When I first visited Panama in early 2002 I had no intention of moving here and certainly had no intention of purchasing an overgrown coffee farm. I was on vacation. In Panama City I toured the Canal and shopped the artisan markets. I went to Bocas de Toro on the Caribbean side, a reggae and salsa flavored backpacker destination. I rode in boats, snorkeled among the coral reefs, luxuriated in the warm turquoise waters, tromped around scary jungles, and drank lots of margaritas. But, it was hot and steamy, and after a few days of tropical languor, I hopped on a mini-bus and took a wild ride over the Cordillera Mountains, bound for Boquete.
Within 48 hours of arriving in cool, misty, rainbow-filled Boquete, I was in love. On day three I made the difficult drive up Jaramillo mountain to look at a piece of property. The moment I walked down the steep, broken concrete track, I became rooted in place. I stood there, surrounded by a towering eucalyptus grove, scraggly coffee trees, and head-high weeds. Wild impatiens -- red, orange and white -- rose in glorious profusion from the carpeted the shaded undergrowth. Poinsettias, eight feet tall, lined the path. Out-of-control hibiscus bushes with pink blossoms the size of dinner plates made a formidable hedge. I was sure there were snakes, everywhere. Goose bumps raced through me, toe to head and back. I shuddered. The axis of my life shifted.
I picked a red coffee cherry and tasted the sweet, slimy pulp.
In that moment, I knew.
I would move to Boquete and grow organic coffee.
I did. You can read the whole story in the book Risking Everything, published in 2011 and winner of the Global eBook Award for Best Memoir.
Finca Luz is a patch of Panamanian paradise looking out to the Pacific Ocean and Volcan Baru. Elevation is just under 5,000 feet. The existing farm was originally part of a much larger ‘mother’ finca devoted to coffee, oranges and bananas. During the Noriega years and the subsequent crushing depression that gripped Panama, the finca was neglected and reclaimed by the highland cloud forest. This was a good thing, as it meant the land was chemical free and had naturally reverted to ‘organic.’ In the late 1990′s, with the rediscovery of Panama by baby boomers from around the world , the mother finca was divided into smaller parcels. Some were sold, some languished. Finca Luz was sold twice, but each time the purchasers changed their minds and the farm was put back on the market. It was waiting for me.
In the years since 2002, Finca Luz has been reclaimed from the jungle. I built a funky house from a crumbling migrant worker barracks. A greenhouse protects seedlings from too much rain or too much sun. Trails and landscaping are maturing. There have been years of good weather and plentiful harvests of fabulous coffee. There have been years of bad weather and scanty harvests of still fabulous coffee.
Finca Luz nurtures, heals, and inspires all who embrace her.
In the years since, I have been joined here by my life partner, Dianne Heidke, whose energy, creativity and brilliance have helped the farm, Cloud Forest Botanicals, and me, to grow and flourish. I am so very grateful, for all of it.