By Mike Eyre, Verve CEO
Last month I had the good fortune to accompany the Coffee team on a trip to Honduras, my first ever trip to Farmlevel! Everything about the trip was amazing, but most of all, it was inspiring to meet the remarkable men and women, the producers of the outstanding Honduran coffees, that we have the privilege of being able to work with. These are some of the kindest, gentlest, good-hearted, and simply most wonderful people on Earth. Each of these amazing people that grow and cultivate and care for these unique coffees has a unique story. Stories that are just as amazing, as delicate, as complex, as vibrant, and as nuanced as the coffees they grow. And while I could share dozens of such stories, being that today is Father’s Day, I thought I’d share just a few of the stories of some of the fabulous Fathers of Farmlevel.
It’s our first day on the ground, and we are high in the verdant mountains of the Santa Barbara region, trekking from farm to farm. Up here it seems almost more of a land of fairytales than a land of coffee; the wet, dense fog silences the mountain and creates a mystical, almost magical feeling. Today we are with producers Franklin Madrid, Enrique Delcid, Arturo Paz, Jairo (El Nino) Moreno, and Jorge Lanza. As we drive through the fog and hike from farm to farm, we learn about the coffees, the climate, recent changes, and we also share more personal stories; of our kids and families, of life’s blessings and challenges, and the joys and hardships of day-to-day living in Honduras.
Mike Eyre (left) & Franklin Madrid (right)
Jairo lives in a small town just outside of Peña Blanca. His town relies entirely on the water that flows directly from the mountains. This is the first year that the water has stopped flowing, and the town has had no fresh water. Over the last several months, each night after work, Jairo has been delivering water to all of the town residents. I dub him “Jairo the Hero” and he shyly blushes. Jairo has a 4-year-old daughter and only wants what is best for her. He says he’s not doing anything extraordinary - he’s just doing what is best for his family, his daughter, and for the others in his community.
It is this humility, coupled with hard work, that is the common thread that runs through the fabric of all of these amazing producers here in Honduras. They don’t consider what they do as extraordinary. They are just hard-working, honest men and women, trying to make a living the best they can. They do extraordinary work because they are committed. Most of them are generations deep in coffee and are fully invested in what they do, knowing that their children will likely take over the farms that their fathers gave to them.
Jairon "Niño" Moreno (left), Enrique Delcid (middle), & Lupito, Farm Manager for El Niño (right)
The next day we are visiting with Edgardo Tinoco, a previous winner of the Honduran Cup of Excellence Award. Edgardo is a poster child for the success that hard work and dedication to best-in-class processing methods can bring. Edgardo is anxious to show us his new drying beds, newly-constructed coffee storage warehouse, and state-of-the-art wet mill, all built next to his home. It is evident that Edgardo is enjoying the success of many years of producing some of the finest Honduran coffees, and yet he remains soft-spoken and humble.
Leaving his home, we jump in the truck and climb on a small dirt road - up, up, up we climb to his farm. As we ascend, I comment that this road is very steep, the steepest we’ve been on yet. Edgardo tells us that it wasn’t until 2013 that he was able to pay to have a road built; before that, and for practically his entire life up to that point, he had walked or ridden a mule up and down this mountain every day. I think about the thousands of times he has walked up to this mountain, carrying tools and supplies, and back down, with full bags of coffee. This man knows what it means to push the stone up the mountain each day; he’s done it practically his entire life.
Over lunch, the conversation turns away from coffee as we talk about Edgardo’s family, the journey to get to where they are now, and their dreams and aspirations for the future. We see clearly that Edgardo’s motivation in life is his family. A father of four, Edgardo is a living example for his children, teaching them the value of hard work and showing them the success that comes with it. His aspiration in life: create a life for his children that provides them more than what he had as a child. He is the living definition of “Father Figure.”
Edgardo Tinoco and one of his sons
A few days later, we are with Jose Amado Fernandez. Like many other families in the area, Jose Amado and his four siblings were raised on this farm. Here, they now carry on the legacy left by their late father, Don Amado, on each of their own farms.
"A father of four myself, I am humbled to be in the presence of this meek father of four, who has had to fight a battle with cancer while maintaining his coffee farm and provide for his family at the same time."
Jose Amado is a sweet and gentle man. I learn that he has been battling stomach cancer now for several years. He has undergone several surgeries to remove a few tumors, as well as radiation treatment. He has lost a lot of weight, and I can see that he is still experiencing some pain, as he shows us around his drying beds and wet mill, moving cautiously, but stoically. A group of teenage kids works nearby sorting coffee. He calls for one to come over, and introduces us to Michael, the oldest of his four children. Michael is 14 years old and has been working full-time with his dad for the last two years. Jose Amado tells us that he is preparing Michael to be able to take over the farm.
A father of four myself, I am humbled to be in the presence of this meek father of four, who has had to fight a battle with cancer while maintaining his coffee farm and providing for his family at the same time. He tells us that his aspiration in life is to continue to work hard, to meet the needs of his family, while continuing to produce amazing coffees. He is a religious man, and says things like “each day that I have in this life is a gift from God” and “for as long as God is willing to allow me to live I will continue to give my all.” I am touched emotionally. Leaving Jose Amado I feel an even stronger commitment to our producer partners, and a desire to do all we can at Streetlevel to continue to lift up and support our partners at Farmlevel. Meeting producers like Jose Amado is a gift.
Jose Amado & one of his sons
The next day I’m packing up to leave Honduras and head back home. It’s not even been a week but it seems like so much longer. It’s been a whirlwind as we’ve been able to visit in person, at their farms, with 17 of the 18 producers we work with in the region. Meeting face to face, conversing in their native Spanish language, learning about their families, their lives, their goals, and dreams, is inspirational, meaningful and insightful on so many levels. Words like meaningful and insightful don’t really describe the experience or do it justice. It’s 10% that, and 90% inspirational, beautiful and touching. Life-changing stuff. I am honored that we can be partners with such amazing and kind-hearted people. I am proud to be able to lead a company that does so much good in the world. The legacy that these farmers are leaving far surpasses that of the award-winning cups of coffee they are producing. This is the stuff of Farmlevel, and it is definitely pretty rad.