Back from the Road: Honduras, Part 2
I put together a few photographs from my recent trip to Finca El Puente in Marcala, Honduras, where the Caballero-Herrera family continues the quest to continue improving one of Central America's most celebrated coffees. The floral aromas wafting from a hot cup of the farm's coffee may be but a distant memory for you so many months after we sold out of last year's lot, but here in the Coffee Department, Moisés and Marysabel are much on our minds these days because January and February represent the peak of the harvest at Finca El Puente, as well as in most of the northern hemisphere's coffee-growing regions, and we're anxious to see what this year brings.
We have worked with Finca El Puente since 2006. Peter and I made our first trip to meet Marysabel, Moisés, and their family in the spring of 2007 on an exhilarating trip. Looking back, I can't believe that we were able to fit as many sights and activities into the few days we spent with them as we did, but it's consistent with my experiences across countries and relationships that the first visit is a whirlwind of activity – so much to see and it's all so new! – that barely fits into the days allotted.
Conversation we have time for ends up taking place in the car between activities or on the way to the airport, and only on subsequent visits can everyone – farmers and producer relations managers alike – relax enough to spend time just sitting and talking. These discussion-heavy visits are more difficult for me to describe enthusiastically than the first glimpse of a waterfall or the discovery of an unexpected coffee variety, but they are undoubtedly a more valuable feature of my travel and of this company's business model than anything I could capture on the first visit.
I had a lot to talk about this year with Moisés and Marysabel, not so much in terms of Finca El Puente's coffee quality, which we expect will be better than ever, but rather because recent volatility in the coffee commodity market continues to have us all puzzled. How will record-breaking high prices affect costs of individual farmers? Will fair trade co-operatives be able to convince farmers to stand by their commitment to quality even in the face of easy money from local buyers?
We're on pins and needles as we wait to see how much coffee is available and how it tastes, and from farmer to buyer, everywhere I look I see the same mix of curiosity, anxiety, and frustration at how the beyond-our-control factors of the market impact our ability to do our work well.
Lest I set you all a-worrying, let me explain that I bring up the market's instability in order to give an explicit example of why long-term relationships like the one we have Finca El Puente are valuable for all of us: because real sustainability means knowing, as a grower, that your buyer is committed to your coffee no matter how cheap coffee might be in other coffee-growing countries or regions. Likewise, real sustainability means knowing, as a buyer, that you'll get the same great coffee from the growers you trust, no matter how easy it might to sell that coffee elsewhere for a lot less effort.
The best moment of my trip occurred mid-morning on my third day at the farm as I sat at the dining room table in the middle of a long discussion about prices, hopes, and expectations with Marysabel, Moisés, and Fabio and I suddenly realized that the conversation we were struggling through could never have happened on the trip I made in 2007. The four years and four visits since then have made it possible to arrive at that point, and I felt so thankful for each one of them.
I couldn't capture that experience on film, unlike that of seeing a waterfall (which is still breathtaking, even after you've seen it three years in a row, mind you), but for me, that dining-table moment will be as important to the experience of enjoying Finca El Puente's delicious coffee in 2011 as the information about coffee variety, altitude, climate, and processing methods that I collected the first time I visited.
I hope you enjoy the photos! Stay warm!
Saludos, Kim Elena