Agronomy Lessons

On the last leg of my journey with Fury, we crossed the Honduran border from El Salvador and traveled from San Miguel by mototaxi (basically a golf cart), a regular taxi and a bus for twelve hours to the Marcala coffee cooperative where we were immediately met by Rodolfo Penalta, who runs the cooperative and whisked us away to his brother Gerardo’s farm.  Gerardo grows a great Icatu, which appears on our Single Source bar roasted by the folks at One Village Coffee.  
 
On the way up to Gerardo’s farm we stopped by his house to pick up him and his family where a surprisingly refreshing, though unidentified fruit drink awaited us.  At Gerardo’s house, we were also met by other farmers from the cooperative, including Christian (more on him in a minute), and it became clear immediately that this was a cooperative that lives by its name and cooperates in all of its pursuits, including entertaining us.
 
Gerardo’s farm is part of a group of farms called Los Flores and everything about his farm suggested the beauty of flowers.  He showed us the plants where our coffee came from and the processing equipment where it got de-pulpled.   He rigged the whole thing up to run on an old Toyota car engine, and he showed us how he was re-using the pulp in two ways:  the solid pulp gets mixed in with other compost and becomes a solid fertilizer and the liquid gets sprayed back on his plants as “honey water.”  Gerardo is only experimenting with the honey water concept, but he is optimistic that it will make his already great coffee even better.   If it does, he has to figure out how to deal with the monumental task of reusing all of his pulp by spraying the liquid all over his hilly farm.
 
On the way back down the mountain, Christian showed us around his finca and gave us a dissertation on fertilizer in Marcala.  Several years back the farms went organic because that was what the market was calling for.   Without any chemical fertilizer, though, coffee production tanked.  This jeopardized the cooperative.  Many farmers left the cooperative altogether, while others struggled.  They considered buying organic fertilizer from abroad but after consulting with a Costa Rican cooperative that had dealt with many of these issues itself, Rodolfo and the farmers soon learned that everything they needed was right in front of them.   They learned how to use poop, pulp, minerals and micro-organisms from the mountainside to grow better, heartier plants, and ever since there has been an ongoing effort to get just the right formulation.  Farmers share ideas with one another as to what fertilizer makes for the best coffee, and the cooperative itself is constantly experimenting with new formulations.
 The next day we took a tour of the cooperative’s processing facility and we explained our concerns about traceability.  In this, they already had the solution.  Any micro-lot that is part of the cooperative can be fully separated from the rest of the coffee if that is what a buyer wants.  Rodolfo’s team took us step-by-step through the process to show how we could buy a microlot and be confident that the coffee we were getting came from the correct farm.  From depulping to final processing, any microlot is separately tracked.  And that’s how we know that the coffee Gerardo sold to us is actually Gerardo’s coffee and not one of his neighbors. 
 
Before the tour of the processing facility, we had a great coffee from a little coffee shop in Marcala called Aroma where we were served by Nancy, proprietor, cupper, roaster and barista.  Naturally we asked where the coffee came from, and we couldn’t have gotten a clearer answer.  That afternoon we stood on top of the mountain where we met Oskar who grew the beans that were processed down the hill where they were tracked until they made it to Nancy who roasted them and now ground and served us a cup by Aeropress.  Talk about a short and straight line from seed to cup!