by David Pohl
This week, my second of three on the ground in Panama, we had a visit from Edgardo Miranda, a well respected Panamanian agronomist and coffee producer. Edgardo has been visiting Finca Sofia since the day we bought it, and has been involved in the development of it from an unplanted piece of land to what it is today - something approaching a coffee farm.
Visits by Edgardo are always a mixed bag - we see what is working and what isn't. Having invested so much in Finca Sofia it is agonizing when things aren't going well - and indeed we have had more than our fair share of challenges, despite a lot of hard work and carefully considered decisions. On this visit, however, Edgardo had the feeling that Finca Sofia had actually turned some corners. While walking along, I heard him say, "You can stop worrying - this looks like a coffee farm!"
The sections that looked "critical" before looked "established" now. The sections of the farm that didn't have enough shade now had too much shade and needed to be cut back.
So said Edgardo, "From my perspective the farm is looking good . . . the are some details to attend to but in general it looks really good". Kelly was happy, I was happy, Helen, Brooke and Willem were happy when I reported this to them. While we know that we have a long row to hoe and that this farm is never really done, that this is "lifestyle" and a long term labor of love, it is gratifying for all involved to know that we are doing some things well.
So what does this upbeat assessment mean in the long run - well nothing really. I have heard too many reports of farmers that have lost their farms to plagues, financial missteps, or market fluctuations, to be too comforted by this report. All it means is that right now we are doing well, the farm is taking shape, the weather has been cooperating, and the hard work Kelly, Angel, Andres, Eligio, Abdis, Jesus, Franklin and Vicente dedicate to the farm 6 days a week is paying off.
In the "long-run" we will have to maintain a sense of urgency, adaptability, and patience for this to continue to be a success and to become a productive coffee operation. We also want to keep and support the workers we have that in many ways understand the farm - from the soil to the trees to the wildlife to the weather patterns - better than we do. They after all live on the farm, or close to it, and spend 8 hours a day 6 days a week traversing, working and monitoring it.
As such we know the farm will benefit immeasurably by keeping our "team" happy and engaged - which is why we are building what the locals are calling "5-star" worker housing. The "campamentos" as I have earlier reported are nicer than you normally find in Panama. We approached them with simplicity in mind, and by western standards they are basic, but the design is both creative and efficient, the materials are top-notch, and the process of building, which I have been a part of the past few weeks, is professional and intentional. The result is something we hope the workers can comfortably embrace as a true "home" for many years.
Regarding the campamentos, we had a big week - bad weather turned really good just as the workers that had "deserted" the work site the previous week returned (or their replacements showed up). By Friday afternoon a lot of cement was up on the walls, and I was feeling for the first time that I could step back and stop worrying "that not enough was happening".
Enrique, the general contractor for the project, was a little more relaxed, though he carries the weight of all of the upcoming details and probably wasn't as relieved as I was. Still, we all were talking about the roof Friday, which had to wait on until the first layer of cement was applied to the walls, and I'll be getting quotes on materials Monday. Once the roof is up the work site will be protected rain or shine, and things should move along more quickly.
After just two weeks on Finca Sofia I am struck by what a huge undertaking this is. Next week, as I wrap up my time here in Panama, I will reflect a little more one what I mean by this.