Melissa: I've been keeping in touch briefly with Megan as she navigates her winter escape from 44 North (Deer Isle) and ventures into the hills of Nicaragua (12 North). This email came in yesterday with some great photos from a coffee farm they recently visited. 44 North Coffee has not yet purchased green beans from the cooperative's of Nicaragua, but there is sure to be some more motivation to make this origin our part of our future purchases as Megan has now seen the farms and processing units with her own eyes. She speaks of the very hard working people in her email below. We hope to bring you more of this story upon her return. Enjoy!
After two weeks of anticipation, we arrive yesterday afternoon in the hills of Managua, Nicaragua's coffee country. As we deeded over high passes bouncing along pot-holed roads in a converted American school bus full past capacity with school children, businessman, women caring everything from bushels of bananas to bundled children--I was glued to the window. It is the end of the three month coffee harvest here and all the sacks of green beans are coming out of the mountains in truck beds and on the backs of donkeys. It seemed that every door-yard was covered in sun with drying coffee beans that were being raked and sorted in constant shifts.
Matagalpa is the 2nd largest city in Nicaragua but from its center it is hard to see the spiraling hills or houses. No building is more than three floors tall and I have yet to see a street sign or any formal directional assistance. After making several calls and visiting a indiscrip "coffee head quarters office," Abi (my wonderful friend and amazing translator) and I succeeded in finding the names of several farms in the surrounding towns that grow the organic coffee that 44 North's supplier buys. Two long (and loud) taxi rides and we were out of Matagalpa and into the hills. The flora is huge, prehistoric and feels ancient with the hanging moss and gnarled branches. In the town's center we meet Juan Miceal who gave us the directions to find La Raina (the Queen), a cooperative coffee community in the hills. One more bumpy bus ride and we meet Nilda at the gate.
La Raina was established 23 years ago with 5 families amongst the turmoil of the civil unrest in the region. Today there are about 300 members and 696 hectors of land, 200 of which are under strict conservation rules as the head waters supply the lower towns portable water. Nilda explained the structure of the cooperative from its two year termed presidents (both women and men have held this seat) to the arrival of a healthcare education program in which members of the community study disease or illness and then present to the community everything from the symptoms to diagnosis and treatment. The sense of communal sustainable integrity was daunting. She explained how members would take on a initiative, such as pursuing electricity (they had finally succeeded after 5 years of trying) to replanting indigenous trees.
As we ascended into the hills of coffee the sounds of jakatas and birds were defining, she showed us the composting and shade grown hectors of healthy glossy coffee plants and the fruit trees planted in-between to supply food for the birds and monkeys that would other wise eat the coffee cherries. We had arrived to the farm after the last of the five harvests so we did not see any of the red juice berries that she told us were the "gems" of the hills. Nilda had grown up on the cooperative before attending college for agriculture and arborist studies. She now was an active member of the cooperative working not only to pick coffee but also replanting native trees and working on interactive school programs teaching the children about organic growing methods and crop longevity. Our hike ended at the entrance--an old, and now flooded, mine and namesake of the La Rayna where there is still folklore of gold deposits hidden far under the hills. Nilda explained that this land in a previous life had many sores of destruction and mining, but that today among the thick canopy and diversity of animals and plants they were working very heard to establish a new value in the sustainable crop of coffee.
As we left and drove back over the hills to our hotel in Matagalpa, we shared Nilda's hope while watching the rays of sunlight radiating off the hills of coffee.