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Fresno, this long goodbye is making me cry.

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 or (559) 441-6365. Read her blog at

[photo credits: Ralph Gaston]

Responses to "Fresno, this long goodbye is making me cry."

kiel says:

I’m happy for you!

Nico says:

I’ve been reading your articles for a while now and really appreciate all of the local eateries that you have exposed not only myself but other Fresnans as well. I wish the best for you and your family. Good Luck!

mdub420 says:

How exciting at the same time. Good luck and I wish you well!!

Stephen says:

Joan, you will be sadly and severely missed.

But it seems you’re making the choice that’s in your heart and blood, which can’t ever be argued.

I wish you the very best in your new adventure. Hawaii’s gain is Fresno’s loss.

Audrey Ward says:

Joan, you have done a wonderful job covering the best of the Valley. You will truly be missed. I wish you much success and happiness helping with your family’s coffee business in Hawaii.

NerdMom says:

You will be missed from both the foodie scene and my reading in the Bee! But knowing that you are honoring your family is a blessing. My prayers and well wishes go with you!

Eric R. Bellingrath says:

This is a great story. I’m sure you guys will continue to honor your family’s legacy. Good luck Joan, prayers and happy vibes to you!

Kamsy says:

Joan, we will miss you here in the Valley, but best of luck to you in your new venture. And if you have time, you should create a blog and let us go along with you in your new journey. That way, we could still keep in touch :)

Auntie Meant says:

Dear Joan, I read your story and began to cry. I am so happy to have such a beautiful person(on so many levels)as a niece. Your Dad will be so happy having you and your Mom as a team keeping his dream alive. God bless and keep you.

pk says:

An awesome story! You are doing a good thing…and coming from a farm family that faced a similar problem, know exactly how daunting the situation was..

It is good to help your family….wishing you much success in the new venture, and much enjoyment being with your family.

Candice says:

Joan, I’m very sad to see you go but I wish you nothing but success and happiness. I think what you’re doing is wonderful and I would do the same thing. And if you ever need additional help, I would be more than happy to leave this stuffy newsroom and join you in your new office :)

Rebecca says:

We are going to miss you so much, Joan! Good luck with your new adventures!

Joan Obra says:

See why I get emotional? Many thanks to all of you!

My apologies for this quick comment. I have your email addresses and will write you more thoughtfully when I’m less overwhelmed. :)

Leo says:

High Fife!!!

I should have paid more attention to how focused you were when you asked me about how hard it was to leave my stable job to go out on my own and brave running my own business. I thought you were doing your reporter thing, in retrospect you were doing research for your own hard decision of a similar nature.

Thank you for appreciating the food of our valley and writing about it. Sharing your appreciation inspires others to do the same. Perhaps writing for a paper gives you a bigger stone to throw in the pond, and those ripples carry with them your inspiration. Thank you for being such a constructive pebble tosser. Fresno, and the valley, is better for having had you be a part of it’s community.

I can tell by the kind of questions people ask me about coffee, how well they understand coffee to begin with, or really want to know even. I have every faith in you and your ability to learn to go do incredible things in Ka’u. I’m looking forward to hearing about it all as well.

And oh yes, I am most definitely planning a trip to origin in Ka’u and Kona….oh yes, I am.

Best wishes to you and your husband Joan,
Leo Rios

Russ Minick says:

Hawaii. Barnard. Berkeley. Fresno. Now Hawaii again. What a life you have led, and what a trail of good friends and good vibes you have left. Aloha nui nui.

KC Pomering says:

Joan – you will be so missed. I wish you all the luck in the future. Bravo on the work you have done here opening our eyes to the bounty in Central California. Good wishes to you and your family.
KC Pomering

TwolfMom says:

Joan, Thank you for the goodness you have helped spread these last 7 years here in the Central Valley! You will definitely be missed!!! Blessings & success for you and your family as you join this new venture. Good luck & God bless you.

Susan says:

So Joan, where do we buy your coffee. Hopefully you’re making it available here or will very soon.
Enjoy your life on the farm as much as you enjoyed life in the Valley.

Sharon Swiridoff says:

Joan, it was so special getting to know you.
Wishing you a wonderful ‘next chapter’. You are coming full circle…returning to Hawaii; and what a beautiful setting. May your new venture in the family coffee business be met with much Success! And most of all, may this move bring joy to you, Ralph, and your mother too.

Your delightful and contributing presence will be missed here in Fresno.

Blessings upon you always.
(formerly of Dan Gamel’s Health Club)

Richard Darby says:

Dear Joan,
Like like like what you are doing, but you will be truly, deeply missed. As a one time co-worker, I’m feeling that The Bee is losing one of it’s all time best! Madeline was a tough act to follow, but in your own unique way you were able to do so, big time!
Peace, Joy & Love always, Ricardo