Their kindness, resilience and drive are inspiring in the face of the many challenges that coffee growers face. It was also a stark reminder that sustainability for coffee producers is directly tied to fair prices of their crops, and the premiums awarded to them for great quality.

 

Colombian coffee is recognized worldwide for its great flavor and quality. Of course, several factors come into play when explaining what makes Colombian coffee so special –such as climate, soil characteristics, and picking methods-, but at the core of what makes it so great is the biggest asset of all: the coffee farmers.

As big proponents ourselves of direct trade in the coffee industry, being able to build bridges and create direct relations with the farmers has and will continue to be at the forefront of our coffee operations. And so shortly after our pre-launch at the WeWork x McDonald’s event on August 2019, I embarked on what was to become on the most important trips that I would ever make back to my home country of Colombia.

Through a span of three weeks, I had the opportunity to travel to the departments of Caldas and Nariño to visit the coffee co-ops and foundations that were key in my coffee industry education since HireChance became a reality. My first stop was the small and quaint town at the top of a hill called Anserma, in the department of Caldas, where the Cooperativa de Caficultores de Anserma (Coffee Grower Co-op of Anserma) is located. I was greeted at the airport in Pereira –the closest main city to Anserma- by Luis Miguel, the co-op’s director, and I was very grateful and happy to enjoy a traditional Colombian pastry and drink he had brought for me as a welcome gift as we embarked on our 1.5 hour journey to Anserma.  We talked about the coffee supply chain, the complexity of the industry’s logistics, and about the operations of the co-op… all the while being in awe of the beautiful scenery that was before us: mountains, valleys, crops of all kinds, rivers.

Our first stop was the co-op’s headquarters. It was exciting to say the least to experience first-hand the magnitude of coffee operations that take place every day here and in the thousands of facilities around the Coffee Belt that make 2.25 billion cups of coffee that are consumed every day around the world possible. The Coffee Grower Co-Op of Anserma is comprised of 2,230 coffee harvesters, of which 38% are women. As an example of their social impact focus, the co-op has built a soccer/basketball court for the community, delivers school kits every year, and is committed to their ongoing reforestation program “Todos Al Agua” with local tree species with the aim at preserving and purifying the local natural water sources.

Anserma Co-Op HQ

I was honored to get invited to a meeting 5 coffee growers to discuss the current and multidimensional challenges that coffee producers face. I was then invited to the second floor where the hulling and roasting takes place. Picking the right beans takes a lot of skill, and I was impressed by the fact fact that defective beans are picked by hand amongst the thousands and thousands they hull every day.

After a delicious traditional lunch with Luís Miguel’s family, my journey continued to visit two coffee farms in the outskirts of Anserma. Needless to say, the scenery was breathtaking and it filled my heart with a lot of excitement to see the coffee trees and coffee cherries lining the sides of the road. Wherever I looked there was coffee and several other crops such as avocado and plantains. This is not unusual as many farms rely on a multitude of crops across the year as their main source of income.

I had the honor to visit the farm of Mr. Nélson Melo and Mr. Neider Cardona. Mr. Melo has been a member of the co-op for 2 years and a half, and has around 3,000 coffee trees in his 16 “cuadra” –one “cuadra” is equal to 6,400 m2- farm. He told me that when he arrived, the lot was completely abandoned. Now the farm not only produces great coffee –all coffee is of the Castillo varietal-, but also plantain, avocados, peanuts and beans.  On the other hand, Mr. Cardona has been in Anserma for over 33 years, and has a 2.5 acre farm where he proudly grows his Castillo varietal as well as a small yield of plantains throughout the year.

Mr. Nélson Melo and his family standing in front of thousands of parchment coffee beans drying in the sun.
Mr. Neider Cardona

I was honored and humbled to be able to share and learn from the hard-working individuals that make great coffee a reality. Their kindness, resilience and drive are inspiring in the face of the many challenges that coffee growers face. It was also a stark reminder that sustainability for coffee producers is directly tied to fair prices of their crops, and the premiums awarded to them for great quality.