by David Pohl
We recently returned from Boquete Panama where we visited our fledgling coffee farm, Finca Sofia. Having bought a rugged, undeveloped piece of land 2000 meters above sea level two years ago with coffee consultant and friend Willem Boot, we realized on this trip that it had finally become something nearing a "real" farm. Until this point we had been engaged largely in the preparatory and legal work required to get the farm up and running - everything from hiring a farm manager to wading through government red tape to the painstaking selection and transplant of coffee seedlings. But it was evident this time around that since our last trip over the summer, Finca Sofia had been transformed and that in the next few years, fingers crossed, it would become a productive coffee farm.
Finca Sofia is located in the Volcan region of Panama, about an hour and a half from Boquete by road. The land ranges from 1950 to 2200 meters above sea level, very high by Central American standards, but Sofia has an ideal micro climate for coffee production due to a steep ridge at the top of the farm that serves as a barrier to the strong Atlantic winds blowing across the valley below, as well as fertile volcanic soils bestowed on the land by the majestic Volcan Baru. The Volcan region is known for good coffee, although the farm itself is surrounded mostly by small vegetable gardens and the Amistad National Park. In fact of the 19 total hectares, four are protected because Finca Sofia borders Amistad, the second largest national park in Panama, which is home to diverse flora and fauna. Our first round of planting focused on the geisha varietal, due to our love of this recently re-discovered coffee. Future plantings will incorporate other varietals as we discover what coffees the land excels at producing. We are under no illusions and realize that geisha is both tricky to cultivate and low yielding (some say 40% less than a typical tree), but we are continually working with some of the best coffee agronomists and farmers in Panama, and as a result of this we hope to acheive excellent results. Overall we are designing the farm to be both a model of quality and sustainability and are seeking to strike a careful balance between the two.
Here are some of the accomplishments we took note of on our recent trip, all of which were made possible by our farm manager, Kelly Hartmann, and his team: the successful transplant of 12,000 geisha coffee seedlings; the creation of crop rows that meander in correspondence with the natural curves of the terrain; incorporation of well defined paths between rows, intended to facilitate access; the planting of a variety of shade trees, some of which will bear fruit (avocado, papaya, mandarine) for the workers tending the land. In addition to the above we surveyed worker housing on farms in the region with and eye towards building our own. Accompanying us was Susan Chuch, an accomplished general contractor from the San Francisco Bay area, with a background in sustainable, culturally relevant building. With her presence and involvement we we discussed the issue of housing with our workers to find out what they would like incorporated into the final development. We came back with many ideas and will begin construction in the next year. We will update the progress of Finca Sofia as it unfolds, and will offer our first crop of coffee to our customers sometime in the next few years. Click here to see pictures.