Finca Miralvalle is named for its beautiful, mountainous views over La Democracia and Mexico. It is a winding two hour drive from the provincial capital of Huehuetenango and is located in a “cold rainforest” with its own protected nature reserve. Its high elevation in the mountains of San Pedro Necta means it is one of the last farms in the region to finish the harvest. It is owned and run by Sr. Jorge Heberto Villatoro Gómez and his family.
Marta first tried coffee from Finca Miralvalle three years ago, and it was one of the most memorable coffees she tasted that whole year. Here at Coffee Bird we are really excited to start working directly with Jorge this year. Like many of the farmers we work with, Jorge was born into coffee. His personal history of growing up on a farm, to now owning two farms himself, and being in a position to help his neighbours, is a story of passion, determination and persistence. He harbours a strong desire to not only do the best for his family but to give back his community.
During her visit of Finca Miralvalle last month, Marta took a coffee break with Sr. Jorge Villatoro and his wife Sra. Evelyn Villatoro. The interview below has been translated from Spanish to English.
Finca Miralvalle, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. February 2016
Marta Dalton: First question! Who would you most like to have coffee with in the world and at any point in time?
Jorge Villatoro: With my wife! [Evelyn. She laughs and says likewise!]
MD: In Huehue what is the most you would pay for a cup of coffee? I don’t know if you would buy coffee outside or only drink at home…
JV: As we are producers we are very fond of our own coffee! But the most expensive I’ve seen in cafés is 18 quetzals [£1.64 in British pounds or $2.34 in US dollars at time of writing].
We are talking about Huehuetenango….
MD: And how is the quality?
JV: The quality doesn’t really correspond to the price. We have very little culture of coffee consumption in our generation.
In my humble opinion, a mistake that all farmers are responsible for is that they have not created coffee drinkers who understand the quality they should be able to obtain for a certain price in a café. For me, the equation is that the restaurateur doesn’t demand more of what he buys because the consumer isn’t asking for quality, and so he [the restaurateur] is not interested in increasing the quality of his coffee. You need to see what I have personally seen, which is that when a restaurateur begins to make known the qualities of his coffees, he also notices a change in his customers, that they begin to care more for a better quality of coffee.
MD: That’s interesting, and it actually brings me to the next question: Do you think there any connection between coffee farmer and coffee drinker?
JV: There should be. Currently very few farms are able to communicate just what it costs to produce a coffee and, as a result, to make their consumers understand what this cost demonstrates [i.e. that the cost of coffee is high].
This small [supply] chain should mean more. The coffee market would then be much fairer and more sustainable in both quality and value for working in the coffee.
MD: And do you think you can create a connection?
JV: In the relationships with people who visit us [at our farm].
In our family, we really like it when, for example, people from outside the farm with no connection to coffee visit us. It gives us the time and chance to talk about what we do; to show them what we have and how we do things. We feel that the relationship will start by knowing that this is Miralvalle. And maybe at some point their life someone will ask them: “Have you ever visited Guatemala?”
“They grow coffee there.”
Yes, I was on a farm called Miralvalle and I really liked their coffee. The producer does this…does that…
Then it makes a difference because it is no longer just about coffee; It’s about coffee and a family, coffee and a place, coffee and a history, coffee with a special flavour. That is where the relationship is created.
MD: We touched upon my fourth question yesterday. What does direct trade mean to you?
JV: It is precisely this relationship with a consumer that will create a special taste for a coffee [because of their connection to its origin]. For our coffee, for example. We know it is a question of taste, that there are varieties someone may like and varieties that they won’t like.
For me, direct trade is a form of business. A business in which two parties need something from the other. For the consumer, it’s the taste that they want or need and for the producer it’s a fair price, allowing them to maintain production. Therefore the two can build a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship over time. Or [direct trade] is something that will allow the roaster or restaurant to grow because it has a good quality product. And at the same time, the farm is able to grow and sustain itself because the [fair/good] price of the coffee allows all the necessary work and the farmer will be able to support and educate his family, and educate the farm workers too. I don’t believe we need certifications. When we have a fair price, a good price, it encourages us [farmers] to things well and right. The people who are involved [in growing the coffee] will want to show more, and collaborate and everything moves better.
There is a better relationship. For producer and consumer, and all people who work in coffee.
MD: Can coffee make the world a better place?
JV: Definitely! Yes! It’s as we said about direct trade. There can be direct trade that isn’t good… I think it is the shared knowledge and mutual responsibility [that makes it good].
We work with someone who we used to sell coffee to on credit. We gave our coffee to him in his roastery and he grew from a small roaster buying a single bag of our coffee to buying 80 bags of Miralvalle and he grew from renting a house to owning his own house and I know that we played a small part in this. And I also understand that he has a family and that he has needs that he has to take care of. And now we are beginning to see the reverse situation! He wants to put down deposits for the next season. And so begins a feeling of mutual trust, which will allow us to continue to work together.
When building this type of relationship, it also allows the farm to seek relationships with people that pick better [i.e. more highly skilled farm workers] and it enables us to pay more because you need a specialized person for the job. Meaning there is more money for those families associated with the farm. They can better themselves.
Within the community, I would hope so [that coffee can make things better]. You can help so that people are no longer worried because they have to pay to treat la roya [coffee rust], and if someone tells you for example, that a school needs books then you can support that. Once you move beyond the pressure to just survive, you reach a level that allows you to help the other person. So yes I think that coffee can help. And there are improvements in the places where there is the business of coffee. In Huehuetenango, for example, one can see in the years that harvests fall, or prices fall, that businesses immediately begin to complain of low sales and that all the general economy, mechanics, doctors and all other services, they begin to feel a drop in income. So coffee impacts the whole economy of a coffee-growing region, as in the case of Huehuetenango. Do you have anything to add Evelyn?
Evelyn Villatoro [Jorge’s wife]: Maybe just that the producers also are aware when they sell their coffee that if they have a good and fair price then they can also give back to their community, especially in education which is lacking in our country. They can support schools for children, donate books and create playgrounds so that children are busy in their free time. In this department [Huehuetenango], a border state, there is pollution. It is important we are able to have places where children can play.
MD: Thank you very much.