Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Once Owned a Coffee Farm

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is "coffee."

Candace and Clinton with baby Byron and coffee trees.
Be sure to click on photo to get full effect of blue skies and red coffee berries


We once owned a farm in Paraguay.

In 1954 we took advantage of Otto’s sabbatical year from U.C. Berkeley to move our young family to Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil, where Otto then taught at the new Instituto Tecnologico de Aeronautica. Clarence Johnson, who had been a fellow passenger on the Delta liner on which we had sailed to Brazil, invited us to visit the area in Paraguay where he, with other Americans and Brazilians, was developing a frontier area into 100 contiguous, individually owned coffee farms, all to be administered by Johnson’s company. We accepted the invitation and stayed in their modest residence. It was constructed of wood from the site, sawn in the primitive sawmill that was part of the infrastructure of this new colony.

At night, through the screens, we heard the cacophony of jungle whistles, squawks and hoots. Under the deep blue sky of day, Clarence took us to the upper edge of Farm 43, the one that later became ours. It was already planted with tiny seedlings which were protected from the intense sunshine by slats over the holes in which they grew. For every forty hectares of land cleared for planting, the policy was to leave ten additional hectares of native jungle. Tall trees and dense undergrowth studded the gently undulating hills.

We hiked down through the rows that would eventually be rows of glossy-leafed coffee trees to meet the colonists who had developed the farm thus far. With wide smiles of welcome and low bows, the Japanese family welcomed us to their simple house, outside of which a fire burned beneath a steel oil-drum heating water for their baths. The Japanese government, in the wake of World War II, had become worried about overpopulation and had paid the passage of families who wished to emigrate. This family was among them, attracted by the fair wages offered and the promised bonus of the fourth year coffee crop, the time at which the trees were expected to mature.

(I will jump ahead of my story. The fourth year harvest was a bumper crop of grade A coffee beans which brought each family of colonists many thousands of dollars. Most of the Japanese families, including ours, left their temporary jobs to buy land of their own or to start businesses.)

Clarence took us on to view other parts of the infrastructure his company had installed, the nursery of coffee seedlings, the sawmill, and the drying sheds and the new school for the children of the colonists. We did not decide to buy a farm on this first visit, but we did give it careful thought, found it compatible with our ideas of community development, and bought our farm a few weeks later.

In the following years we visited the farms from time to time, and have slides of our children at various ages posing among the coffee plants. One Christmas, after Otto had given a talk in Brazil, we even spent Christmas at the farms, staying with the Johnsons and celebrating Christmas with expatriate Americans who had built homes on their coffee farms.

We eventually made modest profits from the sale of our superior varieties of coffee to coffee-conscious countries like Germany, where, even at higher prices, our coffee was preferred over that from Africa.

Have you gathered from my past posts that, having grown up entranced by my father’s tales of South America, that I wanted to be part of it? I apparently infected my children with the same fever, especially Candace who was ten years old on our first Brazilian sabbatical. She passed it on to her husband, Clinton. They had already spent many years in Brazil when, in 1974, they moved from the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil to Paraguay, where Clinton became the new manager of the coffee farms. The farms were now several times more in number than the original 100.

They prospered under Clinton’s management . Then the great friagem of 1975 blasted Antarctica cold to the north, sweeping all the way to the tropics and devastating the coffee plantations of Brazil and Paraguay, leaving bleak landscapes of dead coffee trees. That friagem even killed many huge old jungle trees.

I don’t remember exactly when we sold our farm, now planted to other crops. I know that it was after we had built two new houses, each with a central breezeway to keep the Paraguayan farm families comfortable in hot weather. I know that the Paraguayans who bought farm 43 were delighted that we didn’t ask more for it. And we felt that it was appropriate (although I admit to some sadness) that the farm was back in the hands of its countrymen.

Move over, Isak Dinesen! You had a farm in Africa. I had a farm in Paraguay!

I still enjoy a good cup of coffee. May I recommend Peet’s?

31 comments:

anthonynorth said...

Another fascinating story. Such an interesting life you're having.

Rebeckah said...

What a beautiful memory! I love a good cup of cofee. I will have to look up Peets and see if I can get some! Hope your weekend is happy!

keith hillman said...

You never fail to surprise with accounts of your varied life. I never expected this one! I wonder what you'll tell us next?

Devil Mood said...

I knew it - your life is so fantastic that your post couldn't be about a simple cup of coffee, could it? (though I admit that you would be able to write wonderfully about a simple cup of coffee).

I've added some dialogue reading aids to my post after I read your comment. You're right, it could get a little hard to follow.

