Coffee Farm

How many of us wake up and reach out for that cup of coffee? How many of us refuse to wake up altogether unless we have some? Whilst coffee claims to make us more approachable do we even know what a coffee blossom looks like? Let alone what makes up that journey from the bush to the cup?

When Patrick Murray shows me the ropes about his coffee farm Finca Majahual, the talk was always about its people. Finca Majahual slogan is “Coffee Growing People”. A slogan that can be read in two different ways. He talks about how improving the quality of life of his employees, means improving the quality of coffee. At Finca Majahual farm hands are respectfully addressed as “collaborators’. There are numerous types of collaborators at the farm: pickers; those who care for the trees; those who care for the baby plants in the nursery; teachers; a nurse; and so on. At the peak of the season 250 people work at Finca Majahual.

Working days

Each day starts early in the morning with a meeting. While the sun is rising, foreman Arturo tells all collaborators what area needs to be picked that day. Then the pickers get to work, they climb the mountain to reach the area that is scheduled.

Nutrition is the number one priority for his collaborators. Patrick: “A study shows that people value food more than shelter. We want our people to be happy and well fed.” In the kitchen Leyla makes chengas for everybody at the farm, on-season and off-season. Everybody is welcome to enjoy free lunch.

Lunch is served at twelve. There is an hour break, which is spend eating, napping and avoiding the sun. Some of the collaborators also live at the farm. Patrick: “We have free housing as well, those who want to stay, can stay. This is one thing I would like to improve more in the future. Make the houses on the property better than they are now.”

After the break collaborators sort and weigh cherries. Cherries that are naturally dried stay at the farm, then get a wash and are brought to the drying beds. The other cherries go to the mill, where the depulping takes place. These two types of processing result in a different taste. Because the beans dry in their skin, naturally dried cherries result in a more fruitier and tropical taste. The sugar breaks down slowlier than the depulped cherries.

Coffee growing people

The wages are the industry standard, but there is a qualified nurse on the property with access to free treatment and medication , collaborator’s children go to school at the finca, there is a daily free lunch for both the kids and the workers, there is an adult literacy program in place, boarding is free during the harvest time (it saves 50 cents for bus fare each way). Cutting those privileges would help the farm financially. It helps a lot, but this is not the choice the farm is prepared to make.

There is an elementary school on the property. Where kids get school until they are eleven years old. This is important because a lot of people in El Salvador never make it to school. By the time kids go to secondary school only 33% still attend (source: wikipedia).

While illiteracy is declining in El Salvador, there is still ten procent who don’t know how to read or write. Patrick: “I can’t force collaborators to attend this program, but if they want, they can learn. We also have some classes to learn the English language. I think it is important to provide classes for those who want to learn.”

The true cost of coffee

It costs $ 2,70 to produce a pound of coffee. Market costs are $ 1,- right now (feb. 2019). If Patrick would sell his coffee for this price, it would be completely unviable. While we were driving through El Salvador, we saw many many coffee farms out of business. Producing coffee is not a sustainable business anymore. The farms that are still there, are subsidised by other businesses. As is the case with Finca Majahual. Patrick made the agreement that he is going to try to make the farm more profitable within four years. This is his second year. By 2021 there has to be a profit.

How is he going to do this? Most farms have to cut costs. The easiest wat to start is by cutting all the benefits for the employees. No more free lunch, free school, free housing or access to a doctor. Patrick: “We have to let the market know what it costs to produce coffee. Lots of coffee that people drink is mass production. People work too many hours for too little money. Because that is the only way to make a profit. I don’t want to do this. I want to make the way we produce coffee right now profitable.” Single Origin coffee can be assigned a higher value. If we understand and see why, what this industry supports and are prepared to pay a little bit more for it. Truly just a little bit more.

Single Origin Coffee

At Finca Majahual they make Single Origin coffee, the coffee they produce is a high quality premium coffee, while maintaining to take good care of collaborators. “I believe investing in humanity means investing in the quality of coffee. Happy, educated, well-fed, healthy people means effort, hard work and commitment. We pick our cherries at optimal ripeness, sort them by quality of the fruits and process carefully. No mass production.” Producing premium high quality coffee means being able to sell it for a higher price.

Patrick is trying to make an effort in letting the market know what the true costs of coffee is. So people hopefully won’t buy any that has a low quality and is produced with child labor, slavery or just with bad conditions

In conclusion: you can do something too! Make an impactful decision when you buy coffee. Look at the traceability and understand whether it’s a direct trade, single origin coffee and what potential impact it has at origin. Don’t forget the flavour notes obviously ;)!

Interested in other Farmers and Growers Loes Heerink follows for this project? Check out the project page! Loes is currently in contact with loads more farmers and growers to also include in the project. It takes some time because Loes visits all the participants multiple times throughout the year. But a patient mind, can get pretty far!