Today marks the first day the finca is harvesting coffee under its own steam, a day that five years ago seemed so far away. There have been many milestones these past weeks which left little energy to blog. It was simply enough to get through it all.
I did finally get my DUI, export license, and every possible legal document needed to get us underway. It meant many days up in the capital scurrying around to different government offices, combined with the four drive up and back. But it's done! The finca coffee has been officially registered under the name, "Tecapa Blue," representing the Tecapa-Chinameca coffee region of Eastern El Salvador. We sent off another shipment of coffee to Chicago, and got a nice write-up in the Chicago Tribune. The coffee was packaged in the fabric bags made by the local women here in Tecapan and woven by the men of San Sebastian. Doing a little math the other day, I calculated that every time someone purchases a 1lb. bag of Tecapa Blue, they are making a difference in the lives of approximately 318 people. I heard yesterday, the coffee is selling well in Chi-town and my buyer is quite happy.
The four thousand cacao trees I planted 3 and half years ago are finally producing. It will not be a great yield yet, but the majority of trees are bearing fruit, and some are quite impressive. Another long-awaited venture requiring all my patience and turning a deaf ear to endless advice that would have had me going in a dozen directions. It's best to let nature take care of its own sometimes.
The women showed up at 6am this morning to begin the harvest, and many brought their children who are off for the holidays. Beto took roll and emphasized how important it was this year to only pick ripe red cherries. No green would be allowed. He explained the entire harvest will exported to the US for the first time, and the quality of the beans is highly important. The women balked at first, but came around at the thought that this could only mean something good in the future.
The women bring their breakfast with them, and that is the first order of the day. They sit on the ground in groups having coffee, sweet bread, and tortillas while catching up on the local gossip. There is plenty of that at the moment, as Tecapan is in the middle of their week-long fiesta and someone was murdered late last night. A young man of 23 was found outside the mayor's office with his throat slit. I was up last night and remembered hearing a siren, perhaps an ambulance which is not a normal sound in this quiet littlte town. The fiesta is usually a happy time and tonight is the final celebration with five bands and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. I am planning to attend, but will make sure I'm safely back on the finca before it gets too late.
After breakfast, the women strapped their baskets to their waists held by a sling around their neck. Beto called the women in the order they showed up. I was surprised to find out how well planned the work is. I was always under the impression that the pickers just worked an area, harvesting which ever tree suited them. The coffee trees like most crops are planted in evenly spaced rows. Beto assigned one women at the beginning of every row. That would be their work line for the day. Meanwhile the children ran around delighted to have such open spaces to play. Their only task in helping their mothers, was to carry spare empty sacks and water bottles. We do not employ child labor here!
Before walking away from the field this morning, I turned around to see the tops of coffee trees dancing and shaking while the women invisibly picked the beans. It made me think of a harvest dance and even the trees could join in. I'm sure if I was a tree, I would dance a little myself at the thought of being free of all those beans. I could look forward to a period of rest. After all, this was a hard year with the early rains and hurricane Ida.
Senor Leonardo has agreed to help me create an incentive plan for Beto and the boys, and I am ever so grateful. He is a clever man with a gentle hand, and the boys are already very fond of him. I introduced the general concept to Beto this morning, since I am requiring his assistance in mapping and collecting data from this years harvest. When I told him that these efforts would ultimately reward him and the men, a big smile broke out on his face. He suddenly seemed energized and praised the idea. He said he was looking forward to working with Senor Leonardo. Do I sense a slight touch of relief from Beto that he would rather work with a man? I know the men are loyal and would do anything for me, but in a machismo world, perhaps some things are very slow to change.
The thirteen women that showed up today returned to the hacienda around 1pm this afternoon with bulging sacks. In total, they picked 2,055lbs. I know I was impressed and we are expecting more women tomorrow. A few seemed to have missed the announcement about not picking green beans and Beto took them aside to clarify the new guidelines. It took two trips to the mill and the men have just returned with the washed coffee. Evers, who fashioned three rakes from a felled tree has begun the job of spreading the beans over our new cement patio.
Evers, Vigil, Carlito, and Mario all took turns sleeping in the corn field last night. The finca corn has been picked from the stalks and left in big piles until the thresher arrives on Friday. They make an easy target to steal, so the boys are guarding the corn 24/7. I made four potfuls of coffee last night and sent them packing with pan dulce.
The men made beds from the bean vines and I have to admit, they were very soft when I tested them this morning. I wondered if I could have made it through the night sleeping in a corn field. I doubt it. Their campfire was still smoking from last night and a nearby tree held an assortment of bottles, blankets, clothing, and bags of tortillas hung from the branches. When the men came back to house this morning to wash up, they reported they caught seven suspicious characters hovering near the field with sacks.
December, I think, is the best month here on the finca. Aside from the coffee harvest, and the fiesta in town, all the families that rent land to grow corn and beans have been camping out here while working their patch of land. There are endless trucks passing by the house to cart the corn, husks, and beans off to market. The humidity is gone along with the intense heat and mosquitoes. My poinsettia trees are in full bloom and stand 10 feet tall. The tanks are full of water for the upcoming dry season, and we will be able to begin the coffee and cacao nursery. It is a time to be grateful and wear a smile.