Monday, January 13, 2014

Farmer Profile: Marcos Ramirez

Don Marcos, his daughter, and her family. The new electric post is behind them.

As we come down the mountain to the center of the coffee growing community of El Matazano, we come to a house that is right next to the road, with many people hanging around outside the house. A child runs into the house, and out comes Marcos Ramirez, a burly man with a bushy mustache and twinkling light eyes. Marcos is referred to as "Don Marcos," a term of respect for an elder in the community. We have visited Don Marcos many times, and he was actually president of the co-op for a while. Something is different about his house, but I can't figure it out at first. Then I notice the brand new electric line post in front of his house. It turns out that they just got electricity three months ago.


Don Marcos has a lot going on. His house seems to be grand central station, with children and grandchildren and other community members in abundance in the late afternoon. Their house is also a "pulperia," which is a sort of general store for the community (the word "pulperia" comes from the spanish word "pulpo," which means octupus - a pulperia thus is a store where one person in the middle of the store can reach in eight different directions for a wide range of items). The addition of electricity has increased sales of cold beverages and popsicles. He also is a well known beekeeper in the area. Aaron and I visited his bees last year and sampled some comb honey. He sells his honey and other products (like bananas, oranges and roasted coffee) at a weekly farmers' market in Comayagua.

Don Marcos has been with the organic coffee co-op since the very beginning, over 9 years. He is the son of one of El Matazano's founders, Don Justo Ramirez. He has about 6 acres of certified organic coffee, mostly of the old variety, known as "Indio," but with some of the coffee rust resistant variety "Catimor." His farm is in the mid-elevation part of the mountain, between 1100 and 1200 meters above sea level. He has shade trees of the leguminous guama tree as well as native pines and sweetgums. The coffee is processed using a manual depulper and fermented in a concrete water tank. It is dried and carefully sorted on hardware cloth racks. Once dried, the coffee is stored in the house, but kept off of direct contact with the ground or walls. He uses his motorcycle to transport the coffee to Comayagua.

Don Marcos is the second from the right, his son is in front of him in the striped shirt.

Don Marcos was proud of his motorcycle, and he seems to be part of a large segment of the Honduran population that is using the motorcycle to get around and move goods around. I imagine him loading the motorcycle with honey, bananas and other goods and heading for the farmers market. Then he returns home with goods to sell at the pulperia. Throughout Honduras, we saw motorcycles loaded high with goods. One thing to note though: it has recently become illegal for two men to ride together on a motorcycle in Honduras. This is because of the surge in violence in the country and the birth of a new type of assassin. There were so many cases of motorcycle assassins with one man driving and the other man firing a weapon, that they created a law to prohibit two men from riding the same motorcycle. It is hard to imagine a breakdown in society so complete that such a law would become necessary. When we visit these farmers we remember that one of the best ways for Honduras to get above the current wave of violence would be for farmers to receive a fair price for their coffee. With fair prices and the prosperity it would bring, people might not resort to crime as much.

 The last time we visited Don Marcos, he had the Farmer to Farmer coffee out and drying. I remember clearly the beauty of the coffee drying in the sun. His coffee had been hand selected in the harvest, and then they went back over the coffee during the drying process to remove any defective or damaged beans. The result was a coffee that it was a pleasure to run my hands through, every grain intact and beautiful. His care for quality has shown up in the cupping results as well, with his coffee scoring highly despite his relatively low elevation. The coffee rates 78.25 on the 100-point cupping scale. The notes from the taster are that his coffee has a "fruity acidity, clean, sweet, and chocolate-y." Cheers and thank you to Don Marcos and his family.

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