Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Booooooo! Who cares if this coffee is expensive, I can’t process it at all! It rained all night, again. And I woke up to the news that another tropical depression is leaving Puerto Rico to bless us with three days of more rain. Depression? I’m trying not to be depressed.

Transit to the capital has been paralyzed; 20+ bridges have been washed out; 56 lives have been lost because of the flooding; the lake I can see from my house is larger than ever; some damns are threatening to burst; and many rivers have over flown their banks. And I’m depressed about a Dominican natural experiment?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It rained all night on the tin roof, again. After a hearty breakfast of taro root, tropical squash, boiled plantains, and fried salami I took off for the farm in the rain. I stopped at Antonio’s house to find six of his nine kids playing happily with ratty wooden chairs and an empty bottle of canola oil. Tony, 8, who goes by Tongo is one of my favorites. He got bored and decided to fix the nylon string seat of the chair by tightening the loose ends. When he was done, he sat on the ‘new’ chair with such pride it made me smile and brightened the dim room.

It feels like the rain will never stop. The coffee cherries are exploding with water and falling off the trees. As a farmer, I’ve been taught to say the whole crop is lost.

So I found a farmer, Fello, who is going to sell me some ripe coffee cherries. Quality coffee is a new concept for this part of the Dominican Republic because there has not been any price motive for quality, which means there is always been one price regardless of quality. They pick the coffee, de-pulp (when its convenient), wash (the next day usually), dry it for a couple days, and sell it to an intermediary. The farmers want a better price for coffee, but I don’t know if this coffee will be able to pay its own bills. I hold a higher price in front of them like the proverbial carrot, but they know I’m asking for 3 times the current work. The price is only ½ more than the current rate . . . you do the math. Why did I buy this farm?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Two plus years in a developing country gives one ample time to ponder life. I should have listened to that voice in my head saying ‘work more with coffee’, but my Peace Corps projects were more directed towards avocados than coffee. Avocados are sexy and voluptuous, but coffee is beautiful and svelte. Coffee – a squatty skinny treeish plant hiding under tall leguminous trees with white bark - was an unlikely career calling for me.

I left the Dominican Republic in ’05 and entered the NGO non-profit world for a year. Then I decided to listen to that voice and enter the world of coffee via a production job at Batdorf & Bronson in Atlanta. Batdorf & Bronson has taught me to cup, describe coffee, sell and brew coffee, and right now I’m just waiting to pass my barista test.

Six months into that job a dream was answered: own a tree farm, coffee actually. Olivo, one of the most respected coffee farmers in the DR and one of the best tree grafters, had a 14 acre farm for sale in Los Frios and wanted me to buy it. In July, I went to the DR for two weeks to buy the coffee and avocado farm.

Now I’m in the Dominican Republic to process my coffee and eventually see what it tastes like.

Today is Oct. 28 and I’m here for the harvest. La Tormenta Tropical (storm) Noel has put my work on hold for the next few days. Last night I agreed to buy five quintals (500lb) from a neighbor with the intention of processing it naturally (picked and dried with out milling or washing). I’ve been in the country for one week and have 3 weeks left to: process my coffee three different ways, build 4 African drying beds, build a worm compost bin, and find time to go surfing! Yes, I’m an ambitious American. Some times I have to remind myself I’m on Dominican time or island time which is a much slower pace.

It rained all night and yet to show signs of stopping. Now the wind has picked up: wind + rain = sideways rain. None of the doors or windows close like they did yesterday (wood expands when wet). And everything, no really, everything is wet. It has been like sitting under a very large humidifier all night. Now that I’m a farmer, not a community development person, this rain means less money. Coffee falls off the tree before it is ripe and the coffee cherries burst because of the rain. The workers take longer to pick the coffee because they have to pick the coffee from the ground and the trees. I should learn patients from this. For the next 3 days, according to the weather report, it will rain. I will learn from my neighbors who also have coffee to pick. We wait and be patient. We will discuss food, weather, crops, politics, women (why I’m still single), and fighting cocks. A few minutes ago I showed just how rusty my Spanish is as I described a glacier as puro helado (pure ice cream)!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Life is beautiful! My old life here as a Peace Corps Volunteer has prepared me well for my new life in the DR. I’m still an amateur farmer. They have to watch me closely and don’t let me do much on my own. My Dominican assigned age is probably about 13 in terms of my farm abilities. So I’ve learned to take it well, as a student of life. I’m learning a new life from the eyes of an adult; learning much more than the harvest cycle of coffee; peering deeper into this culture that is already part of my life. I’m more comfortable in my skin here because I feel more like one of them.

For example, last night we were discussing the whereabouts and advantages of certain fallen trees: some trees last longer, some trees are cheaper, some trees are closer and some trees better hidden from the corrupt forest rangers.

Antonio and I have a connection that surpasses any standard I’ve set for other friends. Although our conversations are constant and we don’t really talk all that well. But we love each other and show it through service. Everyone in Los Frios speaks well of him. Antonio is a father of 9, a farmer, a successful cock fighter. He is wonderful with his hands, and his movements are efficient and careful on the farm.

Lin, another community leader, is a short man who gets very little verbal support. He’s respected as sharp business man, a strong negotiator, and sells more work animals (mules & horses) than anyone else in the region. He can barely sign his own name, and he has taught me an amazing amount of leadership. For example, any leader is going to get shit from some people and not everybody is going to like you; the development of the community is more important than being everybody’s friend; one should tell things how they are and do what one can; in hard times, peoples true respect is shown, not when things are just ‘normal’.