It was a year and a half ago that I first ambled up to the door of Beneficio Las Segovias looking for a thick, sweet coffee to add to Think Blend. A year and a half that that led me to Don Jaime Lovo and visited Finca Santa Isabel, one of the thickest, most shaded, prettiest farms I'd been to. It has been an amazing year and a half since then.
With about a day's notice of my visit, Jaime picked me up at the border of Honduras and Nicaragua grinning. He told me all about what was going on with his family. He told me that the next day he had to leave town for his son's graduation, but that I was free to walk around the farm while he was away.
First, I had to talk with Jaime's environmental engineer, the man who tests the soil and makes recommendations about controlling pests, weeds, plant diseases. I wanted to make sure that Jaime's workers will not spray any damaging chemicals in the coming years . I sat with Carlos Cruz, ing, who went over the chemical options for pesticides and fungicides. I asked if it was possible to simply use organic alaternatives. He said, absolutely. For pests, we can use Neem Tree oil, for fungus, Tea Tree Oil, for weeds, we can use machetes. Jaime said "Of course, I will do exactly what Carlos says" And that was that. No chemicals will be applied to Santa Isabel.
Then, I went to the farm. Jaime has a new farm manager, Ballardo, a tiny ex-army man who walked around with me, showed me all the new trees he's planted, all the things he's don to make the farm more beautiful and efficient than it once was. He kept saying "I just do a good job for my boss, because it makes me feel like a bigger person, to be able to see all of these people happy." Ballardo showed me all the food Jaime has stocked for the workers to eat every day (then we ate some). He showed me his list of which workers have been sick and when, and what medicine he's given them from the medicine cabinet. He showed me the classroom that Jaime added to the farm, stocked with books and desks.Class meets every day from 3-5, and at about 2 pm I asked Ballardo if I could attend. At 3 exactly, 4 of the 8 workers from the day sat down with Ballardo's wife/ in-house teacher Adriana to learn subtraction. It was a very elementary subtraction class, but the workers seemed so happy just to be copying words from a whiteboard. One man, in his late 70s, told Ballardo that he was always signing paperwork with his fingerprints. After going to class for a while, he was so happy to be able to write his own name. It may be a small achievement, but it is really a great achievement for these workers to receive free education as a benefit of their manual labor job.
What's really amazing to me is that Jaime, too, who was once resistant to the idea of a Farm Project, has really taken a genuine interest . Without our persuasion, he's bought solar panels for the workers so that they can have electricity day or night on the farm. He's bought landline telephones so that they can call their families or he can call them. Don Jaime recognizes the benefits of being an exceptional employer, and it's great to know that our purchasing this coffee has helped him to enjoy being so conscientious.
It's amazing to be able to see how our relationship has really developed, how we have moved from thinking about a project to seeing it grow in so many directions, to hear from the farmers themselves that Santa Isabel is truly one of the most desirable farms to work on in Nicaragua. It's one thing just to call a coffee a 'relationship"; but we are actively working with Jaime to make this farm a great place.