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?