Organic Farming │Honduras Part 2

The farmers involved at the COMSA coop are very serious about organic farming. After all, COMSA stands for Café Organico Marcala S.A.. At the co-op the job of maintaining the organic standards falls to everyone involved, but the man who heads up the division, is Fredy Perez. On the first day of our trip, Fredy took the morning to explain how growing organically is not only a method of farming but a lifestyle and a means to bring life back to the community at COMSA.

Fredy Perez

Fredy Perez

The first thing we learned from Fredy was the actual practice of organic farming practices at the Co-op itself. We learned about the lifecycle of the soil and how it was enriched with quartz, a very helpful mineral in producing organic fertilizer. By grinding the quartz rock, adding microorganisms, charcoal, cow manure, and micro-nutrients the farmers at COMSA can produce an organic fertilizer in 30 days. They also create a liquid form of this same fertilizer. These two products are the basis of the organic farming in the area. There is a dedicated test farm devoted to the creation of organic fertilizer, where they also experiment with their products before making it a part of the co-op's regime. Not only that, they also have a very special area where they create nutrient soil called humus.

Humus - Nutrient rich soil

Humus - Nutrient rich soil

A lifestyle and a ritualistic aspect emerged as we learned more of their organic routine. They use the skulls of cows and bury them in the earth with a few other items, letting them decompose along with a block of nutrient rich wood. In about 90 days they dig the skulls back up and use this soil on their farms. It’s said this soil matches the original soil of the earth, and you only need a small amount to help regenerate today's depleted soil. We were able to touch and smell the humus soil and it smelled like the richest black soil you have ever smelled.  It smelled like life.

Process of making humus

Process of making humus

In order to be a certified organic farm you have to plant your seedlings 36 inches deep in the fertilized organic soil with a 36 inch diameter circle around the plant.  The soil must be added first to the holes that are dug and let sit for 30 days before planting. The Farmers add liquid fertilizer to the soil and also spray it on the leaves. A seedling takes about three years to grow to an adequate size before it starts producing coffee cherries. In those years the plants will receive a continuous amount of organic fertilizer, and the earth in that field will come back to life and become fertile living organic soil. If you remember the first blog I posted from my Honduras trip, and when I talked about the La Casita farm, Fabio Claros remarked that he’d never seen such healthy plants as the ones he started growing in this manner. It was this remarkable product from the humus soil that convinced him of organic farming.

Farm owned by Fabio Claros and a part of the COMSA Co-op.

Farm owned by Fabio Claros and a part of the COMSA Co-op.

It is awesome to see how the COMSA co-op farms are able to create all of their own organic materials to fertilize their entire coffee crop through the biodiversity of their farms. On most of the farms we visited we were able to see the areas where they built structures to create the fertilizers. One such farm also used excess cow manure to create methane gas that heated the house where the farm manager stayed and enabled him to cook on a gas stove. Many of the farms not only grow coffee, but are also full-fledged farms, growing lettuces, strawberries, tomatoes, and other crops. They raise cows, pigs, chickens, and many have ponds for fish farming. Several of the farms have bee hives thanks to the COMSA Bee Project we were able to help them start. The bees help pollinate the crops as well as add to the biodiversity of the farms.

Other crops among the farms.

Other crops among the farms.

The COMSA Co-op is now over 60% organically farmed with the goal to be 100% organic as soon as possible. The farmers are genuinely excited to be a part of the coop, and the coop is ready to support them in any way they possibly can. You can most certainly drink your COMSA grown coffee with assurance in the knowledge that the product in your cup is organically grown by farmers who care as much as you do. One last thing I wanted to leave you with is what Fredy told us about organic farming. He stated “What we do here is life.” Thank you Fredy and all of the organic farmers of COMSA, our lives are richer for what you do.

Woodrow DeCasere, Licensed Q Grader for One Village Coffee

RECAP│Honduras Part 1

I recently had the opportunity to take a trip to the COMSA co-op in the Marcala region of Honduras.  The purpose of this trip was to cup different micro-lot coffees, visit farms and learn as much as I could about the co-op and the farmers we buy our coffee from.  This trip was taken the first week of March, and it was an experience that changed my perspectives and challenged my priorities. I met amazing people, visited fully integrated organic farms, and cupped stunning coffees.

The people of COMSA are truly set apart as coffee growers. Everyone I met, from the coffee pickers to the co-op manager, were not only invested in the finished product, but genuinely kind and generous people. Rodolfo Penalba, who runs the day to day operations of COMSA, is a tireless ball of energy... always willing to lend a hand when needed or provide insight. He is just as quick to give you a smile as he is to explain the intricacies of running the co-op.

Rodolfo Penalba and Woody

Rodolfo Penalba and Woody

Fredy Perez, who is in charge of the organic agriculture, is a fountain of knowledge regarding organic farming practices. He took the time to explain how the farms are bio-diverse and how they utilize everything on their farm to support the organic growing practice. Another individual we met on our trip was Oscar Omar Alonzo, who owns and operates the farm Finca Cual Bicicleta. Oscars friendly nature and jocular personality helped us all feel at ease and part of the COMSA family. You may remember the farm name, as Oscar supplied our Honduras Finca Cual Bicicleta offering last year. 

Fredy Perez

Fredy Perez

While in Honduras, we were able to visit 6 different farms.  At each farm visit, we saw how the coffee was grown and how the growers care for their crop. One of the most memorable farms was Finca La Casita, owned by Fabio Claros. Up until a few years ago, Fabio did not believe in organic farming as he held onto the "old school" ways of farming. However, in the summer of 2013, roya (a coffee disease) hit his farm and hit it hard. With the assistance of Safai Coffee Company, he was able get the help, support and equipment to start farming organically. Through this experience, he has now seen how organic farming really does make a difference. Which in turn, changed his views on organic farming, even to the point of farming his vegetables and raising his animals organically. While telling us his story, he would excitedly raise his hands and shout organico, which made us all smile! Now that he has started farming in this way, a lot of other local farmers have been interested in doing the same and joining the COMSA co-op.

Fabio Claros

Fabio Claros

Coffee cupping was the main focus of our trip and the activity we spent most of our time doing. During the 3 days we had to cup, we tried over 100 different kinds of coffees and were pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the lots. Most of the coffees sampled were of the washed processed method, with a few Honey processed and some Natural. One Village Coffee ended up choosing 3 different micro-lots, which we will be offering starting this May.  

Cupping time!

Cupping time!

We at One Village Coffee will be continuing our 3 year relationship with Juan David Chavez, President of the COMSA co-op and owner of the Finca Los Tuneles farm.  His coffee this year has never tasted better, and I hope you will agree. Also coming back for a second year will be the Finca Cual Bicicleta, a Natural processed coffee from Oscar Omar Alonzo.  Last but not least, we will be starting a new relationship with a farm called Los Zorzales, owned by Amilcar Claros. This was one of my favorite coffees on the cupping table, and it carried flavors with lots of ripe fruit and pronounced sweetness.

Visiting the COMSA co-op was an amazing experience.  My hope is that this allowed you to see a little bit into what made this trip so exciting and help you to connect the dots. Be on the lookout for these new coffees.  They are going to be fantastic!

Woodrow DeCasere, Licensed Q Grader for One Village Coffee