work on different projects- ranging from planting broccoli seeds, pepper plants, helping weed the field where there is yuca, beans, and corn. She has been going to Dona Maria, our local art instructor. Alex has been working on earings recently and is planning on making a necklace for her next project. She has visited Delia at her workplace in Ocotal, and followed her around on an average week of working with children that are having trouble legally, academically, or economically- where she and her organization provide food to malnourished children in Ocotal. Alex came into town yesterday and I showed her around Ocotal, visiting the park and participating in a very cool coffee festival, where we sampled coffee and watched a local percussion band play. As always, they were dancing and throwing their drums high in the air. It is always very fun watching this event, with all the proud parents and onlookers taking pictures. Afterwards we headed to Kevin’s first soccer game on his under 17 team, which he is very proud of. He is playing at the local stadium- which has grass- which in Ocotal, means that you’ve made it to the big time. Afterwards we grabbed ice cream at Eskimo, which is incredible and she headed back for Mozonte.

This was a quick post to catch up on a bit of the things that have happened in the last weeks. Hope you enjoy!

Namaste
David

3 months in Nicaragua, Coffee farm visits

3 month mark in Nicaragua

I had an awesome adventure with Claudia, Jorge, Saul, and many coffee farm owners this weekend, I want to use this blog to describe my experience and reflections of this trip.

The weekend’s coffee adventure
There was a potential buyer visiting from the U.S. who is interested in buying top-shelf coffee from Nueva Segovia. We met at Hotel Frontera at about 7:45, people were dressed relatively formally (as we were going to walk through coffee farms), and everybody initially greeted and, if not acquiantances, introduced and exchanged conversation for a bit before Claudia rallied us to head out to the farm visits.

The first farm we visited on the other side of the mountain adjactent to Villa Guadelupe- our farm. We explored the farm briefly, and spent the majority of the time at the beneficio, or the hacienda, where the producers, and buyer, discussed strategy of growing, washing, drying, and farm management. The cafetilero (coffee farmer)was very passionate about his work, and may overlook the costs associated with certain work because of his sheer passion in coffee farming, based on conversations with the group. The owner spent the majority of his time describing his farm, the history of his farm, and practices used to manage the coffee grains to the potential buyer.

We then visited the second farm, located in Dipilto, where all the farms were located, save the last, which is located in Las Manos, on the border with Honduras. The aproach to the top already had a markedly different path, mainly because there was an armed guard station at the bottom. As we were ascending it was clear that the management of this farm was good, and the plants seeemed to be quite healthy with good grain production. As we reached the top, the economic capability and willingness to invest became very apparent. There were four people dressed in a uniform of the farm: the owner, his wife, the director of his farms which are located in three productive quality regions of Nicaragua; as well as the mandador and director of all farm activities at this farm. The depulper, and washing machine was extremely complex and ornate in comparison with all others I have seen. The house was decorated very nicely and seemed geared towards welcoming visitors. Everything was quickly very clear and the owner did a very good job of ushering everybody in, greeting them, and getting into his description of the farm. Each discussion started with history (origins), and slowly became more current and eventually technical in regards to how they manage the farm. The buyer, a large-scale retailer based in the US, gave a brief talk at the farm discussing the importance of trust and honesty in this business, and assuring that he felt that link with the people here, and that quality was extremely important for him, as it was for the producers invited to this event. He was interested to hear about the process used for depulping, washing, drying, and trillando the grains.

The next farm we visited was Jorge’s, which borders our farm. He introduced himself and welcomed everyone to the farm, and then began to describe the history, development, tactics, and, finally, the current output of the farm. Another owner seemed to disagree with the tactics of growing that Jorge utilized with his farm, and did not see eye to eye with his continuation of old strains of coffee, without utilizing newly developed crops that may be more resistant to Roya as well as other things. He also seemed a bit confused with Jorge’s conservative use of fungicides and the total absence of herbicides. However, this is something pretty common, and similar to the idea that everybody has the best technique, or best product when it is their own.

Things that were asked throughout the day were questions regarding the washing process, questions regarding whether or not they were members of the rainforest society, or had received other certifications for their farm. The Taza of Excellence was brought up on numerous occasions. In regards to exactly what the buyer was looking for, I can not be sure. But the way he postured was to say that he wants a stable long-term agreement, he wants to be sure that he can trust his producers to not only be truthful, but to deliver and maintain a degree of accountability throughout their partnership.

