Finally, I think I have a business idea that may work for me here on the island. It’s going to require most of the money i’ve got. I’ve been agonizing over my plan for weeks — because of the financial risk: All my grown-up hopes, in one basket of sprouting seed. I’m starting a berry business. Yeah.
I’ve got a nest-egg, the nearly $100,000 I saved slaving in Manhattan and living on peanut butter for four years. I worked hard, I lived lean, because I was determined to have some savings before I came to the island and asked Maria to marry me. Now that we are formally engaged — I gave her my mother’s sapphire ring this Christmas — I have to get real about my future, our livelihood here. She makes maybe $100 a week as a research assistant for a man I don’t trust, and another $300 a month as a maid for an inn with a view of the ocean and all of Old San Juan. So far, I’ve earned maybe fifty bucks tearing off a roof, before breaking my leg the second month I was here. “Nothing worthwhile is easy,” as Dad would say.
When I came back to the island this time, I thought maybe I would go into politics, if not banking, but I guess for that i would really need to be fluent in Spanish. So I have nothing, no one, to fall back upon but myself. Of course, that can be exhilarating. But I do wonder if my plan to partner with the farmers I met by the rainforest last month and grow acai palm trees isn’t a bit crazy? Another impossible dream, courtesy of Quixote, and as futile a quest as my D.C. justice survey a few years back. (Read about that, if you must, in A Just Man Is Hard to Find.)
But I’ve run the numbers, and somehow the plan seems sound. Risky, but sound. Acai berries from a particular palm tree once native to Trinidad and now mostly in the Brazilian rainforest are a hot commodity as a health food. And, I think Puerto Rico should be developing its agri-business, and not be so dependent upon tourism from the States. For one thing, Puerto Rico may be competing for American business tourism with Cuba in a few years. I’d like my home island to think ahead and diversify now. I’ll be floating the idea by the local Chamber of Commerce.
Maria’s not opposed to my plan for our future, although she’s suggested I don’t say much about it to her brother Silvio. “You know he hates you.” I said, “Really?” “Well, maybe not hates,” she responded. “But he’s an awful teaser.” Yeah, I can just hear him now: “Berry Boy. Think you’re going to marry my sister? Berry Boy.”
Whatever. A man has got to do, what a man has got to do.
An optimal food source of antioxidants, acai berries have to be consumed fresh or flash-frozen after picking. I suppose I’ll have a few years to line up pickers, processors and distributors. I won’t even have a harvest for four years. So I won’t know before year four, whether my enterprise is going to be profitable. Even if it seems it will be, growing any crop is risky. So, again, I will be living lean. Maria understands this, bless her. She sees us living with her grandmother Tanee, for a few years at least; but I don’t want to go there quite yet. I’ve bought an old truck to get us back and forth from San Juan to El Yunque. I’ll hold on to my apartment in Santurce at least until we are married. I’ve leased four acres from my rainforest buddies for five years, for a song. This spring — before Maria’s and my wedding in June — I’ll be planting and cultivating 100 trees. After that, I’ll have to keep watch over them, protect the young trees from critters, make sure they are getting enough mulch and mist.
Like Dad says, “Be careful what you wish for.”