How this partnership began
The story of Torunes Coffee Plantation of Costa Rica and Soulgives Coffee has a remarkable beginning.
My name is Valerie Scheirman and my unusual lifetime experiences almost delivered me to death’s door. Instead, I ended up in Costa Rica where I discovered some amazing people complete with almost fable-like stories of their own, growing coffee in challenging circumstances.
Thus, my idea to establish a nonprofit came to life for me. The mission would be to tell their story and help them bring their coffee to the United States while at the same time serving others. I named the nonprofit Soulgives.
I had suffered a severe injury from sinus surgery resulting in a brain injury. They called it a cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) leak. It resulted in several complications which included a surgical implantation of a brain shunt. It resolves most brain pressure issues, but I feel much better at sea level. The coasts of Costa Rica and Mexico are where I feel the best. In my home in Colorado, I experienced frequent and prolonged headaches. Pressure from weather changes or altitude changes would increase the severity of my headaches.
Coffee Helps My Condition
One of the things that helps people with my condition is coffee! When the headaches get bad a cup of coffee works well to temper the pain. There have been studies and many articles written about the benefits of coffee drinking but for me the greatest effect is that it stops my debilitating headaches. Oh, how I love my good cup of JOE. It may even be why my middle name is Jo.
My husband wanted to help me, so we decided to live at sea level as much as possible. This is how we met the Esquivel family: Jaime and his brothers Coco, Eric, Alan and Ivan, sister Floribeth, mother Daisy, and their strong dad, Don Francisco.
Jaime owns a furniture store and does incredible woodworking. When we visited his shop, we would always buy the family coffee from him. I would take it back to the states for friends and family. The responses were that it was the best coffee they had ever tasted and it became the only coffee that they wanted to drink. We joked that it was like gold and we almost needed a hiding place for it so it wouldn’t run out. The sad part was that the only way they could get it was if we brought it in our suitcases when we came back to the U.S. We halfway managed to keep them supplied until our travel changed due to the pandemic.
Pandemic Breeds Solutions
We were quarantined down in Costa Rica, so we decided to learn more about the story of the Torunes farm and how it got started. We were fortunate to get to see and experience the farm through the eyes of the family. A friend from the Boruca tribe (an indigenous group in central Costa Rica) told me of their strong belief that the eyes are the windows to a person’s soul. This belief is so important in understanding the story of what true organic coffee farming is. Although Jaime speaks fluent Spanish and English, it helped that he gave me the history in a way that made my soul sing for his family, through their vibrant stories. I saw in his eyes a deep soul of commitment to family.
Growing the Coffee
He told me the old story of the ox cart that is so colorfully painted and has become a symbol of Costa Rica. The best coffee is grown in the rugged volcanic mountains and for over 100 years the oxcart was the best way to bring the coffee to the port cities. It’s revered and shared because of its great meaning.
To be yoked means to come alongside one another like the oxen were. The old ox comes alongside the young one and shows him how to follow the lead of the driver. If the ox strays the driver will try to correct him. Sometimes the ox would get sores because the yoke would rub him wrong. It was not due to a bad fit, it was because the ox was stubborn and was resisting the yoke! I found this so amazing because we all resist something in life. We all want to go our own path.
Then Jaime talked about how his siblings all had their own paths or so it seemed. Alan was a banker in San Jose and had a degree in International Trade. Coco earned a degree in Agricultural Engineering. Floribeth became an attorney. Eric liked to pan for gold and became an accomplished builder.
All In The Family
I learned how Francisco, Jaime and Eric stayed working on the farm while the other brothers worked their other jobs. On the farm they grew tomato plants for a second crop, and had to spray them with a very bad pesticide that was making everyone very sick, particularly the sons. This is what made them change.
About this time, the 1990s, in Costa Rica there was a movement for farms to move to organic farming. They were told that all they would have to do to obtain this certification from the US and Europe was to change the way they grew the coffee. They could earn more money. At first, less than 8% of Costa Rican farms stepped up. So why is there such a small amount of organic coffee growers in Costa Rica with this true certification? The answer is that it was so difficult for a farmer to change from using chemicals to then follow all the regulations and learn how to grow the plants organically and still make a profit. In addition, the additional pay for organic did not even cover their loss in yield. The Esquivel family survived this by working other jobs until the new methods came to fruition and they could return to work on the coffee farm.
Another question is why is Costa Rican coffee the best?
The answer is that it grows well in volcanic ash and at high altitudes. This means that its best grown on the side of the mountainous slopes where the process of harvesting the beans has to be done by hand instead of by mechanical harvesters.
Thus, large corporations are not interested in buying up little parcels of mountainous land, because they cannot be easily harvested! Machines work fast but only on level ground.
Most of the farms in Costa Rica that went organic were not able to financially sustain the limitations because the additional cost they could charge didn't cover the loss in yield. They had to go back to the old ways so they could meet expenses. Today less than 1% of the farms in Costa Rica are certified organic and less than 0.5% is certified organic. The Torunes farm owned by the Esquivel family is one out of one hundred with the special seal of organic coffee and you can tell when you drink it.
SoulGives Coffee believes in these organic family coffee farms and hopes to crack open a door to a supply to the U.S.
Now all the Esquivel family live on the Torunes farm except for Jaime who still runs his J&G furniture store. Jaime and his family knew that this is what his father always wanted. His dream was to see their coffee made the traditional way and being enjoyed as the best flavored coffee in the world. Jaime and his family have built beautiful cabins where visitors can go and learn about the coffee growing process that they have developed.
Hopefully soon, they may even have some yoga to go along with that coffee! Any visitor to Costa Rica is welcome to go to J&G Furniture to talk over a cup of coffee with Jaime about the Yoke of the Ox cart that he has hanging up in his store. I see this place, its stories, and its culture as magical.
We are thrilled to be just a small part of that picture with Soulgives and plan to walk “alongside” to carry the coffee to the U.S. so more people can enjoy the original taste of Costa Rican coffee.