Enrique Navarro Jr. is a success story of specialty coffee. Early on, he fell in love with coffee through his parent’s farm in Costa Rica. Through his tireless work, he helped his family improve their crop's quality, earning them recognition on a global stage for producing the best coffee in Costa Rica.
But even though Enrique beat the odds in an industry where the majority of coffee growers have a hard time earning enough money to even cover their costs, he relies on people who are often left out of the story altogether: coffee pickers. While the Navarro family works all year to plant and cultivate their coffee plants, they hire seasonal workers to help hand pick the coffee cherries as they ripen during harvest months. This is one of the most critical and labor-intensive steps in the coffee production process—the methods with which coffee is picked can be the difference between an award-winning coffee and an average cup.
Enrique says that the people who work on their farm as coffee pickers have shifted, in part because many locals are moving to the city for work. “Many years ago, the pickers in this region were the same people that live here—Costa Rican people—but now I think that Costa Rican people don't want to pick coffee anymore.” With it’s volcanic soil and wet climate, Costa Rica has some of the best conditions for coffee, but coffee farms are disappearing since typical market prices paid are not enough for coffee farmers to live on, let alone pay their farm workers a living wage.
Like many other Costa Rican coffee farms, Enrique’s farm relies on seasonal migrant workers from Panama—often the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé people who make a demanding journey that leaves the population in a state of mixed documentation, limited resources, and host to human rights abuses. Migrant farm workers can stay in warehouse-type buildings—40-60 people to each structure—with usually no sanitation, plumbing, mattresses, or privacy.
Enrique does things a little differently. He starts by paying his workers 150% above Costa Rica’s wage requirements, and continues to find new ways to support them. “We are really working to provide better conditions for our farmers, our coffee pickers,“ says Enrique. “We have been building new houses for them and providing them with beds. Right now, the families are four or five families per house. In the future, we want to build a house for each family.” The Navarros are also planting staple foods on their farm so their workers don't have to spend extra time and money to take a bus into town and buy them—and the farm is working on a purified drinking water solution.
“One of the dreams I have is to someday help our Panamanian workers build houses in their communities,” Enrique continues. ”When they are here they feel comfortable and they see us building houses for them in Costa Rica, and [they] are always very excited asking how much it costs to build. You can see they’re interested in improving their conditions back home.”
Enrique sent a text to Scott Tupper (Onda’s co-founder) with a photo of construction on his farm with the caption “New house for coffee pickers thanks to the funds from Onda.” Enrique receives a portion of the money from customers buying his coffee. Through Onda’s revenue share model, this second payment puts more money in growers’ pockets, and for Enrique, has a measurable impact on the workers he considers absolutely integral to his success.