Every member of the “team” as it was referred to was encouraged to remain patient, consistent, and, seemingly most important, to be willing to invest enough money into their farms to produce a quality of coffee that would be considered optimal. The incentive in going directly to the producers was not immediately apparent, I see a lot of room for risk when you are depending on a smaller pool of suppliers for your needs, however, he may not be at risk of having too small a pool of suppliers. In this way maybe he is saving a potential loss by going directly to producers and paying a lower price than he would through a middleman. He also has his own farm, and is currently selling more than he is able to produce from the farm. Therefore, he is seeking out new suppliers, and it may be that with a smaller group, he feels more connectivity and accountability.

For me, the potential buyer seemed to have a very ethical and long-term scope in his business. He explained to me that with the current international price of coffee producers have no chance to improve and continue producing quality coffee. Beyond this he told me that he has witnessed numerous quality coffee farms go under because they were not given a viable selling price to sustain their future production. Therefore, massive amounts of quality coffee cultivation territory goes underutilized and the people suffer, as well as the global coffee market, all the way to the consumers. In order to maintain quality coffee and support coffee regions, he realizes that the global price is not viable, and his way of ensuring quality coffee for his clients is going through exporters that hold good business and ethical principles, in this case being Claudia Lovo. If you want to see the international coffee price, which is currently being solid below the price of production price/ unit view the link: http://www.nasdaq.com/markets/coffee.aspx.

His explanation gave me a pretty good idea why it is necessary to pay a higher price for quality coffee, and this is a trend that will find its way all the way down the supply chain to the consumer. However, given the depleting quantity of quality coffee, and variety, it seems to “vale la pena” or be worth it to pay a higher price to maintain this quality. Beyond practical appeal to maintaining quality coffee, higher prices will have an exponential impact on the producer’s and their respective workers, as the value of a dollar in coffee producing regions, specifically Nicaragua, is much higher than the United States or other destinations. Climate change is also having a huge impact on global coffee production, and with coffee being the second most traded commodity in the global market, the impact will certainly be felt.

It is fascinating knowing the places the coffee of this region will go, and the impact that the crop has around the world. Knowing what you are paying for, where the coffee originated, and a bit of the situation the coffee market finds itself is important. If anyone has any questions or want to give me feedback of any kind feel free to message me. I put it online for a reason!

Check out our coffee farm volunteer experiences and our specialty coffee available for purchase in the US!

http://www.eco-nic.com : coffee farm and home-stay volunteer experiences
http://www.callspecialty.com : Specialty coffee from Nueva Segovia

Saludos y Namaste,

David

Life and project updates

I am in Nicaragua. Things are feeling normal at this point, in terms of how I feel in the town and with the people. I have some friends in town, I go to the gym three times a week, and play soccer every Sunday. At this point I really enjoy the food, and I am very accustomed to rice, beans, and my appreciation of tortillas has really grown. Besides all of this, the most important thing for me, is that my Spanish is really improving, all the while feeling busy and knowing that I am putting my effort into advancing project Econic. Check out the new website that has finally launched for public viewing: http://www.eco-nic.com/.

There are two volunteers currently here from England, Chris and Claire, they arrived on Tuesday and thus far it has been very enjoyable to discuss their experiences in Mozonte, iron out some of the initial difficulties (culture schocks), and yesterday we went to the farm together. I headed out on the bus with Kevin and Saul, but came back as the volunteers were running late, as I waited at the stop for the volunteers I spoke with a policeman about the independence day celebrations that are starting this week. For the next two days the workers at the farm, and most Nicaraguan workers, will have a break, until Wednesday. Workers that do work earn double, which is the same for anybody that works on Sundays.

When Chris and Claire arrived we spoke about the project and their experience thus far. Chris said it was very difficult for him adjusting to the pace of life in Mozonte, and he was wondering how he could involve himself more to feel that he was providing more help. The language barrier was also something that he expressed as being difficult- which is more than understandable. We spoke when they arrived about their expectations, and they did express many of the things we find the most important in our project, to learn about a new culture and attempt to contribute in any way possible. They are open people and have plenty of travel experience. They know that work on the farm is not always so formulaic in the way that some places function, because our home-stays do not reflect a refined system designed to specifically engage travelers at their pace, but a realistic experience of life in the community, Mozonte. However, we also accommodate to volunteers preferences, and I am going to speak with Wilmar tomorrow about the possibility of being a bit more direct with the volunteers regarding the work and schedule. However, the change of pace is integral in our project!

