We are Finca Las Brisas, Hugh and Katherine Force. The name means “farm in the mists”, 50 acres high in the Cerro Apante Nature Reserve of Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
We first came to Nicaragua in 2001 to work with a small technical school for a year, teaching design and installation of rural drinking water systems. Returning to our “old“ lives of construction superintendent and civil engineer, we found our thoughts were constantly of Nicaragua. We decided to return permanently in 2005. In one of those strange vicissitudes of life, Hugh, an avid mountain biker, discovered a coffee farm, nearly abandoned since Hurricane Mitch, while on a ride.
With advice from neighbors, extension agents and other coffee growers, the farm has recuperated, producing about 10,000 pounds of coffee a year. In addition to 10 acres of coffee trees, it also supports a small dairy herd that produces milk and cheese for the area. The coffee and dairy complement each other nicely; the cows love the fruit that is stripped off of the coffee berries, and the manure and coffee wastes are composted for use in the coffee. We are increasing the quantity of coffee plants by 3000 per year, starting first by replacing missing, dead or weak plants in existing planting areas. Planting in new areas is started by planting shade cover several years ahead of coffee, so the new plants have sufficient cover. All our coffee is shade grown under mix of banana, orange and diversified hardwood and nitrogen-fixing trees. Although we are on the electric grid, power is so unreliable that we dispulp the coffee using bicycle powered machinery. A day’s picking of 80 pails of coffee fruit can be dispulped in just over an hour.
We are a small farm, with eleven permanent workers, growing up to 28 during the coffee harvest, all of them neighbors. We support the community by offering just wages, micro loans and transportation for emergency health care. The agricultural extension agents consider us a model farm and bring groups of farmers to show what we are doing and stimulate imagination. Support and ideas flow both ways.