What an exciting visit to Finca Mercedes last week, even if it was a little different than first anticipated. Normally we are eager just to see the quality of coffee this farm continues to produce. This year we got a little added excitement.
One member of our traveling party awoke early to the sound of gun shots fired. That’s a bit alarming and certainly not normal.
It was a topic of discussion at breakfast and we later learned Policia had arrested nearly 60 bandidos during the night attempting to steal coffee cherry from the trees in the section of the farm we buy our coffee, El Pepinal 1. This section of the farm produced the winning lot in the 2006 Cup of Excellence and we’ve been sharing it with our friends at Klatch Coffee ever since. So it’s understandable why some might want to steal these awesome cherries.
But that was just the beginning.
While walking the farm in this same section later that morning, we heard another gun shot. This time fired into the air by one of our guards as a warning shot to 10 more bandidos. Seven of the bandidos scrambled down the mountain to escape, but 3, remained behind and we’re cornered by guards.
Roberto Ortiz, son of the farms owner Don Roberto Ortiz Sr., hustled to where the bandidos were captured. After a short phone call with the policia, he decided not to turn the robbers in, but instead give them a stern lecture, re-claim the coffee cherry and send them on their way. Without the coffee! The idea, he told me later, is too avoid making enemies. Instead, he hoped to gain their trust and respect and possibly even hire them as employees, if they were willing to work (a big “if”). Many of the bandidos are very poor with very little education.
On the flip side, if he would have had them arrested, it’s possible, they would have been released in a day or so and returned to do more damage to his farm as revenge. Not a good solution for sure. The catch and release program in this case I agree was probably the best solution.
What an interesting first day at the farm! You can see how the high prices are affecting everything. The coffee cherry is now viewed as “gold” to some. Quick money, if they can steal it and not get caught. Thank goodness for security.
On a brighter note, Finca Las Mercedes, which is near to Santiago de Maria in the Usulatan region of El Salvador, has had exceptional weather patterns this year and the crop is looking to be large and hopefully of exceptional quality.
The farm has been growing, in part, thanks to our strong Direct Trade partnership we share with the family Ortiz.
In the past 3-years the farm has grown from 50 full-time employees, to nearly 150, and they are still growing and producing more coffee. Lucia Ortiz, wife of Roberto, manages the marketing and relationships for the farm. We’ve been working closely with her to make sure we can remain a strong partner for years to come. We’ve agreed to pricing of the coffee for several years so that we can remain competitive and still help the farm grow and be a support to the community.
Since we began buying coffee from Las Mercedes, PTs Coffee has designated $.10 for each pound of coffee we purchase be used for community support. To date it’s been helpful in supplying medicines for the local clinic, which is located on the farm grounds, and serves many nearby communities.
In previous years we’ve purchased soccer uniforms and balls that were passed out to local teams. It’s amazing how popular soccer is in Central America. If you want to win the hearts and minds of locals, support the soccer teams.
Everything is truly looking amazing at Finca Las Mercedes. I look forward to getting the coffee in stock sometime around June. I wish I could share it with you sooner, but good things come to those who wait.
We’ve agreed to a 3-year contract with Las Mercedes that assures we’ll have this outstanding, 1st Place finishing coffee in the 2006 Cup of Excellence, for years to come.
A big thank you to to the family of Don Roberto Ortiz. It’s been a pleasure working with you and learning about coffee in El Salvador from you.
You might recognize the name “Don Roberto” as it was our Seasonal Espresso Blend in the fall. Comprised of 3 coffees all from Las Mercedes. You can look forward to it’s reappearance this fall.