Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chapter 2

Friends always ask about the farm. I always tell them it is beautiful and things are good. In true farmer-speak I then often tell them how is doesn't make money and may never make money. Sometimes I tell them my new joke, "What do you call a hole in the ground you throw money into? -a farm."

So please excuse my normal response and allow room for a little more optimism. I realized over dinner with some friends recently that I don't usually volunteer my best stories, unless I'm prompted by someone else to tell said story. So lets pretend that you prompted me to tell you about cooking with firewood, trying to kill chickens, and seeing Lin. If you believe in leading through service, this story might make sense.

I spent 2 of my 3 days on the farm cooking with firewood. There are several crops currently planted on my farm: bananas, plantains, yucca, taro root (all food for work days and intermediate shade for coffee), coffee (rather obvious), lettuce, carrots, eggplant, beets, black beans (Antonio's veggie crops) and taiota (most recent permanent addition). When there are just a few workers and people need food to work then it makes more sense to not bring some one just to cook. The veggie plot (where the garlic failed) needed to be cleared, tilled and planted with lettuce. So I take an overnight lay-over in Miami, a taxi, a bus, and a motorcycle to get to Los Frios the same day I arrived so that I can cook with fire wood. . . leading through service. On my way down the mountain to the farm I did the math: two paid workers + Antonio + me = 3 workers and one cook. I suppose it is up to me to cook today, I said to Antonio, he smiled and said yes. I don't like cooking with firewood. The novelty doesn't exist on small trips like these. When I have 6 weeks in the DR, coffee drying and two crews picking coffee etc, cooking is a low impact filler for a day. When I have just a few days, I want to sweat and grunt my way through my farm days, basically play in the dirt.
I pealed green bananas with my machete, built the fire, washed the dishes, seasoned the food, and fried salami. Then when it was lunch time, I added beans to a big bowl, added more wood to the fire, prepared the seasonings, added the seasonings, added rice more wood then, washed dishes. Day two repeat. I felt like a smoke breathing dragon by day two and had a productive cough. How to women do this every day of their lives? My lower back was sore because there is no sink or counter to work on, my hands stained black with banana sap. Like most things, I did learn from it. It felt good to become better at pealing green bananas, if felt good to serve other people technically below me on the totem pole. I had less patients for it on day two, which means I still have lessons to learn.

I look to July with optimism. The 250lbs of black beans we have planted should be harvested, now will the rains be untimely? will the price fall through the floor? will the bugs eat more than their share of the harvest? probably. Will slugs destroy Antonio's (Byron financed) lettuce crop? Probably. Will the $850 I invested into the taiota pay me back? Probably not. At least taiota is only planted once, requires almost no maintenance and can be transported on mule after no processing (sounds like the best crop ever!). The market price isn't wonderful, but at least is doesn't really require many more inputs. I planted about 10 taiota my self and Tongo (Antonio's son) dug the holes for me. This is farmer optimism. Note my new joke up top.

To be honest it seems like I'm on Chapter 2 of my farm story. The farm has enough crops in motion that one might actually pay for itself fully (this would be a first). We are planting pigeon peas as a new type of additional intermediate shade. So come this December, costs should drop and there might even be a few months that don't require me sending money. But don't worry I'm not actually expecting any of this to go according to plan.

