Enrique Navarro grows our Costa Rican coffee, including his "Reserva Especial" grown with seeds and land passed down from his father. We hopped on a call and he gave us a tour of his family's coffee farm in Costa Rica and shares how he is working to improve the conditions for his workers.
Enrique Navarro / Coffee Farmer / Costa Rica
The coffee production in my family started fifty years ago, when my father was growing up in a coffee region in Costa Rica. He started working on other farms helping other owners produce coffee. When he was 18 years old, he went to the bank to get money to buy a little piece of land. He started to produce coffee about 37 years ago and little by little my parents started to get more land. They were conventional coffee producers, providing the harvest or the cherries to other companies, other mills in the region.
Because of the low prices and the international crisis they were not getting enough money for production. That was why we started to produce specialty coffee. It was in 2009—almost 11 years ago. We started to produce specialty coffee because we knew that the conditions that the farm has can produce good coffee. I am talking about altitude, weather conditions, the variety we have on the farm. So because of that, we started to change a lot of farm practices to begin specialty coffee production. It was when I was leaving high school and I was making the decision about what to do with my life.
In the beginning, I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. And then, when we started the specialty coffee industry, I just fell in love with the coffee and I started to work together with my father to try to help my family take the coffee to the other side of the world. I designed a process, processing metal to improve the quality we have. Right now, almost all my family is involved in the coffee production.
To produce coffee is not easy and to produce coffee in that good quality way is not easy. Many things can directly impact the quality. It's really nice to have the chance to taste your coffee when you have worked really hard to get a cup of coffee that you produced. Normally, the people in this region just produce coffee and put the cherries in the mills, and they don't have the chance to try your coffee—the quality of their coffee. When you can see your coffee on the other side of the world and the coffee has all the personality and the family name and all the history of the family. It is really an honor, and it's a huge motivation. It's an inspiration because the awesome job you are doing is being recognized.
We are really working to provide better conditions for our farmers, our coffee pickers. Many years ago, the pickers in this region were the same people that live here. Costa Rican people, people from the same town. But now the people left to go to San Jose to the city to get another job in construction or another kind of job and I think that Costa Rican people don't want to pick coffee anymore.
So the Panamanian people are coming every year to help us do good work and we are leaving this job in their hands. They really do a good job picking coffee because we have a long-term relationship with them. We know that the conditions that they have in Panama are not the best they can have, so we want to provide better conditions here on our farms when they come to harvest. If they don't do a good job, we can lose all we need to produce the quality. And it's why we try to have the same people for many years so we can have better communication and they understand what they are doing. We think that if we provide good conditions here on the farm, they will be able to come every year.
So we have been building new houses for them and providing them with beds. Usually the families are four or five families per house. In the future, we want to build a house for each family. All they need to do right now is cook and we are working on a purification system for drinking water to give them better water.
One of the dreams I have is to someday help them to build houses in Panama—in their communities. When they are here they feel comfortable and they see us building houses for them in Costa Rica. They are always very excited about “How much is it going to be to build a house?” and you can see that they are interested in improving their conditions back home in Panama.
I met Scott at a coffee convention in Atlanta and he just had a dream in his mind. In the beginning for me, I was like, “Okay, it's just another coffee roaster.” But little by little, when I started to know more about Scott and Onda, I got to know that Onda is more of a project to impact many people, mainly farmers from around the world that produce coffee. When I got to know that Onda is creating an impact in the coffee industry for me, it was really innovative and I think they are able to impact many farmers—and it's why I started to support them. I think it's not just about roasting coffee and selling the coffee, it's more about impacting the people that are drinking the coffee and when somebody is drinking Onda coffee, they know that they are impacting farms in many countries. Onda is a company that is able to support projects that we have as farmers.
The specialty coffee industry, for me as a farmer, it's not just about quality. It's not just about money. The quality matters, but it's not everything. It's more about how you can share everything around the coffee, around each cup of coffee, with the final customer. When they are drinking the coffee, they have to be able to feel everything, the passion we have—everything with our workers and how we produce coffee in an eco-friendly way. Everything. And it's why we have to have a really good connection and relationship with all the people in the coffee industry value chain. If we do that it is easier to share not just a cup of coffee, to share our history.
I’m really excited, we're just starting a project to develop a genetic laboratory on our farm. I know it's not easy, but it's a long term project. We have a couple of varieties here, on our farms, that we want to really study and get to know everything about. The varieties we have good results with. And we have been getting seeds from Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, all different seeds. Even a species that we are able to make hybrids with. It's a dream right now. I know it's not easy, but we are on the way.
Scott Tupper / Founder & CEO / Onda Origins
We're very, very lucky that it happened to be Enrique that we partnered with first. Being able to bring impact and quality as one combined package is a direct result of the things that Enrique taught us when he was living in Seattle. And it's been a lot of good memories.