First off, allow me to introduce you to Mr. John Collins. John, is currently the managing director of La Finca, Lerida; one of Panama's most prestigous coffee plantations. In Espanole, Finca, means farm and this is one outstanding farm / farmer. That is a picture of John relaxing in his home at Finca Lerida on the right.
Finca Lerida was founded in 1917 by Tolief B. Monniche, an engineer who designed the auxillary locks for the Panama Canal. When he finished his contract, he was worn out from the years of intense work and pressure involved with designing and building the canal. Mr. Monniche, decided to take a vacation when his contract was complete, and spent his time in Boquete, Panama, where he bought the land, and buildt the farm now known as Finca Lerida. He build a fantastic home here, which still stands today, and is the home of John Collins whose family bought the farm in 1957.
John Collins was one of six children, whose father was the Ambassador to the Panama Canal during the 1950's. John was born here, and as such, has always been a citizen of Panama. He is fluent in both English and Spanish. Maybe more. When he walked in the cafe at Finca Lerida, I thought he would be an interesting character and hit him with my very best "Buenos Dias!" He responded with more Spanish than I can handle, but at least I knew he was for sure an interesting character. I invited John to join Nancy and I at our table, which he did, but not before going in back and grabbing his own mug of Cafe Lerinda's famous and fabulous product. I asked him if he came here often, and he said yes, "I live and work here."
John told us a lot about the history of the farm, from it's early beginnings under Mr. Monniche, to his lastest strategies for expanding the awareness of the high quality coffee produced here at Finca Lerida. John is currently working on a multi-year plan which will veritcally integrate the farm and its products. Currently, they are working to create the necessary equipment and processes to manufacture their own fertilizer and energy. This will eliminate the need to purchase these commodities to operate Finca Lerinda, thus making Finca Lerinda more profitable and even more environmentally sound.
John conducts tours of the farm at least twice a week. He is probably the only owner / director of a coffee plantation that conducts a personal tour - weekly. This tour goes all the way from "coffee bean" to coffee cup. It's a great tour and will expand your knowledge of coffee immensely if you have the chance.
Speaking of the environment, Finca Lerinda is approximately 900 acres in total area. However, the coffee production is only about 200 acres. The remainder of Finca Lerinda is dedicated to tropical rainforest - and has some of the best bird watching in the all of Panama, and for that matter, all of the world.
A lot of people believe that the Quetzal is the prettiest bird in the world. I realize that this is the kind of thing that starts arguments, I have friends who believe the prettiest bird in the world is the Mallard Duck, and I do admit that they are pretty, some think its a swan, some are thinking cardinals or hummingbirds....but trust me a lot of people (who have seen the Quetzal, believe it is the prettiest bird). In any case, the Quetzal is one of the 100's of bird species you can see on the Finca Lerida Coffee Plantation. Here's a picture of a Quetzal so at least you'll know what I am talking about. One more thing, John has a professional bird expert who conducts bird watching tours on the farm.
John lives in the home originally build around 1920 by Mr. Monniche. He inspected every inch of the building, inside, outside, underside, top-side, and remains convinced that the engineering of Mr. Monnniche, is the best that can be. In fact, he feels that some of his recent construction may not have achieved the same quality, and took as much as 3 times longer to complete. Still, he is happy with the outcome and the new lodges John designed and built are very nice.
I asked John a little about Panama City. He told me he likes to go down to Panama City about once a month to recharge his batteries. He says that the traffic, crowds, and noise are really obnoxious and gives his batteries a charge. He mentioned occaisionally, he likes to drag a bus driver off a bus and give him a good country arse whoopin. Apparently, this battery charge gives John what it takes to get back to Boquete and the farm, and get back in the tranquility of this fantastic place, which he calls home. Honestly, this place is so peaceful, that it just might lull you into a twenty year sweet dream. I can see how this could happen. So as John Collins says "a little aggravation is good for you."
The world could use more John Collins, not just because he is a pioneer in ecological farming, but because he makes a great product and is wonderful person to have a visit with. If you get a chance check out his web site @ http://www.fincalerida.com/. You can also email him @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Better yet, if you happen to be in Boquete, Panama...drop in and see John....you'll be glad you did.
All the best,