Honduras Diaries, Part III: The Millionaires

Our coffee director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, traveled to Honduras and El Salvador last month to meet with some of the farms we work with. This is the third in a series of his travel diaries.

Capucas, Honduras. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Capucas, Honduras. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

One of my business mentors along the way said, “if you get enough people what they want, you will eventually get what you want.” In coffee it couldn’t be more true. After my day with Renan I spent one cold wet day in Capucas and then one day in La Labor. The climates couldn’t have been more different.

Capucas is between 1300 and 1600 meters and spends a lot of time in the clouds. The farmers there have a fantastic co-op and many are quadruple certified: Rainforest Alliance, Organic, Utz and Fair Trade. The Fair Trade premiums have provided the income to build a new wet mill and improve their dry mill.

The soil and terrain in Capucas is perfect for coffee. Lots of rain, abundant shade, great varieties, and the farmers own enough land to make a living. It reminded me of a cloud forest in Costa Rica—misty and cold. I told one of our partners there that they are millionaires. They can wake up to healthy air and pure water on their farms every day, coffee is profitable and they even make enough to own a nice pickup truck. The community leaders are charismatic salesmen who produce organic coffee using all kinds of advanced techniques.

Washing channel in Capucas. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Washing channel in Capucas. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Organic coffee production requires a lot of creative inputs. They can’t go to the agro supply store and buy a product for a specific issue, like roya for example. They have to work with their environment to find ways to make the plants healthier. One new technique that I’ve heard about a few times is called M.M. They are mountain micro-organisms. The idea is to create a healthy natural blend of bacteria and fungus for foliar sprays and fertilizers. In theory it is simple. Go in to the natural forest, find white fungus and bacteria that are in decomposing leaves and put them in an anaerobic tank for 15 days with sugar and wheat flour. This will make them multiply. Add that solution to an organic fertilizer (like processed coffee fruit) and spray it on the plants. I was talking with a certification expert there and they make 16 different organic products using M.M.s as the base. The coffees here are delicious. Looking at micro-lots they have all the top farmers separated and there is one micro-region in particular that I really like: it is sweet, acidic, complex with notes of red and blue berries and has a thick base of chocolate that supports the symphony of flavors. Let’s just say I really like that particular micro-region with in Capucas.

Jump in a 4-wheel drive pickup for a couple hours and drive west to La Labor and the environment is another story. The elevation is a bit lower and the climate totally different. The grasses look dry, the dominant naturally growing tree is pine, and there isn’t as much rainfall. Here in a different co-op they are making 4 different products from the coffee pulp: ethanol, worm compost, bio-gas, and a foliar (leaf) spray for the coffee trees. At this particular co-op, about half the farmers are Organic Certified and the coffees didn’t have the same, bright sweet citric notes that some Capucas coffees had. The coffees were a bit more base-y and had more chocolate tones. The Roya has been hard on this region as well. But the plants that have been treated with the spray have been recovering remarkably from the Roya. I asked one of the managers from the co-op, Roberto Salazar, if coffee could be produced organically on any farm worldwide? After a long pause, he said, “If you start with soil that is weak, it would be very difficult to produce coffee organically.” His farm has a fantastic production level and is sustainable in every way.

Stay tuned for Part IV of Byron’s Honduras & El Salvador trip, coming soon.