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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Living at the Mercy

Each night in Origin as we traveled back to the hotel on our buses, we engaged in reflection and discussion about our day.

Sometimes our sentiments were uplifting, and shared of the passion that we felt or the excitement and the energy that infused us. Other times our sentiments were heavy, full of deeper levels of contemplation, of appreciation for the lives lived that make coffee possible.

One of the words that struck me at the end of the third day, and that has continued to resonate in my consciousness, is Mercy.

You see, in coffee farming, numbers are everything. Where the peg falls on this board determines your livelihood. It is the difference between a good year, and a bad year. It dictates if you can put food on your table to feed your family, and buy the fertilizer you need to feed your crops, in an attempt to do it all again next year.

In coffee, you live at the mercy.

You are at the mercy of the coffee leaf rust fungus, that can plague your crops when it is dry.

You are at the mercy of the american leaf spot fungus, that can plague your crops when it is wet.

You are at the mercy of the nematoads, that can plague your crop from the ground.

You are at the mercy of the broca beetle, and its eggs that destroy your beans.

You are at the mercy of the market, and volatile swings in coffee prices.

You are at the mercy of the laborers, and their ability to pick only ripe cherries.

Youare at the mercy of the rain gods, and their providing the water that you need.

You are at the mercy of the co-op, and access to the wet mill for processing.

You are at the mercy of the city, and her constant calling to sell off your land for development.

You are at the mercy of the coffee board, and the soundness of the advice given out to your region.

You are at the mercy of the exporter, and the agreement he negotiates on your lot.

You are at the mercy of your children, and their commitment to be a part of it all.

You are at the mercy.

Do you ever think about it? How closely each one of us actually lives to this life, without even knowing it or appreciating it? The idea that any of us lives in a state of less mercy than our coffee farmers is simply an idea of illusion.

We are all connected in this sate of living at the mercy, much more deeply than any of us care to realize or remember. That paycheck you rely on from your employer? You are living at that businesses’ mercy. That hurricane that devastated your family’s home? You are living at nature’s mercy. That person you rely on for childcare? You are living at a young woman’s mercy. That market crash that devastated your retirement savings? You are living at the economy’s mercy.

The only difference between you and the farmers, is the courage that they have to live life at the mercy so purely, so overtly, so completely.

No frills. No safety net. No escape plan. You have every inch of your skin in the game.

It’s no wonder the Costa Rican’s live by the saying “Pura Vida.” Their farmers live the purest, most courageous life I can imagine.

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What is a Miracle?

As a writer, I sometimes find myself compelled to create things, to put words down, even though I’m not exactly sure why. I’m not exactly sure what it is I need to say so badly, what it is I am trying to express – there are simply words there, somewhere deep inside, asking to be written. And so I write them.

I find this often happens to me in life as a whole. In moments I don’t quite expect, when I can’t quite be sure why, I will find myself compelled to make a particular decision, go to a certain place, talk to a certain person.

And what I’ve learned is that, if I obey the calling, if I listen to my heart and follow her lead, I find myself directly in the middle of a miracle.

What is a miracle?

I will ask you to tell me.

When you look out into the world, what miracle is it that you see?

In your day? In your life? In your week?

For me, on Tuesday night, it began when I sat in my hotel room at the Marriott San Jose at a ridiculously late hour. I had been fighting a headache most of the day, brought on by the disruption to my normal coffee routine (you never mess with a Starbuckian’s coffee routine). I had taken a few pain killers, and yet still no relief. Later that evening, while mingling with the other partners who had recently arrived here in Origin with me, I half jokingly said I would write another blog post if my headache cleared up.

A few hours later, it did. Apparently my heart wasn’t kidding when she asked me to start writing…

And so despite the late hour, despite the looming arrival of an early morning and a full day, I sat down and wrote.

I wrote because of that voice, that little intuition inside had been pestering me all day. “Write some fiction, it’s been too long, you know,” she said. “Just a short story, it will hardly take you any time. Tonight you have the freedom, the liberty, to tell any story you want about the farmers. No truth, just imagination. Write.”

My mind protested my heart’s encouragement. “But I have no idea what I am even writing. What story am I supposed to tell?” I asked her.

“Don’t you worry about that, just write. I promise you, you will know what to say,” she responded.

And so I did. I sat in my hotel room, in the heart of this beautiful country, and I sunk into the moment; into the breeze floating through the terrace window, into the sounds that color the darkness of the night, into the ten years of imagination and coffee knowledge that has been brewing in my mind. I called the words forward and I wrote.

