Over the weekend we hosted Juancho and Mary of CoffeeTripPR . Over the summer, we have become great friends through our shared interest in coffee and passion for Puerto Rico. CoffeeTrip organizes coffee related events around the island which are not only entertaining, but also provide coffee education and support local Puerto Rican businesses and the preservation of the island’s natural beauty. We’ve been very fortunate to develop this friendship with CoffeeTripPR and look forward to having them return this harvest season!
Today at Sandra Farms we worked on clearing one of the final major coffee fields—located just below the main house at 2100 feet elevation, the field harbors thousands of bourbon trees. This particular coffee brought over to Puerto Rico centuries ago from Yemen via France is one of the highest quality varietals of Arabica coffee. Hurricane Maria ravaged the fields of Israel’s 325 acre farm. Today it took several hours just to clear around 50 yards of heavily wooded trail ways. In addition to density of fallen trees, there were several land slides which created an approximate 15 feet of elevation on the trail. The excess earth brought down by the landslide will take several hours using a caterpillar machine to level out. Adding to the struggle, Israel is only able to employ 3 full time employees at the moment—his former employees lost their wooden homes entirely to the storm. The work their doing isn’t easy, but hopefully it will all be worth it by the end of this upcoming harvest season.
Today we had the pleasure of hosting local Rincon crochet artist, Cloud . She made the journey out to Adjuntas to personally deliver a beautiful crochet coffee tree branch as well as explore Sandra Farms. Cloud is definitely a nature lover - her appreciation for the abundant natural diversity at Sandra Farms and interest in the coffee producing process was very much appreciated. Being an organic, strictly-shade-grown coffee farm creates a robust ecosystem where a vast variety of plants and animals thrive (in contrast to farms that practice monoculture and pesticide/herbicide use).
With both Sandra & Israel having backgrounds in social work and rural community development, they essentially run Sandra Farms as a Social Enterprise. With the work they do here, they intent to educate and foster community growth. They also love serving, collaborating, partnering, and doing with as many local businesses as possible. It’s always a pleasure meeting creative people like Cloud and many Puerto Rican entrepreneurs. In addition to the the **VOLUNTEER PROGRAM** which we will be announcing in the next several days, we are also applying for a federal grant which will give Israel a greater capability to experiment, expand, and educate here in the farm, the the benefit of the wider community.
The new wave of eco/agro tourism in Puerto Rico has great potential to contribute sustainable and inclusive economic recovery for small businesses and individuals in the most remote or underserved areas of Puerto Rico.
However, there is still a difficult to describe, cultural kind of skepticism towards help from the outside. In Puerto Rico’s history of Spanish colonialism and then control by the U.S., the island has often been the victim of extractive relationships that use Puerto Rico without allowing for Puerto Rican’s to reap proportional benefits. However, the present and future of tourism seems to be rooted in appreciation of Puerto Rico’s natural beauty and interest in the rich culture of its people. Many small businesses like Sandra Farms have benefited from airbnb and other new tourism companies like spotinpr which is articulating a new model for tourism in Puerto Rico that empowers locals who would otherwise be cut out of the equation.
For Sandra Farms and other coffee haciendas on the island, eco/agro tourism can be a powerful source of stability to support the often unpredictable business of coffee production.
Today, I visited Guillermo Cardona of Hacienda Las Nubes. Cardona has been producing high quality, wet processed coffee with his wife, Maria, on their 7 acre farm for nearly twenty years. In the past, their coffee has scored as high as 92 (out of 100). At his small scale, he has experienced great success in specialty coffee, selling to clients in the mainland United States and Virgin Islands. Much of his success can be attributed to the thoughtful and disciplined manner in which he operates his business. Cardona says, he runs Hacienda Las Nubes as a business-- though that may seems obvious, he elaborates that most "farmers run their business as a farm". As an engineer and project manner in his previous profession, he looks at his farm through the same lens--aiming to operate as efficiently and optimally as possible.
