On a farm on the slopes of the Canyon Chicamocha in central Colombia a man and his family produces coffee that has earned many organic certification, but today earned my respect too. I drove the 47 km ( miles)from my home to the farm, along winding unpaved roads, through fields of tabacco and pinapples, deep into the heart of the canyon and up the other side to a classic Colombian village of Zapatoca. A few km more brought me to the front door of ________ who has been running the Finca Santa Maria for 15 years.
He welcomed me and invited me in to his home where his wife was brewing coffee. She offered, and of course I accepted the coffee that they grew, harvested and roasted themselves. As I sat down to this precious expression of dedication I realized that I was about to have a relatively rare experience. I was drinking coffee from the source. How many people except the growers themselves can make this claim? It was magical to taste the place.
He took me on a walking tour of the 47 hectare farm. 10 are set aside to be wild and natural. He explained the fertilization process, how they make their own organic fertilizer from waste and from the neighboring chicken farm. We looked at the different plots. Plants from 2 to 20 years grew some where below my knee and others dwarfed me.
One week a year coffee plants burst into bloom. I had never stopped to contemplate this phenomena, yet, I was fortunate enough to randomly pick this weekend to arrive. The aroma of a coffee flower cannot be easily captured but for 6-8 days it fills the air and permeates every breath.
The beauty of a coffee plant in full bloom waxy green leaves and the explosion of white flowers delicate and confident. The air buzzed with honey bees drawn from miles. For the first time I envied those small insects. The smell was so sweet and fragile like jasmine or honeysuckle that I wanted to dip into the flowers myself drink from their goblets and collect pollen on my back legs.
As we walked the length of the property I learned about the cultivation and harvesting process. I chewed on the rare raw coffee been missed by the last harvest still clinging to the branch.
Near the end of the tour he said something that I really liked, and it translates to something like this, “The plants as they grow older start to crowd each other as they get bigger, so here you can see how we space them out. Do you see how much happier these plants are now that they have room to move?” I love the image and the care that goes into the plants as if they are people. The Organic style can devote this kind of humanity into its cultivation. We walked further into the forest that protected the crop from the harsh sun and came to a glade where my dog raced with frantic joy. To one side of the glade a small structure provided shade and a bench to sit.
He explained to me that this is where the workers have lunch during the harvest. “Because organics isnt just about producing a product that is good for the consumer, it is about providing decent working conditions for the people involved in cultivating it. It is not just about growing coffee in environmentally sustainable ways, it is about developing a community that is healthy and treated humanitarianly. Organics are not just about providing high quality products to the people who can afford them. It is about respecting the lives and the people who are responsible for the creation of the product.” He spoke with calm intention and matter-of-factly about this under the shade of the structure. And then as we walked back along the rows of coffee… I fell deeper in love with what he and his family were doing. because organics are great and I love that I can afford to make a healthy choice for myself. While I can’t personally change the economic divide, wider than the canyon that stretches out before us, because of the nature of organic values the certification guarantees that workers are paid well for their work and their human rights are valued above that of their product or profit. I am ashamed