Barquito, Director of Coffee, signing on. I am in Nicaragua with Nicole Buchwald, Jefa de Think Coffee Silver and Think LGBT. This is her first trip to meet our farmers. For me, I have lost count. My passport is running out of pages.
We are here now to work with our two farmers: Jaime Lovo, with whom we have been working on social and environmental projects since May of 2012, and Jorge Lagos, with whom we have been working since 2013. Jaime’s Santa Isabel currently makes up 30% of our blend. Jorge’s Santa Teresa is a highlight of the Single Source menu. It is a new year and we are moving forward with the same relationships, ever stronger, but striving to be even better for the farming communities.
We arrived on New Year's Eve, to try having some low-key family time with our Nicaraguans. Jorge Lagos graciously picked us up from the airport and took us to eat. He then took us the 3 hours to a hotel in his town, Somoto, about 40 minutes away from his farm. We fell asleep but woke up at midnight to see the extravagant display of fireworks all across every street in town. Scarecrows stuffed with fireworks. Kids lighting fireworks. It would be scary if it weren’t so charming. Excitement and cheer in cardboard with a wick. 4th of July x 100.
We spent Friday afternoon with Jorge, who gave Nicole a brief overview on coffee varietals and processing. He showed us his new water-efficient coffee cherry depulper. Then he showed us his newly purchased neighboring farm, Villa Guadalupe, which admittedly needs some TLC but has huge potential. Meanwhile his farm manager Cancho was packing up sacks of dried coffee for us to take to the mill. We arrived at the mill too late for Jorge's coffee to be formally received, but the guard let us in to leave the 11 bags marked "Jorge Lagos" at the receiving station. We spent some time looking at a small batch of Jorge's honey processed coffee drying on the patios, then went off for dinner.
Last night, after a quick swim in the chilly Somoto Canyon, we came to Ocotal, where we had dinner with Jaime Lovo, his son Jaime Jose (whom I last saw just over two years ago as he was graduating from agricultural university Zamorano) and his wife Aldenir. The Lovos were charming and excited to show Nicole Ocotal. They drove us from one side of Ocotal to other to show off how long it is.
After dinner, Jaime was also excited to show Nicole his home (it is a beautiful hacienda). We sat and talked, Jaime showed us the faded and browning bags of retail coffee we brought him cerca 2012 (one in english, one in spanish) and said “you need to use more colors!” I agreed and told him this was something we’re working on.
Today we expected to spend the whole day with Jorge on the farm working. But, it’s a busy time of year, both for coffee and family, so Jorge didn’t get going until afternoon. We drove around with him collecting workers from a distant town on a distant peak, up and down red dirt roads for a little over an hour, people with machetes periodically hopping into the back of the truck.
(Every two weeks, either Jorge or a representative of his drives out here, to one of the region’s poorest towns, to collect workers who then stay on the farm for 13 days, when they are paid and driven home. The process repeats. He has been hiring people from this village for years, and his father before him. Coffee pickers are paid for how much coffee they pick. The government mandates a minimum of 27 cordoba/lata-lata is a uniformly sized can - Jorge pays 40.)
After we dropped the workers off at their quarters on the farm, we went up to the main house on Santa Teresa where Jorge’s mother, siblings, and nieces had been cooking and celebrating the new year. They cooked for us, we tried to impress them with our Spanish, we showed pictures of Think in New York. It was a true family affair and an honor to be invited and to share this celebration with them.
Tomorrow and Tuesday, we’ll spend a lot of time on Santa Isabel with Jaime and Jaime Jose Lovo, sorting out the future of Proyecto Santa Isabel, its little classroom and all. Wednesday, back to Santa Teresa to choose coffees for this year and formulate a project with Jorge, Thursday we’ll pick up District Manager Shaun Morrissey from Managua, then more time with both farmers and some investigative work in cacao.
Closing thought: while these relationships take time - years of sitting and waiting, of long drives then long hours talking, dinners, farms, leisure time - they are honest and natural and real. Real relationships mean spending real time and having real conversations, even if they are uncomfortable and your politics don’t always entirely align. Real relationships mean prices are flexible but fair, projects are constantly evolving. This makes our work sometimes much more personal and complicated, but also that much more interesting. So here’s to the continuation and the improvement of all that is real and honest and transparent. Here’s to the future for the Lovos the Lagos and everyone they support.
Feliz año nuevo, damas y caballeros.