By Karen Lickteig, Marketing Director
In 1991, Bayardo Reyes purchased a parcel of land high in the remote mountains near Matatgalpa, Nicaragua—the town where we grew up. Situated at 1200 meters above sea level, the land was well-suited for growing coffee, and his intention was to build a coffee farm. He named his new farm Finca San Jose after his family’s coffee estate that was confiscated during the Nicaraguan civil war of the 1970s.
I had the pleasure of both spending a week learning from and with Bayardo during a coffee tour to some of our farm partners in Guatemala, as well as visiting Bayardo’s farm in Nicaragua for a short time this past summer. What I saw was inspiring and eye-opening, and deeply humbling. It gave me a new perspective on coffee and life, and the importance of why we do what we do in coffee.
Improving Quality of Life on the Farm
The land Bayardo purchased was a lot to look at - beautiful and lush trees and grasses, and located in the cloud forests where a persistent fog hangs over the hills and tops of trees - where the farm gets the final part of its name “de las Nubes” (of the clouds). But while it was naturally stunning, when he purchased the land, it did not have any buildings or infrastructure. Bayardo hoped to get back to his family’s roots of coffee farming, and what he hoped even more was to provide a better quality of life for the people in that community and who worked on his farm. “On my farm, I see coffee as a tool to improve people’s lives,” Bayardo says.
Over the past quarter-century, Bayardo has undertaken, little by little, many improvements on the farm. He has put up structures and housing, sanitation facilities, a farm kitchen, and most recently, a schoolhouse for local children. He has given his farm workers mattresses for sleeping and food for eating. He has imported solar panels, car batteries, an alternator and a wind turbine to provide electricity on the farm. He has provided support for a nearby community health clinic, for which other neighboring farms have pooled resources to provide crucial services to their community. A huge and necessary undertaking has been completing the road leading to the farm and the access roads around it used to transport coffee. And with the help of his brother Alvaro and young farm manager Hilda, they have also learned more about coffee and elevated the quality of their export product year after year.
Festa Holiday Blend & Giving Back
In 2016, Nossa Familia created our first holiday blend, and we knew that we wanted to have a component of that coffee be giving back to a producer. Since Augusto Carneiro founded Nossa Familia in 2004, his intention has always been to form meaningful relationships and improve lives through coffee. In that way, his and Bayardo’s visions for their work are very much in alignment, and we knew that Bayardo's farm would be the perfect inaugural recipient of Festa giveback funds.
Based on Augusto’s visit to Finca San Jose in 2014, and some long conversations with Bayardo about where things were at on the farm, we determined that the area needing the most assistance was the farm kitchen, which I got the chance to see during my visit a few months ago. Last year, we donated an initial $1500 plus $0.50 per bag of Festa that we sold, for a total of $2110, to begin the project of building a new kitchen and working to improve food and nutrition for the farm workers.
Breaking Ground on a New Kitchen
The current kitchen is in a sad state. It is a small, charred, makeshift building with dirt floors and a wood-burning stove. It does not have proper ventilation, so when the cook is at work - basically all day, everyday - it is filled with smoke. The cook, Raquel, also has two young children - Yesling and Samir - and the three of them live in the same building as the kitchen. The children are just constantly breathing that smoke, and as I watched Yesling and Samir play, run around the farm, and do their schoolwork on the small porch, you could occasionally hear the coughing that no doubt comes from a lifetime of living in a smoke-filled home.
With help from the funds that we were able to provide through the first year of Festa, Bayardo’s crew has been able to break ground and complete the retaining walls of the new kitchen. He is also thinking bigger and more long-term than just a kitchen, and the new building will essentially be like a farm community center. It will have a kitchen with updated equipment and ventilation, refrigeration and more modern stove, seating for group meals with the farm workers, areas for hand washing, and a porch for relaxation and enjoying company. Bayardo shared the plans for the kitchen with us, below. The work on the building itself will be completed not by an outside construction crew with heavy machinery over a short time, but little by little, by the hands of residents and employees of Finca San Jose.
Growing Food & Improving Nutrition
Another project that goes hand-in-hand with updating the kitchen is continuing to educate on and improve the quality of food and nutrition for the folks who live on the farm. One difficult aspect of living so remote from a town or city is not having a variety of foods available all the time. Bayardo has set aside a portion of land and started to grow a wider variety of vegetables, such as yucca, squash, malanga, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, and bananas. We are happy to partner with the organization Food 4 Farmers, a nonprofit working in Nicaragua on improving food security and decreasing malnourishment particularly among coffee farmers.
How You Can Help
We hope that this holiday season we can raise even more money from our Festa Holiday Blend to go toward this project. Not only will $0.50 of every bag go directly to the farm project, but a third of the blend itself is comprised of Bayardo’s own coffee from Nicaragua. The main way that coffee can improve quality of life for farmers is not just through donation projects here and there, but by consistently purchasing higher-quality and more conscientiously-sourced coffee. As roasters and consumers, we must demand a higher standard for our coffee. In these ways, we will continue to work to fulfill our collective visions that coffee is so much more than a delicious beverage, but can truly be a tool to help improve people’s lives.