What emerged was a story about a fictional character named Romero, an expression and an illustration of the love that I imagine a coffee grower has for his trees, for his farm, for his living.

It was two days later, that I realized I had mis-named my fictional character, and that in fact he was not fiction at all.

I stood at the Chacon family farm on Thursday while Ernesto, the owner, told us the details of his life. As he explained about the terrible impacts of the coffee leaf rust fungus, his son, Alonzo, heir to the family’s 10 acre farm, pulls a branch off a nearby tree to show us the disease.

He holds it up on display, eager to share about his family’s hardships and realities with the group of 50+ onlookers. Ernesto then continues talking about the farm, and all attention turns back to him. But I am still watching Alonzo.

I am watching Alonzo, off to the side, as he begins to turn the branch over in his hands, examining the stems and the leaves, lost in a world of his own.

ElAmordeAlonzo

Time stands still as he stares down at the branch, twirling it quietly between his two calloused fingers. I look at him and I see only one thing:

Love.

On Tuesday night, I thought I had written a work of fiction.

It turns out I had written a work of truth; I just hadn’t met the main character yet.

And that, my friends, is a miracle to me.

 

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Don’t Forget the Roots

I stood in a coffee field today, in the back-yard of a small-stake farmer named Ernesto. I walked through his garage, past his bright blue “camion” to get there. Past his son, his grand-daughters, his daughter-in-law, his wife. Past his house-plants, his patio; the man’s whole life.

As I was nestled deep amongst the coffee trees, I engaged in another conversation with Orlando, half my broken Spanish, half his broken English. It amazes me how much two people can communicate on halves; a miracle, really. This time, he pulled back a tree and kneeled down into the dirt, and summoned me to follow.

He carefully brushed back the top soil around the base of the plant and began to explain to me about the root system of the coffee plant. He pointed to the white roots, referencing that this indicates they are healthy and active; able to take up the nutrients that they are fed.

“It is unbelievable,” he tells me in Spanish, “I have talked with farmers who have been in this business for 10, 20, 30 years or more, and they have never looked at the roots of their coffee plants. You see, it doesn’t matter how much you fertilize, if your plants don’t have healthy, active roots that can actually take up the nutrients. They don’t know this, they don’t realize. For 30 years or more they only look at the leaves, at the top of the plants, above the ground.”

I nod and indicate my understanding as he explains, actively listening and reflecting back to him my understanding of what he is saying with incorrectly conjugated verbs and a much simpler Spanish vocabulary. He lights up and smiles, and I know I have understood correctly.

I begin to process it all. Decades and decades of farming knowledge…and they’ve never looked at the roots?

How often, I wonder, do we do this in life? Do we overlook the root systems of our lives, or families, our work, ourselves? How often do we fail to see the whole picture? To nurture ourselves below the ground? What nourishment are we missing out on in our lives, because we have failed to cultivate the health of our own root systems?

It made me remember just how easy it is to get lost in our own worlds. How easy it is to be stuck within our own mindsets, our own traditions. And without the proper support, without that third party, that person to push us and expand us and help us see, we will never notice.

It made me remember, just how much power, how much potential, each of us holds to change the life of another, to help them see something differently so that they can grow.

Did you hear me?

Each of us holds the power to change the life of another; to help them see something differently so that they can grow.

Now get out there and change someones life. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the roots…

 

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Make Solutions

Earlier this year, when I spent a few days gathering magazine clippings to make my 2013 vision board, I stumbled across a fantastic quote, amongst an article centered around things to do instead of making the standard New Year’s resolution.

This quote was two astonishingly simple words, that came to life today in a way that I never could have imagined:

MAKE SOLUTIONS

Don’t make resolutions, make solutions.

Don’t push things to the future, take action now.

Be a doer. Be a mover. Be a shaker.

Get out there and just DO something already.

Make. Shit. Happen.

Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce you to Orlando and Carlos, two agronimists who are doing exactly that for our farmers here in Costa Rica:

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They are doing something that nobody else in the world is doing; something that is helping to solve problems, and better secure the livelihoods of the coffee farmers here in Costa Rica. And they can do it because they have the backing of such an incredible company as Starbucks.

They are making solutions.

For the past seven years, these two have worked tirelessly to develop a new hybrid of coffee plant, that can stand up to the various diseases that plague farmers here in Costa Rica, such as a fungus called coffee leaf rust. A plant that requires no irrigation and no shade. A plant that grows hearty and thick, and with incredible consistency. And most of all, a plant that produces the incredible quality coffee that Starbucks demands in the cup.

