It’s been about two days since I broke the news in the paper about my upcoming departure, and your well wishes are making me emotional.
Although joining my family’s Hawaiian coffee business is the best way I can honor my late father, it’s hard to leave the Valley. Wednesday’s story includes some fond memories of Koda Farms’ rice, UC Lindcove’s citrus fruit, all the stone fruit, The Double T and fresh figs.
Expect me to celebrate a few more local gems in my remaining stories.
Since you’ve shared so much with me, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of some of my adventures to come.
Going home means I get hugs from my mom:
Here’s my new “office”:
And here’s the background about my parents’ coffee adventures, which I alluded to in Wednesday’s story. (The Fresno Bee link no longer is live.)
Date: Wednesday, 6/30/2010
Origin: Joan Obra THE FRESNO BEE
Headline: Coffee farm fulfills Papa’s dream
Text: When a farmer dies, an inevitable question arises: Does the family keep the farm or sell it?
Four years ago, shortly after we buried my father, Mom and I stood in our Hawaiian coffee farm and waited for an answer. A mist rolled down the mountain towards us. A wind rustled the leaves. I blinked and turned toward the ocean in the distance.
Finally, Mom broke the silence. “Trees, ” she said, “do you know that your owner is gone?”
We knew what Papa wanted Mom to do. “You can’t handle this alone, ” he had said from his hospital bed. “It’s too much for you.”
But how could we sell? This was Papa’s dream: to turn the Ka’u District of the Big Island — a fledgling, unknown coffee region — into one of the best in the world. And after years of tending the trees, roasting coffee and greeting customers with steaming cups at the local farmers market, giving up the farm would be losing a part of the family.
At the same time, how could we not sell? My brother lives in New Jersey; I’m in Fresno. Mom would be responsible for growing, processing, roasting and selling coffee from the 12-acre farm.
Without an easy solution, I was scared and relieved when Mom decided to give it a go.
The transition wasn’t easy. At first, she wanted to die and “go join your father.” When she had problems with farm machinery, she would break into tears and beg him to come back. To avoid a complete emotional breakdown, she worked too hard, even taking over the presidency of the Ka’u Coffee Growers Cooperative she’d founded with my father.
Then, the Ka’u region caught a break. In 2007, coffee grown by Ka’u farmers William Tabios and Marlon Biason ranked among the best in an international competition of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
The awards prompted Miguel Meza, an acclaimed coffee roaster, to move to Hawaii and work with them.
Mom soaked up his lessons and started to become known as an innovative and artisanal coffee producer. But we had no idea how many industry leaders were paying attention until last week, when the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe gave her the 2010 Outstanding Producer Award.
We were stunned. Every year, only one smallholder, estate, cooperative, mill or farm receives this award. Unexpectedly, Mom had turned into a model for coffee farmers around the world.
Mom was ecstatic. She was proud of herself, but even happier for Papa and his namesake coffee company, Rusty’s Hawaiian.
“Your Dad’s name is becoming known!” she cried.
And in that moment, I knew why we hadn’t been able to sell the farm four years ago. It wasn’t just because of my father’s dream. And it wasn’t just because we were attached to the farming lifestyle. To my family, caring for the coffee trees means much more: It’s a way of keeping Papa alive.
The columnist can be reached at email@example.com or (559) 441-6365. Read her blog at fresnobeehive.com/author/joan_obra.
[photo credits: Ralph Gaston]