These last few days I've been traveling through the northern mountains just outside of Jinotega in Nicaragua with Ben Weiner of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers. Ben has his own farm called Finca Idealista but now spends most of his time working to export his neighbors coffee. Ben runs one of the most reputable, community minded, and sustainably driven businesses I've ever seen. He finds the best coffees around and is completely changing the way these producers farm and even incentivises them for their initiative and success to encourage even more growth.
These are his neighbors' stories.
I've had the pleasure of tasting, buying, and serving Don Santos' coffee before meeting him. Last year I bought one of his lots for Honest Coffee Roasters. It was one of the cleanest and most vibrant Nicaragua coffees I've ever tasted! So, needles to say I was incredibly excited to meet Don Santos... He immediately greeted us with a warm, ear to ear smile and comforting hand shake. After a quick introduction to his family, he gave us a tour of his farm highlighting his wet mill (where he depulps all coffee with a hand crank mill), his water source (a dammed up stream on his property), and the high point on his farm where on each side of a lane cut through the coffee trees he has Yellow and Red Catuai coffee tree varietals. The red catuai ripens to the normal red color while the yellow catuia ripens to a deep yellow color. When I asked him why he plants these two varietals across from each other, he said his simply likes to walk down this one path and see red on one side and yellow on the other! Don Sanots lives in an incredibly remote place in the highlands surrounded by rainforest, he just got electricity to his home and farm one year ago! He has 10 children and wants more! He was certainly one of the most memorable people I met on this trip!
Some of the most under-celebrated people in the supply of coffee are wives of coffee farmers! Women like Areli work just as hard as their husbands... Areli gets up around 2am each day there are workers in the field to feed them each 3 hearty meals. Whether it's the coffee harvest, potato planting, or carrot fertilizing, the work is ceaseless and women like Areli make it possible. It was amazing to hear Areli's perspective as a coffee farmers wife. I am the first to admit that I've been guilty of not seeking out the woman's' perspective in coffee growing. It was both humbling and inspiring to hear Areli's perspective. Never have I met a person with such a hard work ethic, who saw everything in an absolute positive way.
Aracely & Juan Carlos
We met Juan and Aracely in their home just as the sun was setting, and their hospitality and welcoming smiles were refreshing. What struck me most about meeting them was the fact of how amazing it is to have a culture where people drop everything to welcome strangers into their home unexpectedly. Juan and Aracely are about 23 years old and have one child. They met a few years ago working the harvest on a nearby farm. Four years ago when Jaun's father passed away - Juan assumed duties on the farm and has been running it since! Juan has recognised the value of working to produce better quality coffee rather than just a higher quantity of coffee and he's earned quality premiums through Gold Mountain Coffee year after year for his great coffee.
Don Manuel's farm is just up the hill from his father-in-laws farm, Don Sabino. For the last 2 years, Don Manuel has grown some of the best natural pacamara coffee I've ever tasted. We talked for about an hour and learned that Don Manuel is seeing a huge benefit in expanding his coffee harvest each year. Currently Don Manuel grows a variety of crops on his farm and because of the quality focus of Gold Mountain Coffee he's been able to get more for his coffee and in turn focus more on producing high quality coffee and less on his other cash crops. It's great to see farmers being inspired to grow quality coffee and then giving even more attention to their coffee crop... this is how innovation happens!
Don Sabino was the first farmer we met in Nicaragua. He was welcoming and very willing to share anything about his farm. He pointed out several things on his property and entertained all of our questions at length. He took the time to explain a great deal of Nicaragua's history and how he ended up on the land he now farms. We talked about the cicadas on the trees and the new varieties of coffee he's planting. One of the most impressive things we learned just as we were leaving was that Don Sabino ventured down to his farm from his house for the first time in 8 days just to welcome us. He hurt his back a while ago and was unable to make it to the farm, but muscled through just to welcome us visitors to his farm!
Don Isidro was an absolute pleasure to meet. One of the most striking things about him is that he uses almost all the profit he generates from his farm to reinvest back into his land. Recently he built a large retaining wall to hold his compost in one place so it can properly break down into fertilizer. Before, the compost had been sliding down a hill and into a stream. Don Isidro realized this was a problem and decided to do something about it. This then sparked a discussion with Ben from Gold Mountain about how every little act to save the environment or improve it makes a ripple in the wave of change. It's important to work with those who value these little things and take the initiative to implement change. We're excited to know Don Isidro and to be reminded to do those little things that no one notices!