Today, we went to Charley’s coffee plantation and home, which is on the other side of the mountain from Atitlan. Before going to Charley’s, we went to Crossroads and Mike gave us free coffee (which he gets from Charley). We got there around 10:30 and we were greeted with a gated fence and a security guard with a shotgun, which isn’t as uncommon as you would think. We went inside and met up with Charley’s wife and he came in a few minutes. They started to show us around the property after a few minutes of chatting.
We started with a plot that had just been planted a few weeks ago. At this plot he explained that each row is planted 3m apart in order for the plants to grow but still have a little room in between them so the beans are easier to get to and that they produce throughout the entire plant and not just on top. He also told us how he buys specialized microbes and fungi to plant into the ground because they have a symbiotic relationship with the coffee trees, which makes the production grow. He has soil scientists come in and test the DNA in the soil to figure out what kinds of microbes are in the soil where trees are either doing bad or good. Charley also told us that he has experimented with adding Carboxylic acid in the ground and that he has better results with using more carboxylic acid than fertilizer.
Charley took us to a different area with older trees, passing by a pasture with sheep. He showed us how he recently planted native Inga trees to act as windbreakers for the stronger winds derived from climate change after doing research on them for two years. Charley pointed out that he has grass growing in between the coffee trees in order to reduce erosion and pick up the extra nutrients the trees don’t pick up so it won’t go into the water system. The cut grass also acts as a natural fertilizer as it decomposes. He talked about an idea where he will have many more sheep out to eat the grass so he can have them for their fur and meat to sell. Charley also explained how his beans are Arabica, but he grafts the tree with Robusta because their roots are deeper and they produce more. He has tried growing 63 different varieties of coffee but only found 2 that work better than the original, explaining that he spends about 5% of his budget on R&D. Charley has sold most of his coffee to Starbucks for 25 years. He talked to us about how Starbucks is the best buyer one can hope for because they treat him well and that other American and European countries don’t pay as well and as predictably. In case you are interested, the blend that has his coffee is the “Breakfast Blend,” so if you get that you can know that I saw the trees that made it.
After spending some time in a small part of the coffee area, Charley took us to where he produces honey from the 3,000 bee hives he has on the property. He sends his honey all over the world because it tastes so good. We got to try many different varieties, so I can vouch for its taste. Charley explained that honey naturally crystalizes and that the “fact” that it crystalizes from the sugar is a myth. After the honey factory, he took us to a hydroelectric power plant he built on his property. It was huge!! He explained that it produces 90 kilowatts and that he only uses 8% of that power for his plantation. He sends the remaining 92% to the grid, which powers over 200,000 homes in the area. Charley told us that he has around 250ish permanent workers and during the harvest season he hires around 1,000 migrant workers. He explained that the migrant workers bring their families, so 1,000 families come to the region for the 3 months of harvest. He also told us that the women work for him and the men of the families go harvest sugar cane because it’s harder work.
After the power plant, we went back to his house and had lunch. He provided us with home grown, grass fed beef from his own home. We also had beans and guacamole, with some cheese he also made on his property. He used to have a cheese business as well but the market wasn’t there anymore so he stopped that venture. The lunch was amazing and I was so impressed with how well he treated us. Overall, I am so happy to have had the opportunity to see how much time he puts into making sure his practices are always advancing and sustainable. This was a wonderful day.