One part of the Guatemala story that many may have forgotten: On February 3, 1976, I, and many of the farming crew were in Florida for our first winter of 128 acres of mixed vegetable production off Krome Avenue.
We communicated with Tennessee via ham radio and the ham radio guys at the Krome Avenue house became an integral communication hub of messages coming out of Guatemala. It was that contact that led the Farm to want to go down there to help. At one point, we had the President of Guatemala (Kjell Laugerud García) speaking into our radio room appealing to the U.S. for aid and assistance.
The previous summer, 1975, was the most successful farming year in the history of the Farm. One of our best crops of that 1975 harvest was the different dry beans, what farmers call “edible beans,” that were grown on rich high-phosphate land in Hampshire, Tennessee — where the farmer, Scratch Biffle, would colorfully say — “My land is as rich as a foot up a bull’s ass.”
Sam Watson, Eli Gifford, and Martin Leffer harvested these beans that all had yields upwards of 40 to 45 bushels an acre (around 2500 pounds) — which was beyond respectable. And then we dried them in the grain bin that had the heated blower going under the perforated and corrugated metal floor. We over-dried the black beans, causing many to split. They were fine for our eating, but we had bought hundreds of 25-pound paper bags and a stitching machine in order to sell off so many tons of each bean variety as, during that year (what most people never understood) the farming crew did not receive any money from the Farm bank. (The other thing that drove us to attempt commercial vegetable production.)
Because of the splits in the black beans we could not sell them in Nashville so I had the idea to ship several tons of the nicely bagged black beans to Florida to try to sell to the Cuban folk at our vegetable stand and other retail endeavors alongside our vegetables. When the earthquake hit and our ham radio station became 24-hour communication hub with Guatemala, we were able to get the entire stash of beans onto one of the very first relief planes going into the country.