Lela Blonde said...

Really enjoyed your story while I drank my jo..Can't wait for your next good read. Lots of experiences in these pages.

totomai said...

an interesting story, the voice you have here is full of enthusiasm and eagerness to share your experiences to the readers.

a coffee toast for you!

SmallWorld at Home said...

What an adventurous life you've had!

susan said...

Granny,

Each post reveals more of the incredible life you've lived.

I hope at some time you'll stop by my blog. I would enjoy hearing from you.

Laini Taylor said...

No way. Is there anything you haven't done? I am so jealous of the experiences you have had!

Also, I had never heard the word "friagem" and I am writing it down!

linda may said...

Granny you have led an extraordinary life. A coffee farm, in Brazil!
I am a tea drinker. I haven't seen Peet's here in the shops.

Rinkly Rimes said...

What a full life you've had! We've just had a series of documentaries on TV about the growing of coffee, mostly about the Fair Trading idea. Was that in progress when you farmed? I expect it was too long ago.

ExpatBrazil said...

I visited Clarence Johnson and his wife on their farm in January 1965. That whole region had a bunch of interesting expats from various countries. Several of the Americans worked as managers of coffee fazendas.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil and was doing my in-country training in Ponta Pora. After training I was stationed in Amambai, which is 100km south of Ponta Pora on the Brazilian/Paraguayan border.

Interesting times.

ExpatBrazil

B. Roan said...

What a wonderful adventure. You have a very interesting life.

Greyscale Territory said...

What a fascinating story! I had no idea about the Japanese request for emigration after World War II. And to a coffee plantation! I was totally shocked by that!

Your adventures make a brilliant read and always generate a big sigh at the end from me! I'll keep on dreaming!

Linda Jacobs said...

So interesting! What a life you've led! Plus, this was so well-written!

tumblewords said...

I so enjoy reading about your bits of life - surely you've had a magical assortment. Thanks for sharing!

Lucy said...

this was an interesting story Grann. How sad the devastation must have been to so many coffee farmers
What did Clinton do after that?
I bet he still can't drink a cup of java without the memory of all that had happened.

Blondie said...

You have truly led a most interesting life, and you write about it beautifully! It's always a pleasure to visit your blog!

rebecca said...

you have led some life, phyllis. a life many of us only dream of. all i can say is thank you so much for sharing them with us.....

Maggie May said...

Your story had me right there, drinking in the atmosphere.
Very good.

Random Train Of Thought said...

Is there anything you haven't done? Circus roustabout maybe?

Kamsin said...

Great story Granny! Makes me want to move to South America and buy a coffee farm! Also intrigued by the Japanese family and Japan's links to Brazil and other places you wouldn't quite expect something I'm just learning about!
I love reading tales of your life, I hope I have as many great stories to tell when I am a granny!

Robin said...

You always have the most marvelous stories Phyllis. What a life you've led.

Derique said...

Oh how I wish to have tales like this from my own life to pass on! Paraguay, paraguay. I actually was a delegate of Paraguay a few years ago for The Model Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. I got to meet the ambassador in Montreal, Quebec which is basically where I grew up( a small village on the American-Canadian border) before I flew down anywhere for the first time. I just wish I could have gone to the actual country in which I was representing! Your post brings back many happy memories!
Thank-you for that. Namaste~

Redheels said...

Great story. Just reading your posts lets me know you have a life filled with fascinating adventures.

Jennifer Hicks said...

it's so lovely to learn about your adventurous life. you are a rich woman!

AscenderRisesAbove said...

wow - that is an amazing story! a prompt meant for you!

Laini Taylor said...

Hi Granny! I just wanted to let you know I gave you an "I love your blog" award over at my blog today. It's a tag thing, but do not feel obliged to carry it forward. I see you just did a similar thing recently. I just wanted to direct more people here to your wonderful site. Cheers! (Hope it was okay I pulled off your photo.)
:-)
-Laini

anno said...

Mmmmm... Peet's! I miss it from my California days. We order it special, and sometimes I swear the box arrives smelling of eucalyptus leaves.

Somehow it doesn't surprise me that you had a coffee farm. I think you & Isak Dinesen might have a lot in common (except, of course, her unfortunate marriage). What a wonderful story!

texasblu said...

Wow. Is there anything you HAVEN'T done? I find myself wishing I could see your life in a timeline...

:D

ExpatBrazil said...

I added a post about Clarence Johnson with a photo to my Blog (new).

http://expatbrazil.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/expat-tales-clarence-johnson-paraguay/

Do you have any idea what happened to him, his wife and son?

ExpatBrazil