Harvesting Coffee

The rains hadn’t stopped for over 2 weeks, as if the water from the sky had no limit. Short 1 hour intervals of cloudy sun were the only breath. But as we stayed warm and dry inside the leaf roofed house, the community members were happy.

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Deep periods of rain signaled a good return on harvest day. And this current seasonal cycle is coffee. From bush to berry to bean to brew, these native farmers have been producing and selling their coffee for several generations.

As the berries turn from green to orange to red, the moment for harvest ripen. With a good season of rain, the mature coffee trees all ripen simultaneously.. Meaning a plentiful return for the investors.

The first day the sky dries, we load the 15 foot weathered wooden boat with baskets and empty rice sacks. We mount the 15 horsepower yamaha motor, pour in two gallons of gasoline and set off for the farm up river.

dsc01909Not having the family farm within walking distance has its pros and cons. The pros include not having to carry laden packs on your back for several miles.. But a con is having your food source a full day trip away by boat.

 

There are four of us sitting low in the hand carved boat heading to harvest coffee. The farm owner and family patriarch Johnny Bonilla, his two teenage granddaughters and myself are present.

The old tree trunk boat cruises upriver under the watchful eye of Senor Bonilla while I gaze up into the trees along side the river. Parrots, sloths, monkeys, and snakes are all visible to the trained eye but I catch only a few.

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When we get to the farm it looks like any other untouched riverbank. But as we unload from the boat and climb up the bank past the first tree line, the jungle opens up. Lines of banana trees as far as the eye can see form a grid sprouting from the orange soil.

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Beside the several species of bananas there are fruit trees bearing lemon, orange, coconut, and palm fruit. In one area are potato like vegetables growing in large patches. All this food serves to nourish the Bonilla family throughout the year.

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Dividing the baskets and bags among ourselves, myself and the young women begin to work. With the basket tied around our waists to catch the berries, we go branch to branch dragging our hands down the slender limbs to knock off all the ripe berries.

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Slowly but surely, the basket fills up. And once full, we dump its contents into the rice sacks. The sacks then grow in size and number as the morning passes into early afternoon. By 3pm we have filled 15 sacks to the seams with ripe coffee berries. Around one thousand pounds of raw coffee berries.

With this harvest the family looks to make around $500..20% of their annual income. They will also have their daily coffee for free for the next 4 months.

Organic and free!

 

Learn more about the processing practices by reading an amazing photo essay by a current Peace Corps Volunteer in the Comarca region.

https://www.peacecorps.gov/stories/photo-essay-journey-coffee-rural-panama/

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