El Salvador and the battle with leaf rust
On our recent visit to El Salvador, we were extremely inspired by Carolina, Florence and their mother’s enthusiasm and commitment to quality.
These ladies take the bull by its horns and since their dad/husband passed 4 years ago they have thrown themselves in the deep end of coffee farming and have been 100% committed to learning all things quality and coffee farming.
El Salvador’s coffee production has decreased by 60% this season due to leaf rust. El Salvador has been a haven for the sweet tasting Bourbon varietal. Unfortunately, it is the most vulnerable varietal to leaf rust, and farmers are scrambling. Increased costs of production with low prices have disillusioned many farmers. The C price doesn’t even cover the specialty coffee farmers minimum price to produce coffee.
Carolina, Florence and their mum’s farms are located in Los Naranjos and on the skirts of the Santa Ana volcano, areas known for their tasty coffee.
We started the tour at Carolina’s farm in Los Naranjos. 40% of the farm was plagued with leaf rust. The majority of her farm is Bourbon. Despite the leaf rust it was great to see how Carolina is managing the situation and planning for the future.
We then headed to Florence and Carolina’s mom’s farm.
It was originally her grandfather’s,Mr J. Hill. Mr Hill was an English gentleman from Manchester, England who travelled to Central America in the late 1800’s and settled in El Salvador. The farm extends all the way to the top of the mountain with majestic views of the Santa Ana volcano and a beautiful valley where you can see Guatemala. We visited the farm stopping through different points of elevation. It was interesting to see how the plants behaved at the different altitudes. The farm was also impacted by leaf rust but to a lesser degree than the first farm. Bourbon both red and yellow are the main varietal grown here. As we visited the highest lot of bourbon’s, Carolina and Florence’s mom said to me:
“Marta, in El Salvador we treat our coffee farms as garden. We invest so much for the plant to hold up and stay nourished year around.”
From Los Naranjos we headed to Florence’s farm on the shoulders of the Santa Ana volcano. We drove to Lake Coatepeque and climbed up the mountain on a dusty dirt road at a slow and steady pace until we arrived to the farm.
There were no signs of leaf rust. The views were majestic. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have been. We had lunch at the top overlooking lake Coatepeque and Florence shared her vision of the farm over the next few years.
After lunch we headed to see where Florence’s team was sorting the coffee. It felt like we walked into a movie set as all the people and coffee seemed to be perfectly situated. We arrived to an area filled with 30 people meticulously sorting the coffee. Most of the workers are from the lake town. Florence cultivates Bourbon and
Pacas varietals only. There are a variety of trees used to shade the coffee: three types of Inga trees, Ceder, Limoncillo y Gravilea.
From looking at the pickings you could tell the level of care that the pickers picked as there weren’t too many cherries needing sorted. It was great to see the way the team worked at the farm. The level of enthusiasm and commitment the “Mandador” worked to at picking and sorting stages set the tone for the team.
It was interesting to see the coffee at the various farms and observe the differences at each location and altitude. The commitment and pride that each team showed was great to see. A great team can make the difference between average and amazing coffee.
Florence and Carolina represent the third generation working their father’s farms. They are extremely passionate about carrying the tradition forward and excited at the opportunity to forming mutually beneficial relationships with roasters.
When I asked them why they worked in coffee, they said “only those that are truly crazy and extremely passionate about coffee are still in it. The C prices and current plague threats make it too difficult to farm without your entire heart in it.”
Their passion is evident at every step of the process.