I want to introduce you all to Don Samuel Hidalgo. Samuel is the owner of the first coffee farm we visited, located forty-five minutes away from Salavdor Urbina in a little town called Las Palmas. One of the guys in the group with us, Robert, said Samuel "was his favorite" and I think we agree.
Don Samuel is one of the most productive coffee growers in the co-op, a taxi driver, a poet, husband to a sweet wife, father to a handicap son, and (in his free time) a semi-professional soccer player. On top of all this awesomeness, he gives 100% credit & glory to his Creator for the opportunities he's been given and the fertile land he works.
"I'm not a producer of coffee. God is the producer, I am a steward."
First thing Samuel showed us was his nursery. He explained to us that growers start their plants from seedlings and keep them in a nursery for one year. Once they're ready to be transplanted into the fields, they'll grow for two more years before they're able to produce. Fascinating! More on nurseries in a future post.
While walking through thousands of his coffee plants, Samuel explained to us why he chose to plant shade trees instead of banana trees (banana trees consume more water & nutrients from the earth that could instead be given to the coffee), how the ecosystem works to naturally compost the leaves fallen from the shade trees, how his product is 100% organic & chemical free (something the growers in Salvador Urbina are totally committed to, even if it means they lose part of their crop to plagues that could be prevented by chemicals). Samuel was super knowledgeable and was able to answer any & all questions we threw at him.
As we kept walking, we met up with some of the workers from Guatemala picking the cherries. It was explained to us that harvest is once a year, and that each harvest involves three pickings. At Samuel's farm, they were just beginning the second picking.
Before we knew it, a member of our group had strapped on one of the picking baskets and put himself to work! Not wanting to be left out on the experience, each of us took turns picking cherries. I'm sure those that do this every day were snickering at how fun we thought it was & how slow we were.
The Cherries are always picked by hand, poured into bags weighing about a hundred pounds, and flung on the backs of the pickers and carried to wherever they will be weighed. Sometimes that might only be a couple dozen meters, sometimes that might mean several kilometers. The strength of these people is astounding.
We were all happy to be invited back to Don Samuel's home for lunch after touring the farm. Another example of the hospitality and warmth we appreciated so much in Chiapas.