Robert is working outside Diriamba at Gaia Estates, a 90-acre organic coffee farm that is also one of only three places in Nicaragua that is certified as “Bird Friendly” by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. One hundred-forty-three bird species, 45 of them migratory, have been observed on the farm. The bird population is supported by the wide diversity of more than 60 tree species on the farm, many of them used to shade the coffee. Whereas most rural land use is divided into either forest or farm land for economic production, Gaia Estates is an example of both uses coexisting together.
Because the coffee farm is not too far from Jinotepe, Robert is continuing to live with the host family he had during the first six weeks, and each day he commutes about 45 minutes to get to work. First he takes a public transport van from Jinotepe to Diriamba (about a 10-minute ride), where he boards a “moto-taxi” (a 3-wheeled covered motorcycle) for a 30-minute ride to the farm.
Robert’s main job has been to find information on the trees at the farm that will be used in a guided nature trail. Robert has been making signs with the English, Spanish, and scientific names for different trees, as well as finding interesting facts on each species that could be used by a tour guide or included in a booklet that visitors take on the trail. He has also worked some with the farm workers as they fertilize and prune the coffee trees, and other projects he may do yet are helping design the parking lot and putting feeders to attract butterflies.
The farm’s owner, Jefferson (who worked with MCC in Nicaragua for four years), said that his coffee farm and others in the area have been feeling the stress from global climate change as the average temperature increases and annual rainfall decreases. He is experimenting with other plants that can generate revenue while preserving the coffee forest ecosystem. This includes growing cinnamon trees and vanilla orchids. While the cinnamon trees are easy to cultivate, making vanilla beans is complicated. It requires growing the orchids, pollinating them at the right time, and drying the beans at the right humidity. If he has time, Robert will help with both these projects, but the orchids Robert might have helped plant have not arrived yet. If the vanilla project works, Jefferson’s farm would be the first in the country to produce vanilla beans, and then his farm could serve as a model for other area coffee farms also stressed by global climate change.
Robert lives with Christian and Silvia, who have a young son, Said. Christian is a physician who works in a hospital emergency room in Managua, and Sylvia has a small business making cloth-covered seats from recycled tires.