By Michelle Fish
Good news is hard to keep to yourself. And for the last several months, Bob and I have had some really GREAT news that we have had to keep under wraps… until now.
When we first started our Farm-Direct mission back in 2018, Bob and I were a mighty team of two. And although we often travel with a small cadre of like-minded people, each of whom brings their own skills and experiences to the table, a mighty team of two we have remained.
One of the people that we have brought with us as often as we could is our dear friend and partner, Jorge Ferrey. You may know him as the producer at the El Recreo Coffee Estate in Jinotega, Nicaragua, which has been our Farm-Direct partner since 2019. In 2023, BIGGBY COFFEE will purchase approximately 550,000 pounds of El Recreo Coffee through the Farm-Direct model.
Jorge is the definition of a renaissance man. A highly skilled and experienced coffee producer, he is also a Physician. And, oh, by the way, he has a master’s degree in finance.
Jorge has been a teacher working with other producers, some with very small farms, at the technical school his parents, Carlos and Leana, started at El Recreo. He is passionate about helping small farmers gain the skills and knowledge to calculate their costs and create workable budgets so that their farms can achieve financial stability.
He is a thinker with a science brain that is full of big ideas. And he has brought that scientific approach to bear on all of the challenges and opportunities he experienced on the farm at El Recreo. Whether it was reimagining their composting program, better management of their water resources, being a good steward of their environment, and improving conditions for their workers, Jorge has worked tirelessly to accomplish his goals in service of people, the planet, and the community.
Jorge with us at the drying beds of Solai Coffee in Kenya.
As a part of our Farmshare initiative, he has accompanied us all over the world as a consultant and as our best ambassador for what we’re up to at One BIGG Island in Space. In fact, it is largely because of Jorge that we have a Farmshare initiative at all.
Over the last couple of years, Jorge has been with us to Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sierra Leone.
Wana Chipoya, the producer at Living Hope, and Jorge in April, 2022.
I’m embarrassed to say it out loud now, but the very first time we brought him along was to help us as a translator during one of our first trips to Chiapas in 2021. It took us about five minutes to figure out that what he brought to the table during that visit was about so much more than just his Spanish to English translation skills.
When Jorge looks at a coffee field, he knows exactly what’s going on. And when Jorge talks to another coffee farmer, they understand exactly where they are each coming from. He has helped us to see and understand the coffee farms we’ve visited in a much deeper, more profound way. That, in turn, has helped shape how we vet our potential Farm-Direct partners, and has made us better at what we’re doing in the world.
On the other side of the equation, he has forged great relationships both with our Farm-Direct partners, and with our prospects. When he met Wana Chipoya, the young producer at Living Hope in Ndola, Zambia, Wana was actively farming but was still at university studying agronomy. The two of them became friends who often collaborate on Wana’s production plans for Living Hope. He gives ongoing counsel and advice to a number of OBIIS prospects all over the world, including in Honduras at the Elevar Co-Op in Olancho, and Finca Montefresco in Yoro. And he is advising our friend Kadiatu Allie on her plans to build a model farm in Sierra Leone.
With Kadiatu Allie in Sierra Leone.
Perhaps most powerfully of all, as our Farm-Direct partner since 2019, Jorge is able to answer the question that every prospect we visit has, but is often afraid to ask… is OBIIS, and the promise of the Farm-Direct relationship we offer, real? He can speak from his own experience about what we’re up to, how we work, and what our values are.
Honestly, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are on our mission to be 100% Farm-Direct by 2028 without Jorge’s help.
Earlier this year, the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Nicaragua suddenly became very personal. Like hundreds of other Nicaraguan citizens, Jorge and his family were suddenly and forcibly exiled from their home and their country, losing everything they owned in the process. It was a traumatic and harrowing experience.
Jorge, his wife, and their two children were in many ways luckier than most. Jorge’s sister and brother-in-law are U.S. citizens with a thriving coffee shop business in Boston, Massachusetts.
So, the family had a place to go. And he had friends and connections to help ease the transition and tackle the mountain of paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles required to secure legal status for his family in the United States. At long last, all of the pieces are in place.
Safe after their ordeal in Boston, with the family, in March, 2023.
We are pleased to announce that as of August 23, 2023, OBIIS is now a mighty team of three.
Jorge is joining OBIIS as our Director of Sustainable Farming and Quality Assurance, our first official employee. In this position, he will continue the work that he has already done for us as a consultant, helping us to manage our existing Farm-Direct partnerships, vet future prospects, and assure the quality of the coffee that we purchase. We are so grateful and excited to have him join us in this capacity, although certainly we wish it had been under other circumstances.
Jorge will also continue to play a role in managing the production at El Recreo virtually, via Zoom. Despite the challenges, the farm continues to thrive under the leadership of their very capable team on the ground. And other family members have stepped up their oversight, as well. Despite the challenges, El Recreo remains in steady hands.
From a timing perspective, Jorge coming on board now gives OBIIS a tremendous boost. As more Farm-Direct partnerships come on-line, and our travel schedule gets more intense, having Jorge’s help in managing the work that we are up to will be invaluable.
On behalf of all of BIGGBY NATION, I hope you will join me in welcoming him to the family. We’re glad he’s here, and we can’t wait to get to work.