“Since I was a child I aspired to have my own farm, since I am part of a family of producers,” says Fátima Mercedes Maradiaga, “and my major inspiration was my mother, since very young I observed my mother enjoying herself working on the land, throughout the entire process of planting, harvesting, and processing.”
In 2007 Fátima, also a school teacher, decided to begin to work her own parcel of land. It was named “La Reina” (The Queen), after her husband’s nickname for her. He is also a coffee producer and together they have developed best practices for their farms over the years. “The lesson we’ve learned is, in order to have quality coffee we need to be full of patience,” says Fátima, “and above all to maintain the vision of the farm as a family heritage, whose quality and productivity we need to care for, for the good of our children and grandchildren.”
Fátima’s honey process microlot is an entirely hand-made coffee: after depulping the coffee is fermented for only a short amount of time in a small tank, and then taken directly to the solar dryer for the delicate drying phase. In the dryer, the sticky parchment is monitored for exact temperature constantly, and is turned every 15 minutes during the first 3 days of drying to prevent residual moisture from being trapped. Total drying time for each honey batch is between 15 and 21 days. The results are astounding: this particular honey process lot is mouthwatering, floral, tropical and flawless, with a cotton candy sweetness, hibiscus-scented syrup, mango jam, and citrus curd. Even for all of Marcala, even for COMSA’s top qualities, this is a stunning result.
Finca La Reina is in the community of Las Flores, outside the municipality of Marcala, in Honduras’ La Paz department, very close to the border with El Salvador. This part of the country is extremely well respected for coffee, so much so that in 2005 the region received Honduras’ first Denominación de Origen (DO) for coffee which, similar to American Viticulture Areas (AVAs), certifies the region’s terroir and final products as being authentic, so as to protect it from adulteration or imitation. The DO designation applies to Honduras’ mountainous southwestern region and includes parts of Intibucá, La Paz, and Comayagua, although it is simply named “DO Marcala” after the town itself, considered the region’s capital of coffee heritage.
Fátima is an associate of Café Orgánico Marcala Sociedad Anónima, or COMSA, a large and well-respected growers association based in the town of Marcala. COMSA was founded in 2001 with the equivalent of $365 USD and 61 small coffee producers, 12 women and 49 men. Today the organization has more than 1,500 associate coffee farmers covering an area of 5,800 hectares, maintains multiple certifications, and is considered one of Honduras’ model business organizations.
From the beginning COMSA has promoted organic agricultural methods and quality of coffee as fundamental values for all participating producers. This was a reaction to what the founders saw as an over-reliance on agro-toxins which threatened the longevity of family farms (often a family’s sole asset) and the physical health of the people farming one of their country’s most gifted coffee terroirs. In 2012 the group acquired their own parcel of farmland and built “Finca Biodinámica La Fortaleza” (“Biodynamic Fortress”), a demonstration farm for testing sustainable techniques, as well as designing optimal farm inputs that can be created using common by-products of coffee farming—the results of which are shared throughout COMSA’s farmer network. In recent years COMSA has begun to focus more on what they call “La Finca Humana” (the human farm): an increased consciousness within the farmer that seeks to integrate their physical and social lives with the natural environment around them using observation, investigation, analysis, reflection, and activities that connect farmers with one another and the planet.