My pre-harvest trip to Honduras is one of my most anticipated trips of the year. It’s a time where I sit down with the producers with time to converse, look back on the past year, and look ahead and begin making plans for the coming harvest.
This year, I started with a visit to the El Cielito producers, led by Margarito Herrera. I first met Margarito in December of 2011 and since then, we have purchased all of Margarito’s coffee. Over time, we have added Margarito’s dad, Juan Rodriguez, Margarito’s brother, Francisco “Pancho” Rodriguez and Margarito’s niece, Roselis Herrera. They all live within 50 meters of each other, so it makes visiting them very convenient.
Margarito has been making improvements to his farm, mill and house in the years since we’ve started working with him and his production has steadily increased – thanks to better farm management and land acquisitions. This year, he expects to produce almost 25 bags of export as compared to 3 bags in 2012. As a result of his growth, he has had to add to his existing infrastructure. In 2013 he built a new drying structure, complete with shade and open for air flow – an innovation at the time. This year, during my visit, Margarito and I discussed the need for a second drying structure and I’m happy to have been able to lend him the money to build it prior to the harvest. This way, he will have ample drying capacity for this year and for years to come.
Juan Rodriguez is one of my favourite people in the coffee world. He has been growing coffee for over forty years, and although quiet, he is filled with wisdom and knowledge. He has by now given away or sold most of his land to his family, however he still retains a small farm with older bourbon trees, which always performs very well. Last year, we were able to help him secure funds to build his own drying structure (he had been using Margarito’s) and now he is fully self sufficient. Juan produces a small amount (a few bags of export) and we purchase his entire harvest so every time I visit him, he is keen to spend time and chat about the harvest and the farms and how the area has changed in the past couple of decades. A visit with Juan makes me feel really great about our buying model and the positive impact it can have on coffee producers.
Roselis and Pancho have also made big improvements since last year. Pancho built a fermentation tank and de-pulping setup identical to Margarito’s. Since Roselis doesn’t live at the farm, Pancho will pitch in and process Roselis’ coffee, which should result in more consistent processing than last year. Roselis and Pancho also built a second drying structure, also identical to Margarito’s, so they are really well setup to dry coffee properly.
I spent my visit touring their three homes and mills, eating ridiculous amounts of food, drinking tasty coffee, reviewing the past year and visiting the farms.
One of my favourite things to do during pre-harvest trips is to show producers how their coffee performed over the course of the year. Few producers get any insight into how their coffee tastes, let alone how it tastes over the course of a year across an entire continent. During this review, the main topics that arises is the connection between coffee longevity and drying and storage. This past year, Margarito won the coffee longevity battle among the El Cielito producers, which makes sense since he has the most experience with drying coffee in the shade.
All of us went for a lengthy walk through their various farms and I was really impressed by both the condition of the farms and the size of the coming harvest.
I must admit that although I am proud of the effort I have put into Honduras and the results we have enjoyed, none of this would have been possible without the help and leadership of Benjamin Paz from Beneficio San Vicente (BSV). Benjamin’s father, Fidel, is one of the founders of BSV and is a well known and respected man in the Santa Barbara region. Fidel has helped many farmers come out of poverty and improve their living conditions. Benjamin’s focus at BSV has been to encourage coffee producers to make the effort and produce their coffee with more care so they can find a specialty buyer who will pay the producer a high price. Benjamin is genuinely interested in helping producers and works 100+ hours per week during the harvest period, spending time to connect specialty buyers with producers. In my case, Benjamin helps me with many logistics on the ground and is a source of information between myself and the producers throughout the year.
I had great visits with Wilmer and Donaldo Dubon, Elder Chavez, Benjamin Vallecillo, Isabel Teruer and my dear friends Moises Herrera and Marysabel Caballero, but those stories will have to wait for another post.
Thanks for reading.