Since I will be heading down to the farm again two days from now, I sat down with Cori Ready, to discuss the answers to some frequently asked questions. Here's what she asked me:
How far have you come with the planting of the trees and soil improvements?
Overall we have planted 9000 trees since 2015, we have 600 left. Mainly they are Geisha trees that we planted in the fields in February 2018. Some of the shade trees we have planted have survived and some have not. At the moment, the shade trees are being eaten by ants. In terms of the soil improvement, we have managed to increase the microbial biomass slightly. It’s nowhere near where it should be as there is not enough shade and there are not enough plants or organic material in the soil. We have also experienced long periods of drought in 2016 and 2017 and that certainly pulled us back. There’s also the matter of the time crunch that is a result of not being there full-time.
What are the weather conditions like at Finca el Suelo throughout the year?
We have the wet period where it rains 200 to 300 millimeters per month. We have dry periods that see 50-80 millimeters of rain per month, if any rain at all. The driest periods are typically July and August, but it can also be quite spread out. On average over the last two years (and we’re writing this in the last days of July 2018) we have had 1400 mm of rain per year including very dry periods from June to September. Normally it should rain around 2000+mm per year.
When do you think you can have the first harvest?
We picked one coffee cherry in 2017. We will 3 cherries in July 2018 and maybe 8-10 in November 2018! And hopefully around 2020 - 2021 we will have enough to make some coffee (but not a lot), maybe a kilo or two.
How many times a year do you travel to Colombia?
3-4 times per year. Four times in 2017 and four times in 2018, for example. Each trip lasts two to three weeks at a time.
Who takes care of Finca el Suelo when you're not there?
I manage it through the magic of WhatsApp. And my colleague, and friend, the farmer Elias Roa of Finca Tamana hires seasonal workers to do the necessary farming tasks.
Which coffee plants are you planting?
Right now, we have 100 Typica trees, 400 Geisha trees and 30-50 Caturra trees.
Tim, you don't currently live on the farm. Will you ever?
No. But the plan is to build a house eventually and live there during the harvest, hopefully in the next five years.
Are there any other roasters that have become farmers?
Yes but none that actually work full-time on the farm as far as I know. Some colleagues like 2015 World Barista Champion Sasa Sestic do have farms. Phil and Sebastian out of Canada just bought a farm in Honduras. Toby's Estate owns a farm in Panama. Starbucks owns farms in Costa Rica. Friele is part owner of a farm in Brazil, just to name a few.
How is what you are doing different or similar to permaculture or biodynamic farming?
Biodynamic farming is quite old-fashioned, there are a lot of rituals and preparations based on traditional agriculture and old learnings, not science, but most of them do promote microbial growth in the soil and I know that a lot of wine producers have succeeded with the techniques. However I would have to live on the farm in order to work in this manner. We use a microscope to assess our soil and we make compost specifically to boost the microbes that we need, but we do have a lot in common with biodynamic techniques. Permaculture is more of a holistic design model for farms which is something we don't adhere to, but we have a lot of crossover in our methods. You could use our techniques in permaculture AND biodynamic farming.
Does Finca el Suelo have an internship program?
No. But, I do want to be able to bring people over to Fincal El Suelo to work. In fact, right now, I am looking for a person who could come, live and work there for a year. They would need to be able to speak Spanish and English and be willing to learn about biological farming techniques (and being bossed around by me of course).
Can people visit the farm or work there?
We don’t have room yet for many visitors but we do occasionally have visitors for a few days.