While other companies throw money into research, and testing soils, and more fungicides and fertilizers, Starbucks has two agronomists on the ground, out there doing.

It may sound like a simple thing, but this is big. Very big. One quick Wiki search and you can begin to understand the impacts that coffee rust has on farmers across many, many growing regions.

And here Starbucks is, making a difference. We are enabling two partners, two of the most knowledgeable minds at the forefront of coffee, to change the face of the industry. To develop a better quality plant that can address the unique needs in this country, that can achieve the quality in the cup that we will purchase, and ultimately, that will better secure a future and a livable life for our farmers.

Is your mind blown yet? Mine is.

What solutions did YOU make today?

 

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Tomorrow: Truth. Tonight? Fiction.

To me, coffee is all about stories. In fact, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that really, all of life is about stories. It’s about the stories we tell and the people who color them. It’s about the relationships and interactions that fill the basis for those stories.

Origin is no different.

The next three days are going to fill my head with wonderful stories, touching stories, enlightening stories. True stories.

Tonight, however, before all that magic begins to swirl, there is an opportunity. An opportunity to tell a completely different story. A fabricated story. A work of fiction, entirely from scratch, based only on the sights, sounds and smells of a foreign country…and my imagination. I hope you enjoy…

Romero
The wind flutters the curtains as a strong gust races across his desk. Invisible to the eye, the warmth and humidity takes it’s shape in surrounding objects, dancing across scattered sheets of paper, catching the curve of a pen and rolling it into a glass with a subtle clank.

In his exhaustion and haze he doesn’t react, too buried in the piles of notes and scribbled numbers that are the lifeblood of his farm. The breeze seems offended, and offers a gust bolder than the last, as if to demand his attention. As it once again collides the pen with the glass, a much sharper note is offered and Romero takes pause.

He leans back in the old chair at his desk, the wood ceremoniously creaking in response to the shifts in his weight. He stretches both arms over back of his head and he turns to look out over the terrace, the sounds of crickets and various native bugs filling the darkened void with enough noise to color the scenery. With a deep breath in, he closes his eyes, and quiets the chatter of his mind.

He quiets the buzz of numbers; all the estimates he’s been running, and predictions on yield. He quiets the drone of bills; the charges owed on the recent upgrades in milling equipment, and necessary maintenance all around. He quiets the rustle of paperwork; the notes from local co-ops, and buyers around the globe. With a single exhale and a creak of the chair, he quiets the noise of it all…and listens.

He listens for her asks. He listens for her needs. He listens for the quiet messages that she needs him to hear. And in that beautiful emptiness of silence, his beloved coffee farm speaks, with a balanced humidity in her breath, not too damp, not too dry. She speaks and sings to him the songs of her ecosystem, alive with diversity and health, with each creature awake and fully alive, a chorus of vitality. She speaks, and in her own quiet way, offers thanks to him for his patience, and dedication to her care.

“I love you,” he says with a deep sigh, and clicks off the light.

 

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‘Twas the Night Before Origin…

‘Twas the Night Before Origin, and all through the house
She was finishing packing: shoes, socks, shirt and blouse
She placed her full backpack by the front door with care
For in spite of the snowstorm she would soon be there

She climbed under the covers, all snug in her bed
While visions of coffee farms danced in her head
She pulled her computer up into her lap
And settled her brain on a Costa Rica map

Then out in the alley there arose such a clutter
She sprang out of her bed to see what was the matter
Away to the window she flew like a flash
She tore open the shutters and threw up the sash

The moon brighly shining on new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below
When, what to her wandering eyes did appear
But a big coffee tree, she could see it quite clear

Bright red berries throughout, ripe and ready to pick
She knew in a moment she had to act quick
There was no hesitation, this wasn’t a game
She had to get picking, five pounds was her aim!

Move faster! Reach higher! Now look at her go!
First three pounds! Then four pounds! Now five pounds in tow!
To the top of the mill! Don’t trip, and don’t fall!
We must process and ferment and dry-out them all!

Her eyes how they twinkled, her smile – how merry!
As she carefully sorted and weighed out each cherry
How she picked quite so many she just did not know
What a miracle it was, how much one tree could grow grow

Just then she awoke, and recounted her dream
A coffee tree in Boston? What a sight to have seen!
One thing was for certain, she knew she would soon be
In Costa Rica on a real-life coffee picking spree!

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Uncategorized