Finca Lara of ‘my uncle’ in Nueva Suiza, Chiriquí

Finca Lara is located in Nueva Suiza on the road to Cerro Punta in the Chiriqui province of Panama. Seeing the last name Lara, I thought we should be family, since it is my grandmother’s last name. I called Mr. Felix to visit him and he told me he was going to be toasting coffee in the afternoon. We decided to go and see the process. We spent hours talking with this elderly man who offered us good company, stories and home-made wine.

If you want to visit you can stay in a

hotel in Volcan or in a hotel in Cerro Punta. We stayed in Casa Grande Bambito.

Don Lara Coffee

In 2004, the father of Felix and Carmen Lara died. Two years later they decided to market the coffee produced on the farm. They did not know what name to give the coffee and a daughter of Felix suggested ‘Don Lara’ in honor of her grandfather who was the one who planted originally. Don Lara arrived in Boquete between 1935-1937 and then in 1940, he migrated to the Cerro Punta area. He acquired a 40-hectare farm called Finca Lara.

If you want to buy their coffee, which has sanitary registration, you can do it at Finca Lara or at the Volcan market. Carmen goes every day to sell coffee, cheese and vegetables in the market. Orders can also be placed nationwide and sent by freight. In 2007, they exported to Japan and still retain the packaging sample. He tells me between laughs, that coffee is no longer good, but he kept it for the memory. Currently they are not exporting.

Coffee roasting process

Felix proudly showed us his red coffee roasting machine that he had acquired a few years ago. It was a Mexican contact he met at Expocomer, the fair of the Chamber of Commerce, who sold him the machine. When it finally arrived at the farm he was so happy that they celebrated all night. He used to roast coffee in other farms like Janson and Hartmann, but he depended on their availability and sometimes it was bad for the customers.

Toasting five and a half pounds takes about fifteen minutes. You must be aware when the machine reaches 200 and look at the color of the coffee with a valve that takes out some grains. The variety he sows is Arabica, which is a local coffee, which he says is one of the best.

The farm is 1850 meters high with a privileged climate. The soil is very fertile so it does not need to be fumigated to produce coffee. He is lucky that it is separated from other coffee plantations, so it does not get infected with diseases such as ‘roya’. You can not say that the production is organic, since they use agrochemicals for other crops on the farm.

Agricultural diversity in Finca Lara

The farm is divided into paddocks, coffee plantations, a mountain that is a reserve and the agricultural part that includes carrots, potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, parsley and broccoli. He has many fruits, but he does not sell them, since he is paid very little. He prefers to give them to visitors, eat them or give them to the birds. Some of these include orange, tangerine, lemon, tree tomato, medlar, pears, apples, peach, plums, custard apples, blackberry, cape gooseberry and grapefruit.

We had to return the next morning as it was rainy season and the weather was bad when we went in the afternoon. We arrived at 6:30 a.m. to see Felix do his morning milking. He has some cows on the farm that he uses for milk.

Then we went to his house where they gave us a breakfast of fried yucca, cheese made with milk from the farm and coffee.

We rode in his red pick-up up a street in poor condition to get to the top. He says that his father made an agreement to have that road made in order to sell trees in the agricultural area of the farm. Most of the farm is still a reserve and you can go in trails through the cloud forest.

Producer of the Year

Felix Lara won the prize for the best medium producer granted by the Ministry of Agricultural Development of Panama (MIDA) in 2017. He appeared in a magazine and they called him to tell him and said “wow that was me, it was something spectacular.” Finca Lara is certified by MIDA and the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP) as an agrotourism farm. They do not have a lodging option.

They prefer to work by reservations, especially if they are groups of more than five people. Thus they have the capacity to serve people well. They have had groups of 80-90 students, but the majority who visit them are couples or families. The tour usually takes an hour and a half, but may take longer depending on the interest of the people. During the tour the process of coffee production is explained and tasted.

In the agricultural part of the farm they are going to fertilize cabbage, lettuce and potatoes. Also you will harvest what is ready. We harvest carrots and lettuces.

Felix took out his machete, cleaned a carrot and ate it. His dog Corbato lay down in the field while eating carrots full of dirt. He also gave us a taste of the fruits he found, including some exotic fruits such as medlar and cape gooseberry.

When leaving Finca Lara, we took a bag with carrots, parsley and lettuce. Felix accompanied us to the gate where he got his machete and got me a bouquet of calla lilies, my grandmother’s favorite flowers. He tells me to tell her that they are from her cousin from Nueva Suiza.
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