Finally we embarked for the farm, my newfound favorite place here in Nueva Segovia. We got off the bus and started the trek up to the top of Las Vegas (the name of the farm chain). The volunteers are in pretty good shape so we made it up no problem. When we arrived I showed them the cleaning and de-pulping area and machines. I discussed with them a bit of the process of how things would work when it came harvest time. They were impressed at how simple the set-up was. Essentially the process is depulping, when the workers drop the grains from the second floor into a revolving circular metal-plated bar that spins and grinds with the bottom of the machine, separating the shell of the grain on one side and the seeds to the other. The seeds fall into a huge pit where they will be washed with plenty of water. The torrent of water will take the smaller beans, and leave behind the larger ones, which typically indicates higher quality.

Afterwards, we headed up through the farm and encountered Saul and Kevin, who were collecting loads of platanos, which we now have at the house, and are delicious. We discussed a bit about coffee there, and I explained some of the larger issues and factors of the farm, such as the Roya, and the condition in which the last owner left the farm. We then returned to the house, where we ate rice, beans, tortilla, and cheese, while we waited for Jorge to arrive. It was pay-day, so the volunteers and I had a conversation regarding past travels, struggles with spanish, and etc. while everything was being settled.

We then headed to the adjacent farm, Jorge’s. Jorge gave us a guided tour of the farm, explaining some of the strains of coffee he was growing. His farm is beautiful, and he produces a huge amount of coffee, as his plants are much healthier and better maintained. He explained that because good care is taken of the farm on a regular basis, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides are unnecessary- as he has not used any of those things for five years. The volunteers were very interested in the different strains and the high quality coffee that he produces, and had many questions. By the end they were keen on securing coffee before they left for their next step, and I would recommend the same for anybody that has a chance to come here, it really has made me change my mind about coffee. Beyond this, I think coffee can provide a lot of positive social change as long as the money is allocated correctly, and the people receiving the money have the right intentions. Claudia is struggling daily to make sure conditions of the farms she works with abide certain moral and ethical standards both environmentally and socially.

Once again check out both of the websites, one to come discover our region of Nueva Segovia, and the other to give our coffee a taste!

http://www.eco-nic.com/

http://www.callaspecialty.com/

Saludos y Namaste,

David

Farm Family Fun

The farm work continues with force. Every morning Saul heads out to the farm to keep track of the work that is being done and continues updating his notes with evaluations of the overall condition of the farm. I went out with him Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday this week, with a couple days of rest. My legs are becoming more accustomed with the terrain although it would be a lie to say I am all the way there.

On Wednesday, they began spraying the farm with a mixture of fungicides, minerals, and the majority being water. They use Echo sprayers from the United States, and the jug on their back weighs about 60lbs fully filled. Each fumigator had a partner that would refill a bucket and refill the jug when it ran out. They had a large barrel positioned next to a small pool of water, where rainwater drained from the steep inclines on both sides. Saul and I cleaned the pool and placed sticks on both sides so the workers would be able to refill the buckets. Therefore, each group of fumegators, three in total, had a local base to work from. Each group would finish a Manzana each day, therefore, they have now completed 12 Manzanas working Wednesday-Saturday (39 Manzanas in the entire farm). This work all had to be done following cleaning these areas, and we had to wait 3 days to begin fumigating the areas, in order to give the weeds that were suffocating the plants time to dry out. At a certain point, I am expecting Saul will allocate more workers to cleaning the farm because it goes at a much slower rate than fumigation.

Thus far, the process of of cleaning and fumigating has been towards the overall goal of getting the crop ready for a future of successful harvests. However, both processes of cleaning and fumigating are principally concerned with addressing the fungus, Roya, that is currently plaguing the farm. The weeds had to be removed from the plant to ensure that the fumigating process would successfully affect the plants and not be blocked by weeds. The Roya will not be destroyed, but the plant will grow free of Roya after the herbicides are applied. As I was told, in English, as Jorge spent 6 months in North Carolina with his university in Honduras, was that “the damage is already done, but the plant will have a fungus free future”. The minerals were included to provide nutrients for the plant.

I am really enjoying learning and witnessing the way in which the coffee farm is being managed as well as the technique in which the project is being approached. There is a lot of money being invested in the farm, and, of course, the initial investment of buying the farm was large- so there’s a lot of pressure. The workers are dependent on the producer for work, and the producer is dependent on the workers. However, the workers small salaries are certain, where as the producer can suffer huge losses or make huge gains depending on numerous factors. It is a very fascinating and interesting thing to learn about.

