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From the Construction Industry to the Harvest

Carmen Vicente and Johnny Seda reinvented themselves with the creation of the coffee shop and agricultural company La Kosecha, built after facing a difficult economic situation

April 9, 2024 - 11:00 PM

Carmen Vicente, co-owner of La Kosecha. (WANDA LIZ VEGA)

Lee la historia en español aquí.

Gurabo.- The seed for this initiative was the solution to an unexpected economic slowdown in everyday activity. It led to the creation of La Kosecha, a coffee shop and family agricultural enterprise that germinated at Barrio Celada in Gurabo, after the need to push forward and educate on the benefits of community hydroponic cultivation.

“In 2012, there was a significant decline in the construction business. So we had to look for an additional income for our home. Then a farmer here suggested we do hydroponics. I didn’t know what that was, but I liked the explanation he gave us about that kind of harvest. So we went to take some courses about it at the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Campus,” explained Carmen Vicente-Torres, co-owner of the estate who, along with her husband Johnny Seda, were dedicated to their construction company until then.

“Until that time, I worked as an office worker at my husband’s construction company,” she added.

Some of the products they grow and sell.
Some of the products they grow and sell. (WANDA LIZ VEGA)

After taking the courses and being interested in the subject, the couple started their project with a hydroponics table. They had a crop of lettuce and coriander that was not sold, and instead used for promotional purposes.

“At that time we sowed 100 plants. Then we started taking them to supermarkets, coffee shops and restaurants. They liked it and asked us for more to sale. And that’s how we started what’s known as Johnny’s Hydroponic’s Farm, which is where the hydroponics are,” said Vicente-Torres.

In her determination to get that extra money for the family, the business owner said she made the necessary arrangements and investments in what would henceforth be her main income.

“After that, we made a 480-unit table and then another one, increasing it to 860 units for sowing. With that we created a month-long cycle, from which we could harvest every week. That turned out well, so we decided to keep increasing the planting capacity to reach 20,000 units in 2016, which are the ones we have today,” Torres explained of the evolution of their hydroponics.

The idea’s progress was immediate and led the marriage to handle other levels of production of coriander, lettuce, mint and basil. Currently, “300 to 400 pounds of coriander can be sold weekly to nine SuperMax, Econo, and Selectos supermarkets, and to 10 coffee shops and restaurants, including the Burger Bus at Condado in San Juan,” said the business owner.

Coupled with the good reputation of the harvests obtained by the marriage, it did not take long for the increase in clientele to reach the point where it was necessary to build a café-like reception at the entrance of the property. There, they receive the regular customers who arrive.

“During 2016 we started building this area at the entrance of the estate. People would originally climb all the way up to the hydroponics and, according to the health regulations, that can’t happen. We created this space where we have several of our products and that of other fellow farmers in the area. We sell them here in the Kosecha with a ‘K,’ to make the name different,” Torres said.

The comfortable rustic-style café has a roofed terrace for those who wish to sit outdoors and enjoy their favorite lunch and drink. Meanwhile, the acclimatized reception has an air conditioner and dining space where you can find, among other products, a variety of typical candy and fresh vegetables from the estate and other surrounding areas.

The place includes a cafeteria and a space where the products they harvest are sold.
The place includes a cafeteria and a space where the products they harvest are sold. (WANDA LIZ VEGA)

“By 2017 we already completed this reception area where, while the customer obtains their product, they can also have a frappé made with local fruits, coffee or even lunch if they wish. You can eat chicken breast stuffed with sweet plantain or mamposteao rice. If you prefer, it can also be grilled, and we cook a lot of vegetables with cod,” said Torres. She mentioned that cooking is her shared passion along with agriculture, “and it’s the same with my children Juneilly and Nelson, who also work here.”

An educational space

Vicente-Torres explained that, thanks to the continuity of her studies on the subject of hydroponics and the technological advances applied to it, the progress of Johnny’s Hydroponic’s Farm and La Kosecha is evident. It helps to benefit those who wish to take on this business.

“Many children come to visit to do scientific fairs on hydroponic systems. And word has spread to the point that I’ve had to go to schools to offer talks and workshops on this type of harvest. We do our best to educate those who visit with the need to take forward their hydroponics project,” she said.

Regarding the continuity of advances in hydroponic growing, the farmer explained that most of her tables are verified at present through the use of electronic sensors. In their readings they evidence very sensitive matters such as water quality, level and temperature. To show it, she turns on her phone and finds an app.

“You see this? This is an experiment my son-in-law Steven Sánchez is doing. He’s studying electronic engineering and developing this application for our farm. We’ve benefited because this way you know the peak temperature, among other things, for the tables and plants,” she said.

In fact, for Vicente-Torres, business collaboration is key for any emerging trade that requires continuous education. Especially in the face of having to “always be up to date and move forward,” she emphasized.

“I belong to the Asociación de Mujeres Agroempresarias (Association of Agrobusinesswomen) group. This is thanks to the collaboration of Marilyn Rosa Tirado, the founder, and a farmer from Las Piedras from whom I buy recao. We continue to educate ourselves on this subject. I have been in the association for about three years and it’s been a blessing for its weekly seminars and workshops. That’s why I have some knowledge in this type of sowing, to keep growing here while helping others,” concluded the business owner.

La Kosecha is open Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. For additional information, you can visit the cafeteria’s web pages on Facebook or contact 787 397-0177.

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