The story of Finca Magdalena is one of the land, and of the people that have lived on its soil for thousands of years. Sitting 150 meters up the flank of Volcán Maderas, this land has passed through many hands during our history.
The first residents of this island were an indigenous population that left us a wealth of petroglyphs. There are many petrogylphs strewn throughout the farm and up the side of the volcano. See the tour section for details on guided tours of the petroglyphs.
Since 1983, Finca Magdalena has belonged to our cooperative, Cooperativa Carlos Diaz Cajina which now consists of 25 associates and their families. We work the land to produce organic coffee, plantains, milk, honey, corn, beans, rice, and vegetables.
iIt has not always been like this. As was the case in most of Nicaragua, these lands belonged to an absentee landlord. A manager lived in the upstairs of the hacienda, and could look upon the peasants in any direction. The peasants, although they had lived here for generations, had few rights and public services, like schools and health clinics.
The revolution in 1979 changed many things here and everwhere in Nicaragua. The cooperative was given the land and the right to manage itself in dignity.
A chapter of our history: With the triumph of the Sandinista Popular Revolucion (1979), the Baltodano family, owners of Finca Magdalena, had acquired a debt of twelve thousand dollars with the national bank. The government relieved their debt by giving the peasants posession of the property. The Baltodanos were obligated to leave Magdalena, with all the belongings they could manage.
The Agrarian Reform benefitted many farmers. Before, the Finca Magdalena was made up of over 1700 manzanas (2936 acres, or 1188 hectares) of land, but not all the recipients of the land wished to participate in the cooperative system.
For this reason, only 30 of the original 90 who received land integrated into the cooperative Carlos Díaz Cajina in 1983. The rest became individual land-owners or formed other cooperatives, such as Bernadino Díaz Ochoa, Alfonso Valle, and the “25th of February” cooperative.
Upon taking posession of the land, the cooperative members had to work very hard to save the abandoned coffee plots, and the areas damaged by livestock. Reforesting and restoring cultivation were priorities, though basic grains were not forgotten.
In 1985 people began to arrive frequently to visit the lake in the crater of the Volcán Maderas. Their route took them by Finca Magdalena, as it is the easiest way up. Those that came by the finca would often ask for water or a cup of coffee, which gave birth to the idea of a tourist facility. But it wasn’t until 1995 that a small business was formed to sell food, beer, soda, fruit juice, and rustic beds to sleep in.
One of those visitors was Mr. David Mitchell, who upon seeing the beauty of the place and the warmth of the people, began to think how the families of the cooperative could improve their lot. One of the recomendations was to grow coffee, grown organically to fetch a higher price. Although organic processes were already in practice in the coffee plantations, they were not certified, and the coffee had no market. Mr. Mitchell helped substantially to acquire these things. Now income has improved, and more visitors come to see how we grow coffee.
From the triumph of the revolution until 1990, this cooperative was run by MIDINRA. In those years the members’ lives did not improve, nor was the cooperative legally constituted. It was in 1991 that the organization was legalized before the Ministry of Labor as “Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Carlos Díaz Cajina, R.L. #1”. Those years were difficult, as we had only ever been managed by other people, and now we were alone, abandoned by the new, anti-farmer government. We had a debt with the bank, which grew 500% with the change of currency and inflation. We had to sell our livestock to pay off this enormous debt and avoid losing our land.
As we already had experience with cooperativism, we met to look for postive ways to maintain our land. We planted basic grains. The time from then until 1996 we call the “exile in the desert” or “the dark night”, because we worked together without earning any salary. One part of the harvest we sold to buy supplies, another to pay municipal taxes. It
was so dificult that our breakfast was a small glass of milk from five small cows that barely produced. Our children also fought side by side us. The most difficult months were June, July, and August, because the stores of food ran out by this time.
Thanks to the richness of hte great lake, we survived on fish and a few abandoned banana plants we found around the base of the volcano. It was a sad experience, which when we remember now gives us the strength to go on.
Our eco-tourism business began to improve in 1997. We kept up the structure of the house because it was considered rustic and attractive to the customers. To improve its value we renovated a row of rustic rooms and hallways to hang hammocks in for visitors. We also put in some tables for a restaurant. The old machines for cleaning rice and coffee were very close to these accomodations, for which reason they had to be moved elsewhere in the finca to avoid disturbing the visitors. We also made a look-out point on the trail up the volcano by bringing the materials up first with beasts of burden and then on our own shoulders.
Since the year 200, tourism has been our principal business, followed by the production of organic coffee. We emply the members of the cooperative, twenty more individuals, and sixty temporary workers to harvest and process coffee. In 2003, we built a one-kilometer road to the finca by hand, to allow access by vehicle and lower costs of transportation, which had previously been done by humans and mules. It turned out very well, as tourists began to show up in cars, and the number of visitors went up.
The neighboring communities have also benefitted in cultural and sports activities, and education. Approximately thirty manzanas (52 acres, or 21 hectares) of land have been given to people of low income who don’t have anywhere to build their homes. Another two manzanas have been given for a communal cemetary. Nevertheless we are not looked upon well by everyone, perhaps because we have not involved them in our humanitarian aid. From 1991 until 1994 we also loaned one of our buildings as a school house, from which came the first students from Balgue to receive a secondary school diploma. We supply 50% of the maintenance of the water system for the communities of Madroñal, Balgüe, and Santo Domingo.
Currently the finca has 552 manzanas (953 acres, or 386 hectares) of land which 24 cooperative members and their families manage collectively, and each member has a further 8 or 9 manzanas to manage with their families. 48% of the common lands are forest, and the rest are used to grow organic coffee, rice, corn, and beans. We also produce approximately two barrels of honey a year.
We are working with the Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Island Association (BOSIA) to help the Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island to dig wells for poor families in Ghana. In November of 2004, we began to offer satellite Internet services. Students from the community use this service for free. Thanks to technological advances and our great family of friends, you can visit from any part of the world through this web site.
We are being helped by organizations like Amigos de la Tierra España in the acquisition of funds for environmental projects. Money was also given by the Fund for Small Projects (FPP) of MARENA for an environmental project. The members of the cooperative and students of schools in Balgüe, las Cuchillas, and el Corozal, have received trainings. Recently, an organic coffee processing building was built to control environmental effects.
A project exists in Moyogalpa called the Sustainable Agriculture Project, VeCo-PAS UESA, which is assisting us in administration. We have submitted ourselves to a fiscal audit in order to see how we are doing and what to work on in the future.
We are very hopeful for the future of the cooperative Carlos Díaz Cajina. One of the bigger reasons for conserving the earth is to protect what we worked so hard together for, as well as the desire to carry forth the cooperativist initiative which is already becoming the work of the next generation, which shall shortly take charge of the achievements and work of its pioneer mothers and fathers.