This week has also been another great week at the farm in general, outside of technical territory. The fruit on the farm are always an awesome treat. Oranges and limes are the highlight currently, with the bananas coming. Of course the plantains are one of my favorites, as I brought 7 of them home and they were gone the same day. We fried them and they are very delicious. Saturday, Saul, Kevin and I rode the bus out to the base of the farms, Las Vegas, and hiked up to the farm. We did the typical walk-through and collected a mountain of lime and oranges at the end. We returned to the road at the end of the day, and sat on the side of the road waiting for the bus. After a while another farm worker returning from the neighboring farm pulled out to the road, Saul gestured for a ride, and we hopped in the back of the truck. Riding back, as I’ve done before, from the bed of a truck is pretty awesome. You can smell the air, watch the mountains, and really sense the temperature increase as you approach Ocotal, the valley.

In Econic news, I’m looking forward to getting the website launched tomorrow with the help of Alfredo, who went to Earlham and lives in Ocotal in his free time, when he’s not teaching. Also, I am currently speaking with three volunteers, and it seems that two of them will be coming Tuesday. I am excited to have new volunteers and am excited for the slight benefit it will give the family in Mozonte. They are currently planting corn and are unable to purchase the remaining amount, so I hope that they will be able to do that soon. Wilmar is working very hard planting and clearing out weeds for new tomatoes and a larger scale corn and beans project. Delia is working hard, as always, in Ocotal throughout the week, helping kids that have a tough time in school or legally, she is very strong and caring to have this job. The kids are well and continue working hard in school and playing baseball/drums. Always a joy to visit them, as well as Wilmar’s brother, who lives close by. I was stranded the other day in Mozonte, as the bus had already left, and he picked me up in a taxi. It was pretty surprising to see him driving in the cab, was a funny situation. They really won’t leave anybody stranded and accept anybody into their home with love and care. The only criteria they have to fill is to return that same respect I haven’t spoken to them about this, but this is surely what I would expect.

In other local news, we tied the soccer game today, with my team, but I think it was my best performance so far. Still hard to adjust to the rough terrain and lack of grass, but little by little it’s improving! Still haven’t scored a goal, but our team is doing really well, only one loss so far.

Namaste & Saludos,

David

Coffee farm adventures

I had my first full day today at the farm. I woke up at 4:30 to head out. This morning, as things happen often here, my ride, the owner of the farm, showed up at 6:00, when we agreed to 5:00 (tiempo Nica). Jorge, Saul, and myself rode out to the farm together. When we got there we picked up 7 workers, equipped with machetes, to begin cleaning up the farm which just switched owners.

When we arrived at the base of the adjacent farm, which was newly purchased, Jorge briefed the workers on what the work for the day was. They sat and spoke for about 10 minutes before we all went to begin the hike up to the area that was covered in weeds (malisoso- much malesa). When we arrived the men quickly went off the trail and began clearing the area out. When I was in Ometepe at the beginning of my journey I realized I was terrible with a machete, especially in comparison with the workers, but this day certainly reconfirmed and further diminished my idea of my own machete skills. Between 7am-2pm 7 men with machetes successfully cleaned 1 manzana- 1.72 acres. It was extremely hard work and I can’t imagine exerting myself as they did for that amount of time. Typically, the work, based on the appearance of Jorge’s adjacent farm, the amount of work that was required today is not indicative of the daily schedule. It seems that today was particularly rigorous because it is the first day that a new owner is maintaining the farm after the switching of hands. In addition, for the last few months the old owner allowed the farm to get away from him. He knew that no investments he made would not be coming back into his hands.

This inevitably led me to the question of their compensation. Being a witness to the farming industry immediately triggered me to ask questions of the human capital and treatment. For the most part the workers, men, live without their partners and children. I heard, with my limited Spanish abilities, that it can be a bad idea bringing entire families to the farm because it can cause rifts between workers. I imagine that jealousy could brew or a potential conflict between families would polarize workers and cause larger problems, family feuds do that. However, workers are given free housing and free food, they work until 2pm and are done for the day to play soccer, watch television (cable provided), or drink coffee- relaxing things. Their salaries aren’t great but are still strong relative to the living wage of Nicaragua. I won’t put the exact numbers out there because I haven’t asked permission, but it seems they have a mutually beneficial relationship with producers.

