Visiting New Farms in Colombia
Thread heads out to Apia, in Risaralda, Colombia to check out new farms.
To start the trip, I met up with Karl from Direct Origin Trading. We were looking to see if we could experiment with getting a microlot from AsoApia, an association of farmers in Apia. A microlot means getting a batch of beans from just one farmer. They, like most associations and cooperatives, usually blend all of the beans from all of the farms together (after sorting for quality), and send it to an exporter. The idea with the microlot would be to work to cut out more of the middlemen, and to have one specific farm we work with directly. So, from Pereria, we headed off to Apia, about a three hour drive away.
Once in Apia, we went to the warehouse where we met up with Pacho and Norma, two of the leaders of the association. AsoApia has approximately 450 members. Located in the department of Risaralda, the farmers are situated in the Cordillera Occidental (West Andes), close to Cerro Tatama, the highest peak. Their location is unique because it is also sitauated next to three large nature reserves. This area used to be one of the most tecnified areas in the country, where trees had been clearcut for sun-cultivation. However, many of these farmers were working to replant large native trees to provide shade for the coffee, nutrients for the soil, as well as additional income and food sources.
Every morning during the harvest season, farmers bring in bags of coffee from their farms. It's weighed, the farmers are paid for the coffee, and it is brought in to be sampled. For purposes of quality control, the warehouse samples and cups every bag of coffee that farmers bring in, the same day. Once the association has determined the coffee has no defects, it's sent to be hulled, and repackaged for export.
Next, we head out to visit the farm we're looking to get the microlot from. It's about a 30 minute drive up from the town. As we drive, Norma tells us about some of the challenges they've had in protecting the land and the river around their farms. Her, and a few other people who work at the association, have come together and bought up some of the land along the river to protect it from development. The area is one of the most biodiverse in the country, however, many of the species have no where to go when the farms are clearcut for sun-cultivation - the result of technified farming that has been popular in the region. She tells us of the different species of birds found there, one of them being the Oriole. This is very interesting to Karl (who is also from Baltimore) and myself, since the Oriole is no longer seen in Baltimore, largely due to the fact that it no longer has a corridor to make it's way north.
Once at the farm, we started checking out the different varietals. Most of the plants on the farm were Caturra. However, there were also some new Castillo plants, the Roya resistent hybrids.
While walking around the farm, they pointed out this particular Caturra plant to us. It was a special variety that only has yellow cherries. It's well know for it's sweetness.
Throughout the farm, there were a variety of different fruit trees and other edible plants, such as papaya, oranges, yucca, and plantains. All of these plants not only provide additional income and food security, but all are the trees which provide shade and nutrients for the plants. In addition to the intercropping, the farmers also composted all of the cascara (cherries) from the beans and use it as a natural fertilizer. And when the old coffee plants need to be chopped down, they save the wood for heating.
Back at the warehouse, in the cupping lab, we got to taste the coffee from this farm as well as some of the others in the area. There were several delicious coffees, so we're excited to see where this relationship goes. From here, we just have to work out the kinks of exporting the beans directly from the farmer to Baltimore, which is a complicated process, particularly in Colombia, where are there are so many regulations, taxes, and other obstacles.