Monday, August 1, 2016

Coffee Class is Now in Session

Prior to a recent phone conversation with Russell, everything I knew about coffee I learned from Juan Valdez, on a highly successful advertising campaign from my childhood. In short, I didn’t know beans about coffee production. Russell filled in the chinks in my coffee education, at least where the Sowers4Pastors’ Coffee Project is concerned. Now I shall attempt to do the same for you.

Altitude is Everything

Most coffee is grown in central South America, and, contrary to what Juan Valdez may have led you to believe, it doesn’t have to come from Colombia to be good. The Sowers’ coffee farm is at the lower limit of high altitude for raising a quality, higher end product. And, by higher end, we’re talking about a slightly better quality than Starbucks and basic grocery store brands. Russell is quick to point out they are not trying to produce and sell $30 a pound, artisan coffee. Why not? Because, the quality of coffee all goes back to the altitude at which it is grown. You might say, where coffee is concerned, altitude is everything!

Plant By Numbers

Full disclosure: Sometimes when people start throwing around numbers, my brain hears “math,” and sort of shuts down. So there’s a chance I don’t have the precise statistics, but let’s give it a go. Don’t worry. This information will not be on the test, but it is pretty cool!

Our 2016 Coffee Seedling Nursery: Photo Credit Rachel Bidwell
The Coffee Project has 40,000 coffee trees currently planted. That’s twenty acres, in case you were wondering. They are about to put in ten to twelve more acres. Nursery seedlings were planted in January and transplanted into bags in late March and early April. At the beginning of September, those 24,000 baby plants will be transplanted into the ground. That’s mighty impressive when you consider they had 8 acres planted in 2014 and 12 acres in 2014.

Currently, there are about a dozen men on the payroll, working to prepare the ground--spraying vitamins and  minerals, fertilizing, and clearing out weeds. At the beginning of August, they will begin digging holes, 12” deep by 8” wide, for the new plants. As mentioned earlier, those plants will go in the ground in September. That’s just in time for the rainy season.  

A Look to the Future

In mid to late October, harvesting will begin on the coffee planted in 2014. Russell expects to have ⅓-½ of a full harvest. It’s normally four years before coffee yields a complete harvest. For now, anything above ⅓ means they are ahead of schedule. By next year, the harvest should be about ¾ of the full amount.

Harvesting actually occurs on four different occasions, because you pick the berries as they ripen. First you pick for a week. Then there’s a two week break from picking. Pick for a second week. Then there’s a two week break. Well, you get the idea. The first and fourth harvests are on the small side, while the second and third are larger.

As the newer plants mature, there will be a much larger harvest, employing about 50 people for 3 - 4 months. That’s about three years down the road. In talking to Russell, I was struck by the fact that this venture will not only bring in cash for the ministry, it is also employing some hard working men in Western Honduras. By next year, the number of employed laborers should be at about twenty-five. After that, there should be about forty men picking the fields by hand and doing all of that coffee stuff that Russell and Juan Valdez taught me about!

Take That, Juan Valdez!

Here’s a little coffee trivia for you:

  • Coffee plants are planted in a nursery nine months before being planted in the ground.
  • The average “life expectancy” of a coffee plant is 25-30 years. Then it is cut down and some young, new, whippersnapper of a plant takes its place.
  • Plants are pruned about every five years.
  • For the Coffee Project, labor is by far the biggest expense. Approximately ¼ of the money goes to pay the men.
  • A coffee coyote is someone who makes money buying coffee, doing some of the processes, and selling it.

Sell It Like It Is

In case you’re standing around with an empty coffee cup in your hand wondering where this coffee will be sold, you should know the Sowers haven’t quite gotten that far yet. There is a good chance it will be sold to a local person, who will in turn sell it to an exporter. It would be cost prohibitive for Sowers4Pastors to take on the project of exporting it, and as much as they would love to fill your mug, that probably won’t be happening in the immediate future. But don’t you feel well educated in coffee?

Class dismissed. - posted by Christi

1 comment:

Wendrie Heywood said...

Fascinating stuff Christi - thanks for the lesson. Still think it would be fun to be able to do coffee as gifts for large donors. Really like that it is another way that the Sowers are bringing industry and work to rural Honduras.