We have been working with San Miguel for a few years and are looking forward to another great year with their amazing coffee as they begin their harvest season. This year will be a challenge for everyone in the coffee industry. From labor challenges, destroyed coffee crops, increase in fertilizer costs, logistic issues and many more. Coffee prices have been on the rise and many customers that see themselves shopping for coffee at the grocery store will not only see price hikes, but the quality of the beans could be in jeopardy. Direct trade coffee is so important during this time because many businesses will be looking for ways to cut cost for the customer. This will put pressure not just on the coffee roaster but pressure on farmers who work with direct trade. We hope after hearing their story and being able to pass it on to the consumer, it will encourage folks to support direct trade coffee by feeling a connection with the farmer. If you have been drinking Banyan coffee there is a good chance that you are already doing your part.
Tell us about your story? How did you get into coffee?
Our family started in coffee in 1890 producing coffee in the Antigua Valley. I didn’t always plan on working with our family though. I had received scholarship offers to play soccer in the US and that was my original plan. Months before moving, I decided not to go to the US and got an internship at a coffee company in the US. After learning with them I decided to get involved with our family’s business. Specifically, with the idea to innovate, build our brand, develop relationships and commercialize coffee directly with roasters.
What is a typical year like as a coffee farmer even though every season is different?
A year as a coffee farmer is always different for a couple of reasons. We go through different seasons, pruning, flowering, growing shade, pruning shade, harvesting, milling, exporting. These by themselves make for a very dynamic year. Additionally, every year comes with it’s one challenges. Lack of rain, volcano eruptions, plant diseases, etc. are among the things we experience that have taught us to always plan ahead.
Does one year stick out more than others? (Like multiple challenges)
3 years ago, Fuego Volcano erupted in a horrible way, our farms got covered in ash and most of the cherries growing on the trees burnt. That was definitely a particularly challenging year. The same volcano gives us so much minerals and nutrients every year, and that specific year it took away.
What’s the best part about being a farmer? (Mine would be drinking the coffee)
The best part about being farmers is by doing business together we have been exposed to so many people and cultures and that is definitely our favorite part of the coffee business.
What are your challenges as a coffee farmer?
We have a saying as a family, “growing coffee is easy, it’s only 100 lessons you need to learn…the problem is you only learn 1 per year”. Every year is different with different challenges, weather, diseases, etc, the main challenge for us is getting ready for the unexpected and surfing positively the different waves we get each year.
During these unexpected challenges do you have other farmers in the area for advice or help? Or just pray for a miracle?
We have built networks of producers that we support with agronomical assistance, farm visits, financing, and commercializing of their coffee. We are blessed to have very good agronomists as a part of our team and usually it is our responsibility and privilege to offer help to smaller growers.
What can someone that drinks coffee in the Bradenton/Sarasota Florida do differently to impact you as a farmer?
Buy their coffee from company like yours. Ask your local roasters about their sustainable purchase practice. By dealing with companies like Banyan, who appreciate quality and are willing to pay for it, we can operate as a formal business, being profitable, which allows us to reinvest and push forward.
Is there any organizations or certificates that we can look for as a coffee consumer to insure us confidence that coffee farmers have a sustainable income?
As a family, we don’t really believe organizations or certificates are the answer. We just haven’t seen it work with people that do get them. They can have a purpose, but are not the answer by themselves. I would suggest consumers ask their local roasters how they source. Usually if the roaster sources directly there’s better income for the producer since you’ve cut many middlemen.