I have over 1,000 banana trees. I didn't even eat one single ripe banana from my farm on this trip. While I was cooking, the neighbors chickens (the chickens we eliminated once already;) came by three times looking for food. When I would see them, I would slowly pick up rock about the size of a golf ball and . . . throw it as hard as possible at their little heads. Please let me explain what chickens do to vegetables and other crops, like bananas, beans and lettuce. Chickens that are not feed corn look for food where they find it. A simple bar wire fence means nothing to them. They eat the flowers of the beans, all 250lbs of my beans should be flowering within the next 4-7 days. They eat ripe bananas, their lame wings can get them to the tops of banana trees. They peck at fresh young lettuce. Furthermore, we have warned the owner of said chickens several times to control his flock. On this trip, I told him personally, in my best Clint Eastwood. "When I say no chickens on my land I mean no chickens". If I find them on my land again, I will eliminate them. I have a friend that might lend me a shot gun so I can make pollo guisado next lunch time. . .
Lin is my newest hero. He is doing so so well. He has 10 metal rods in this right leg holding shin together. I can't tell you how much he glowed when he saw me. I'm sure he saw my radiance too. This man of 65 has broken more horses and mules than most cowboys in a rodeo. He has lead red-faced community meetings calling out the truth. He has been a community leader for years in Los Frios, plenty talk smack about him but never to his face. Father of 15 kids. A man of his word. He said I am more son to him than his son that lives in New York because of my constant phone calls and wiring money to him post accident. Lin has accepted that he may never walk again. There is no such thing as handicap access in a dirt road community. If the break doesn't heal he will have his right food amputated, until he knows otherwise he will be a one footed fraction of the man he used to be. People have poured out to see him. They have sent money. Spent time. Given what they could to see Lin get better. I wonder what those that talk so much smack about him would receive in the same situation? I wonder what I would receive in that situation? Some day I should tell you blog readers Lin and my first real interaction (I thought he was going to shoot me). I should also tell you about Zuna, his sister and translating during a biopsy of a tumor on her neck when she was willing to endure with barely any anesthetic. And her husband Nilo, one of those uber-wise millionare Dominican farmers. But not tonight.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

a little more press

Coffee Review: May 2009 - Espresso: Tasting Super-Heroes by Byron Holcomb

Coffee Review: May 2009 - American Espresso Blends: Boutique and Bigger by Kenneth Davids; reviews by Kenneth Davids and Byron Holcomb

When I first entered the coffee industry, my homework from my first trainer was to read Ken's book Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying. In short, Ken told me the coffee story for the first time in 2006, which provided the frame work for me to learn about coffee. With each new sector of coffee that I explore, I build on the frame he illustrated. Now I have completed another chapter with Ken. It was an honor to score 32 espressos with him.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bent's response:

Bent, owner of Karoma Estate, is a friend and my coffee exporter. In response to the article he said:

I don't know where they get 1,120 liters from to produce 1 liter of coffee!!!??

When you research the numbers on the production side, traditional washed coffee does use about 17 - 20 liters of water per 1 kilos of dry parchment coffee. In our system, we reduce that amount to about 1 liter per kilos of dry parchment. From there on, I don't know where anybody would use a lot of water. One kilo of dry parchment would mean about 1.5 lbs of roasted coffee from which you can produce many liters of coffee. On the farm, we don't actually pump the coffee, we just use the re-circulated water as a means of transport and as you said, the washer used a small amount of clean, fresh water for the actual washing, which is also recuperated.

Further, the decomposition of the organic matter in the washing and pulping water takes place anaerobically, meaning that no oxygen is used for that process.

Friday, May 1, 2009

a better defense of coffee and water

Coffea arabica is an understory shrub, but most people call it a tree.

How to protect a watershed: plant trees.

Coffee farms with diverse shade have biodiversity equal to native forests (sorry no citation). Coffee farms are tree farms. Hence they protect water sources. They also produce billions of tons of oxygen (they are plants, and again no citation).

How much water does wine protect?

How much water does beer protect?

It takes a little thinking, but coffee as an agroforestry system maintains or increases water tables. Coffee farms are [forests = shade trees + under story shrub (coffee) + quality wood species planted around the perimeter + birds (the only place I see bird diversity is on or near coffee farms in the DR) + other plants that don't effect coffee production (bromliads)]. Ask any hydrologist how to protect a spring in the mountains. Springs become rivers | rivers lead to lakes | you need water.

Even if the coffee is low quality robusta, at least it is a tree that is planted. I vote for a mono crop of trees over a mono crop of corn any day of the week.