The farm is home to numerous fruit trees, as well as a wide array of other plants, other than coffee. One fruit that I discovered was Paterna; it is a delicious fruit inside of a green shell with a crescent shape. The fruit itself is the husk of the seed, it is very sweet but has a nice chewy texture, it may be my second favorite behind mamones (and probably mangoes). Saul, who is about 30 I would guess, secured the fruit by climbing about 20 feet in the air and tossing the fruit down to me, he was surprised that I wasn’t an avid tree climber, it is apparently pretty popular on coffee farms.
I also found out there are three types of coffee that are grown in the highlands of Nicaragua, Catimor, Catorra, and Bourbon. Bourbon seems to be the most popular and is said to have the best taste, it is one of the main exports in terms of Nicaraguan specialty coffee.

There are two main diseases affecting the plants at the farm; Hoja de Gallo and Roya. The both of them are easily noted by the spots/lesions on the leaves of the plants that are infected. Hoja de Gallo seemed to have lesions a bit whiter while Roya was orange-ish, and when in advanced stages the back of the plants would produce a powdery yellow substance. If somebody were to touch this then touch another coffee plant, that plant would then be infected. “Roya” is extremely dangerous and consistently negatively impacts coffee yields across Nicaragua and Central America in general. The only way to deal with the “hongo” or fungus is fungicide. I was curious if fungicide was permitted under the guidelines for specialty coffee and Jorge informed me that fungicide may be used, and any other type of insecticide, etc. The only mandatory quality that specialty coffee needs is to pass, is to be affirmed by a number of “coffee experts” delegated by organizations such as the Specialty Coffee Association of America, and come from a specific microclimate that viably produces high quality coffee. Jorge looks forward to producing high quality specialty coffee at a very high percentage of total yield in the next three years.

In terms of the landscape of the farm, it is absolutely beautiful. There are mountains in the distance in every direction and the temperature and climate is perfect, even on a hot day as it was yesterday. At certain points as we were climbing higher the temperature would suddenly drop a few degrees, which was very noteworthy. It was a great reward for the ascension. Also, the air is very clean as I have mentioned previously. I’m really looking forward to a time where I will be able to stay out there for an extended period of time. It is very quiet, peaceful, scenic, and everything you need is there, especially adventure. Warning, mosquitoes are big and so are ants, and they both happen to be pretty social.

The next day I returned with Jorge and Saul. I woke up at 620 to meet at the semaforo (intersection) at 7. It was about an hour till they arrived so I grabbed a cup of coffee from across the street with pan dulce (sweet bread), pretty standard here. I got an extra for Saul and then we were on the road. The trip to the farm in Dipilto takes about 20 minutes and is uphill. When we arrived Saul and Jorge strapped on their galoshes, as I remained in my shoes as I have yet to purchase galoshes. We first visited a pool that stores water that will be used at harvest time to wash the grana of the coffee plants. Afterward we made the ascent up the mountain. Today, the workers were chapeando (machete-ing/ chopping is my interpretation) in the highest point of the finca that I have seen thus far on the back end. With Saul, the contador who keeps tabs on all expenses, managerial information, we spent most of our time on the road near the workers. Intermittently walking down into the coffee zone to mend to coffee plants that had not been cared for, which are many given the condition in which the previous owner left the farm.

One thing I have learned is that each coffee plant should only have two branches, which ultimately grow upward and produce grana, because more than two promotes competition between them resulting in less nutrition for every given plant. Typically, when the plant is young you cut the base at a diagonal slant. From this base is where the hijos/ next generation plants originate. Therefore, any plant with more than two hijos would be strategically plucked based on which plants seemed the most promising.

We spoke at length about the pay of workers, how profitable owning a farm is, different forms of coffee disease, the Cup of Excellence award, and numerous other things.

At the end of the day as the workers were finishing up another loooong day of cleaning the farm, a military car rolled by. I got an evil stare from one of the men on the back, something not extremely rare, as a military man a few weeks ago gave me a memorably evil stare as well. Jorge explained to me that on the day of the month when the workers receive their pay a military escort comes as to insure the money is delivered safely and without problems (robbers).

We stopped and got a soda (gaseosa) on the way back to Ocotal. It was a great week and something about the farm really makes me happy. It’s a special place and I hope that other travelers will be able to share this experience with me down the road. Science and anthropology all under the umbrella of business go hand-in-hand in the coffee industry (Today, Claudia Lovo).
Lo siento si este es tan largo!

Saludos y Namaste,

David Jones