Managing a Coffee Farm Through the Pandemic
The day still starts before the sun comes up. Getting ready for another day on the farm you start early. Make the morning cup of coffee. Make some food and get a lunch packed. Get the dogs, the cat, and the fish fed and then walk the dogs. Clean up and get everything loaded for work. Kiss the wife and daughter as they wake up and then head out. None of that has changed.
Get to the farm and check the barn and adjust the plan for the day. It constantly changes. The weather is a large determining factor here. Clear skies. Get some field work done. Mowing, trimming, spraying, pruning, clearing, or fixing and building the new and old structures around the farm. Rain coming in the afternoon? Well that’s a good day to spread some fertilizer. The rain helps it to dissolve and get to the roots. Raining, well that's a good day to clean the barn, fix equipment, or work on one of the vehicles. They constantly break down. When the newest truck is nineteen years old and most of the equipment was here before you were, there is always something broken. None of that has changed.
Work till the sun gets high and the temperature starts to climb. The sweat is thick and your water bottle is getting warm and low. The coffee is gone. Time for lunch. Take a break from the heat, check the email, send a few messages, check in with the general manager to see how all the important work is going. Managing a larger farm is actually quite nice since you have someone to do the real hard work. Paying for everything. All you have to do is take care of the day to day operations of the farm and in the field. He has to figure out how to make it all possible. None of that has changed.
The sun starts to get low on the horizon. You can look back and see all the work that was accomplished for the day and look ahead to see all that still has yet to be done. Everyone is tired but you still have to pack up and put all the equipment away for the day. Make a tentative plan for the next day with everyone and then they head home. You go check back in at the office. Updates, plans, and schedules are set. Cover the plans for the business and pack up your things to head home to the family. The work is never done, you just get done what you can and save the rest for tomorrow. None of that has changed.
What has changed? Well, we used to see well over one hundred guests come and visit the farm every day. Give them tours, show them the property, the coffee, and share our story with them. We would share our fresh brewed Kona coffee, fruit and produce from the farm, fresh squeezed orange juice, and our love of the Big Island of Hawaii. We would sell coffee, honey, fruit, tea, candles, shirts, hats, and candy to them. Funding our business. People would sign up for our monthly coffee club. Have us ship fresh roasted 100% Kona coffee to them all over the world. We would get visits from our fellow farmers and locals to “talk story” as the locals call it.
We didn’t have to talk about pay cuts, budget shortages, running out of money. We didn’t have to talk about not having a crew to pick our coffee in a couple months. Having to try to pick it with what few people we do have and trying to balance that with all the other jobs on the farm at the same time. We didn’t have to talk about paperwork for loans and assistance. The if, how, why, and when we might qualify for this or that program. We didn’t have to talk about shorting fertilizer, skipping sprayings, cutting field days. We didn’t have to talk about how to reach out to the world virtually to sell our coffee. How to bring our world to them so that they know us and decide to bring a little of our farm to their home, one cup at a time.
The farming has not changed at all. The ways we will survive and stay in business has. While many people are out of work, forced to work reduced hours, or have to work from home. We are working harder than ever, longer hours, for less pay. Trying to see a light at the end of the tunnel on how a family farm can survive. I am not trying to sound like I am complaining. I became a farmer knowing it would be hard work and would not make me rich, but without help we might not make it through the year.
I pray that everyone can stay safe. I pray that our loved ones are safe as well. I pray that this ends soon and we can all go back to the new normal of life. I also pray that if you read this, and want to help, that you can. All you have to do is enjoy really good coffee. Grown well by people who care about what they produce. Not how to make it cheaper or make more money. People who want to make it the best it can be. Grown with love.