MEET OUR FARMERS
Our Meet Our Farmers series provides a glimpse into the history, legacy and dedication of the farming families whom we partner with. When you purchase San Francisco Bay Coffee, you are joining our efforts to improve the lives of our farmers and those in their communities around the world.
May 1, 2021
Las Lajas Estate, Nicaragua
Ernesto Mierisch at Las Lajas Estate.
The Las Lajas coffee farm was founded in 1892 by Ernesto Bruno Mierisch, an adventurous German civil engineer and geologist who fell in love with Nicaragua and relocated there for work opportunities. Due to a lack of economic resources at that time, he was compensated with land high in the mountains in exchange for designing and building bridges for the Nicaraguan government. He chose to stay in Nicaragua to take part in the flourishing coffee revolution and never looked back. Several generations and more than 100 years later, the Las Lajas coffee farm is still owned and managed by descendants of the Mierisch family. The family’s long-standing devotion to their craft is evident in their passion and integration of multiple generations working together, adapting to change and challenge over the years, to consistently produce exceptional coffee.
Founder Ernesto Bruno Mierisch, early 1900s.
Wilfrido Mierisch Cubillo, second generation farm proprietor in the 1960s.
It’s the Mierisch tradition to involve all family members from an early age in the coffee business since it is their family’s way of life. Education is a priority, and in each new generation, a successor takes the helm in running the farm after completing their studies. Las Lajas is currently managed by fourth-generation Ernesto Mierisch, who has served for the past 27 years as head of the farm. He has benefited from the guidance of both his father, Don Will Mierisch Buitrago, and his grandfather, Wilfrido Mierisch Cubillo, allowing him to build a comprehensive knowledge around the coffee production process, from planting the seed through exportation. Ernesto and his father are joined on the farm by his mother, two older sisters, his wife and their two young daughters.
Ernesto Mierisch and Don Will Mierisch with Victoria Gutierrez, youngest of the third generation of employees born at Las Lajas Estate. Preparing to graduate in Language and Literature, Victoria has been a teacher at Las Lajas School for four years.
The name Las Lajas comes from the abundance of large rocks found on the farm’s mountainous property. Located in a mountain range within the Datanli El Diablo National Natural Reserve in Nicaragua at altitudes of 3,280-4,200 feet, the farm is surrounded by rainforest and boasts a special microclimate that results in perfect ecological and topographical conditions for growing distinct, quality coffee. Las Lajas is actually situated in a unique pocket where coffee growth is typically minimal, so its bountiful production for the past century has been somewhat extraordinary. The farm is home to seven creeks that originate on the mountain as well as a large number of native flora and fauna. When the summers are particularly intense, 80% of the farm’s coffee plantations can be irrigated naturally. Las Lajas has a limited permissible area of approximately 383 acres in which to sow coffee in order to preserve the mountains, water resources and ecological balance on the rest of their land.
According to family history, the coffee farm was established with Typica bean varieties that no longer exist in Nicaragua, and many other varieties have since been cultivated at Las Lajas. They now strive to develop varieties that are more resistant to rust and the effects of climate change, with improved productivity per acre, while never sacrificing quality. Ernesto explains, “Each year is a learning process, and with more than 100 years of coffee growing experience, we continue to learn, adapt and innovate around everything to produce our coffee.”
The six coffee varieties currently grown on the farm include: Caturra, Catuai, Sarchimor-Parainema, Bourbon, Costa Rica 95 and Lempira. The family upholds their long-time practice of caring for the plantations without the use of herbicides and rely on manual methods that won’t degrade the soil. Byproducts generated from the harvest are used to supplement the soil, and biological products are used sparingly to control pests and diseases. “As a fourth-generation coffee producer, we have to aspire to produce coffee in a responsible and sustainable way for the well-being of the family and to generate employment in our community,” shares Ernesto.
A close-up look at the germination of coffee beans at Las Lajas Estate. Future plantations will be in production over the next four years.
Daily operations of the farm rely upon the service of 70 permanent employees. Currently, 45 of those employees and their families reside on the farm. During the harvest period, there can be up to 750 employees, with 80% housed at the farm and the remainder living in nearby communities. Managing the increasing costs of both materials and labor require improving production efficiencies each year. Ernesto continues, “Planning for labor during the harvest is especially difficult because of the need to guarantee numerous logistics, including food, lodging and salary for so many individuals, above what is governed by national law, to ensure a good harvest outcome.”
Ernesto Mierisch tasting and selecting coffee from Las Lajas Estate.
With a business relationship of more than 25 years now, San Francisco Bay Coffee has been a critical partner to Las Lajas. “From the first handshake as a cordial greeting, we have been fortunate to establish a long-term relationship because we want our children to be able to provide coffee to the next generations of the Rogers family. San Francisco Bay Coffee pays us for our costs and has given us stability that allows us to better plan future investments. All these years, we have delivered 100% of our harvest to the company,” says Ernesto.
San Francisco Bay Coffee and the Rogers Family Foundation have also supported the farm by constructing facilities to better the conditions for employees, including a school, daycare, medical clinic, bathrooms, showers, laundry and temporary employee housing. Las Lajas works to support the community directly by providing student scholarships, sports and recreational activities, religious activities, transportation and coverage of basic needs for those who live on the farm because they are considered family. Ernesto comments, “One of our family mottos is ‘We all deserve a chance.’“
Top: Las Lajas School. Bottom: Family home for resident workers at Las Lajas Estate.
There are always projects in the works for the farm’s continued vitality. Las Lajas utilizes a hydraulic wheel first made by Ernesto’s great-grandfather that is in the process of being updated to supply more electricity and light to all housing on the expanding farm. The Mierisch family is grateful to be able to use the water naturally coming from the mountains to generate the needed power for their employees. The family is also building a mill to grind all organic matter and nutrient-rich coffee pulp so that it can be reintegrated back into the coffee plantations to restore the soil. Ernesto adds, “In the next six years, we hope to finish renovating the entire farm in a sustained, productive and commercial manner while continuing to supply San Francisco Bay Coffee.”
Water wheel on property with more than 60 years of generating energy at Las Lajas Estate.
The history of Las Lajas is rich and extensive, and drinking their coffee is to taste and feel the essence of a dedicated family for more than 100 years. Ernesto is very proud of the legacy created by his ancestors that has been entrusted to him, and he is committed to ensuring that it will be the same for his children. He also notes the contributions of his friend and agronomist engineer, Roger Mairena, who has been with the farm for more than 20 years and a major factor in the health of their crops and coffee quality. Ernesto is mostly complimentary of the San Francisco Bay Coffee team for believing in his family, providing trust and friendship, and giving Las Lajas the opportunity to succeed and be part of growing the largest family in the world.