If there is one thing I can say for certain, regarding agriculture or Puerto Rican entrepreneurship in general, it is that there is great potential everywhere. As I've mentioned with the "bills on the ground theory", there is plenty of opportunity laying around in nearly every conceivable nook and cranny. The same can be said for my current residence, here at Sandra Farms. Aside from a federal grant for small businesses in Puerto Rico that we're currently working on (with the help of some very generous entrepreneurs at the small business incubator space, Parallel 18) to supply funds that would allows Israel to renovate and reimagine the beneficiado as a full campus-style processing, evaluating, and education center, Israel is looking into other initiatives. He plans on replanting one of his best fields, the mountain leading up to Greenhaven. The field is ideally position at the farm's highest altitude and is also protected on one side from the sun for 50% of the day.
This morning, we sat with William & Jadier for our daily meeting over coffee. Before getting into the agenda for the week, we all discussed Tropical Storm Beryl (which was downgraded from that category) and the current status of the Puerto Rican people.
William explained his concern, despite the storm’s mild forecast—many of his friends are still living with “blue roof”, installed by FEMA for temporary shelter. This occurrence is far from an abnormality among William’s friends or residents of Adjuntas—throughout the island, many families are far from recovered from Maria or prepared for another storm.
After Maria, many skilled workers sought refuge on the mainland U.S. and have not returned, leaving a shortage of skilled laborers to repair the incredible amount of damage still present all over Puerto Rico.
Thankfully, the storm was very mild and there are currently great initiatives underway by very bright and capable nonprofits as well as social enterprises and individuals
Today we made our weekend trip to Rincon and delivered coffee to Alex and Sarah of Carta Buena. In addition to coffee, Israel also brought Alex some oranges and green papaya to try. After this "recovery year" Israel has plans to continue his plans for diversification by planting an abundance of papaya, oranges, yautia, and other crops that grow easily in Adjuntas with little maintenance. The yield will not be high enough to sell commercially, but it will allow Sandra Farms to offer some exciting and high quality exotic produce to his local specialty clients such as Carta Buena. The main crop focus will always be coffee, and to a similar degree, cocoa, but crops like these will round out his product line-up as well as support his brand values--based on high quality, socially conscious, and healthy living. Aside from his business motivations, Israel is deeply moved by a passion to be part of the small but vibrant community of Puerto Rican social entrepreneurs. His vision is in part to cultivate meaningful relationships with well meaning people.
This morning, my brother and I woke up early to begin clearing the scrap metal left by Hurricane Maria, near the beneficiado. The hope is to rebuild and add to the lookout point next to the beneficiado, as well as restore the hurricane torn home that was previously used as dwelling spaces for seasonal pickers.
We were able to get some work in before having to leave with Carmelo to head down the road to Hacienda Tres Angeles. Here, we met Juancho and Bryan (the people behind CoffeeTripPR and SpotinPR, respectively). They organized a coffee-centric event which would begin with a tour of Hacienda Tres Angeles (led by Juan & Naomi Melendez), followed by a trip to Charco Mango--a local watering hole in Adjuntas. The event was a tremendous success, in which over 40 people attended, learned, and enjoyed (the content as well as the people).
After staying overnight with my family in Aguadilla, I stopped by Las Ruinas. The historic site was once home to a lighthouse built by Puerto Rico’s former colonial rulers, Spain. Last time I visited, the former lighthouse was simply tucked away, deep down a rather treacherous trail neat Borinken beach. At the time, the structure appeared to be entirely uncared-for. However, now there is slight improvement-- a rope surrounding a pile of rubble left by Hurricane Maria, and a sign asking for visitors to leave the site how they found it.
For centuries now, Puerto Rico has existed under political and economic systems in which the island has been an unequal partner. Following the Spanish-American War, the U.S. took control of the island. Puerto Ricans were not granted citizenship until 1917, when it conveniently helped the American war effort. Currently, much of Puerto Rico’s residents are deeply entrenched in a pattern of dependence on American aid.
Today marks one month that I have spent in Puerto Rico at Sandra Farms. Thus far, I can sincerely say that the experience has far surpassed my expectations. I have been very fortunate to be able to connect with some of the most forward-thinking individuals involved not only in Puerto Rican coffee but also Puerto Rican entrepreneurship. After realizing the wealth of knowledge, experience, and thoughtful local people, I have decided to focus primarily on Sandra Farms, and the surrounding area for the first portion of my trip. The results and the relationships I have began to build are truly unbelievable. From conception, the plan to implement a volunteer pickers program is already nearing fruition. We are also in the process of applying for a USDA grant that will greatly increase the farm's capabilities. During this second month, I will be following through with these projects but will also be more active in visiting sever farms.