Right now I am safe at home yet under this unprecedented global quarantine. It's truly an interesting time that I have many thoughts on, I'll save those for another time. This does provide me with an opportunity to further reflect on my time in Laos. As we left off last time I introduced the various activities that I was involved in on a daily basis and some of the unique events. In this update, I will cover more of my activities, meeting interesting people, and discovering more about Laos and coffee.
Here is me with Mark Steadman, CEO of Lone Buffalo. They run a school that teaches English and business skills to underprivileged children. Here they are learning about the coffee process and shooting marketing material for their small coffee roasting business. These kids were great fun to be around and very keen on learning everything they can about business. The gentleman with the baby runs a coffee farm that the kids come and harvest and process coffee at the MX coffee facilities.
A few days later I ran some coffee plant and soil management courses for a local farm in Phonsavan. There I taught how to properly prune trees and apply lime to the soil. The Liming process was rather cursory as they would need to invest much further to fix the pH of their soil. For now, it was demonstrative and the biggest gains will come from pruning, leaving cover grasses, organic material, and caring for the land. It was good fun to hang out with them, share a lunch, and enjoy the day doing some ag work.
After that, I spent a few days at the roastery taking video and helping process orders. I also met a local gentleman who was interested in growing coffee on his uncle's farm. I went out there and performed a site analysis, had some Lao moonshine, and enjoyed good company.
Here are some photos of the site survey.
Given how bootstrapped this operation is sometimes we travel to the villages to evaluate, purchase, and transport the coffee. This village was the most organized of them all, had a main matriarch who kept everyone in-line, and a central square where they met, sorted coffee, and performed lots of activities. Frankly, I wish more towns in the United States operated a bit more like this. The old downtown model provides something that is missing for us these days. Also, that little Lao girl looked a bit like my five-year-old so I finally got her to agree to take a photo.
This village is Tan Thani but goes by several names, much like everything in Laos. I love how informal and personal everything is in Laos, though it can be frustrating not having universal standards to go on. Here we measured the moisture of the beans (they must fall below 12%), reviewed their drying operation, and purchased the parchment beans. It is very nice to see such a well run organization and to hear how they have improved and organized over the years.
Often coffee operations are run by women and they easily toss around 50-80lb bags of coffee while carrying babies on their backs. The women can operate the coffee farms that are near the village and all the processing and drying as this can be done near or in the village while they care for the children and homes. Many of the men hunt, run businesses in a nearby town, or work in other capacities that take them farther from the village.
We put about 2000 kilos of coffee in the back of this Toyota Hilux, that truck is a beast.
Later that week we visited another operation that is smaller and yet the people self-organized. We purchased smaller amounts of coffee and I gathered soil samples for my impromptu lab set up back at the roastery. Worked with Wa, teaching how to conduct soil samples, though ideally a better lab with better equipment could perform more official samples.
You can also witness just how devastating the ubiquitous slash and burn is. It's truly astounding how much of the mountainside is being cut down and used for temporary growth. With increasing population pressures and economic incentives, this process will eventually culminate in a greatly diminished ability for these people to live off the land. I don't always love everything that development is doing but globalization and economic growth are occurring and just leaving these environments subject to short-term gains by farmers isn't the answer either.
There was still time here and there to go exploring on dirt bikes, fall of them, slide down a mountain, get pinned to a tree and have gasoline pour out onto me... That was a fun day.
Here we conclude this post and there is probably one or two more posts before it concludes my trip. I wanted to keep this going to provide closure for my activities out there for those that are interested and as a way, for me to chrono-log my trip.
Comments: Thanks for reading this and joining me on the journey. We would love your continued support as we look to remain engaged with these communities. Check out our coffee and tell your friends about us.