Anyone familiar with our company knows that we are extremely aligned with the interests of the small-scale coffee farmer. After all, it’s in our name (“Café Campesino” loosely translates from Spanish to “coffee of the small farmer”).
It’s worth taking a moment to explain why.
Small-Scale Coffee Farmers are the Backbone of the Specialty Coffee Industry
Some 14 billion pounds of specialty grade Arabica coffee is produced every year, according to the International Coffee Organization. Eighty percent of that is grown by small land holders who do not have full-time employees.
Unlike Robusta (the other commercialized coffee species) Arabica is notoriously difficult to farm with machines. For starters, it grows at higher altitudes on the sides of steep mountainsides, which are unfriendly to machines. The stems of the Arabica plant can also be easily damaged during a harvest cycle if the coffee cherry is not removed with just the right amount of finesse. If damaged, the stem risks not flowering or producing fruit the following season. And finally, the human eye is better than any machine at discerning the optimum ripeness of a coffee cherry, a detail that impacts the overall sweetness and flavor profile of a cup.
So, the majority of the world’s specialty-grade coffee – some 11.2 billion pounds- is picked by hand by small-scale farmers.
This raw product gets cleaned and processed by farmers. Then it gets exported to coffee drinking countries where it is roasted and brewed and leveraged into what in 2018 was a $ 45.4 billion industry in the United States. The specialty coffee explosion we’ve come to love in the United States- the one that supports importers, baristas, truck drivers, marketers, roasters, real-estate developers- it all happens because 25 million people around the world pick Arabica coffee by hand. We are immensely grateful to them for their work.
Small-Scale Farmers Preserve Indigenous Cultures
Nearly all of the farmers we source coffee from are indigenous people living in geographically remote places around the world. Coffee is their livelihood and a means of survival for communities. Ancient indigenous languages and traditions are kept alive in these communities. In Colombia, the Nasa farmers at the Fondo Paez co-op are preserving heirloom varietals of corn by saving and sharing seeds among cooperative members. In Mexico, Maya Vinic is able to practice ancient traditions of self-government and a reverence for mother earth with traditional farming practices and cooperative organizing structures. At the Asociacion Chajulense in Guatemala, women are paid to hand-sort coffees, earning money that supports a tradition of weaving colorful huipil textiles that are characteristic of their region.
In every farming community where we source coffee, indigenous cultures live on. We are grateful for this cultural diversity on the planet.
Small-Scale Farmers Teach us about Community
Last October, Yuri Pilliume, the first female general manager of the Fondo Paez cooperative of Cauca, Colombia, visited us in Americus for our 20th Anniversary celebration. She joined our staff for our daily morning huddle, and after everyone had shared their work plans for the day, she presented us each with a gift. Rainbow-colored woven belts she and other Fondo Paez members hand-made for us before her trip. “Each color has a meaning,” she told us. The blue is for the clean blue waters that run near their farm lands, green for the health of the earth, the red for the blood that has run from years of past violence in their area, the black for the dark times we all have to go through to get to the lightness, and the orange for the natural minerals found in their soils.
She, like so many small-scale producers over the years, reminded us of the power of community. That together, we can love and support one another to be our best selves- for the benefit of our community and for the planet. Freddy Perez of Honduras’s COMSA cooperative sums it up like this: “It’s one big give and take. Alone, we can move faster, but together we can go much further. This is our proposal, and it’s what we’re betting on.”
Small-Scale Farmers Show Us How to Preserve the Planet
A layered tree canopy and biological diversity of plants and animals are hallmarks of shade-grown coffee farms. Organic coffee farming at its best is regenerative – sequestering carbon and preserving life in and around the soil. You see this from small-scale farmers who live and farm in these environments. Their commitment to composting, applying micro-organisms to their soil, planting and caring for trees and preserving biological diversity in their fields reminds us that being human is about living with nature.
For these and so many other reasons, we are deeply grateful to the world’s small-scale coffee farmers who are the true leaders of specialty coffee. Their work and commitment to community and the planet, have been and will remain our guiding posts for business at Cafe Campesino.