The town of Mistrató rises between coffee-growing mountains. Hundreds of coffee growers have passed through its roads on the back of a mule, carrying their grain. Behind them, a new generation of young coffee growers follows, willing to tap on what their parents and grandparents built, but with new ideas.
Rodrigo Muñoz is heir to the tradition of Lisandro, his grandfather, and Rodrigo Sr., his father. They escaped the armed conflict searching for an area with a reputation for good coffee, and took up a rundown farm. Through hard work and some investment, it flourished like its name, “La Primavera” (Spring in English). Here, bearing the fruit of his family’s efforts, Rodrigo felt for the first time that he was a coffee farmer.
Over the years, and after demonstrating that he was capable of taking on the challenge, Rodrigo Sr. started transfering the management of the family farm to him, a process from which they both admit to be learning equally.
"I came for three months and I have stayed for two years already." This is the start of Sofia Maya Toro's love story with coffee. Just one year ago, she was a researcher at the Javeriana University, but one day she acknowledged she could also achieve her dreams in her homeland, and bet everything she had on Mistrató.
Sofía is the granddaughter of Antonio, a prolific coffee farmer with 11 children, who also had his family business ripped by the armed conflict and was forced to migrate in order to survive.
Twelve years later, being a civil engineer and with a master's degree in water, Sofía returned to her homeland with the firm intention of resuming her family coffee growing heritage. And she is not alone, she has the support of her uncles, which made her return easier and more hopeful.
Melia Alzate Perea, daughter of Margarita and granddaughter of Pascuala, is a poet as well as a coffee farmer. Being the oldest of seven siblings, she grew up working in the fields, and fending for herself.
Like many young people in the area, she left the family farm to find herself, to seek new directions, to know what it was to live beyond the mountains of Mistrató. And she returned, years later, because Mistrató was stuck in her soul.
Juan Sebastián Vélez is the grandson of coffee growers and his grandparents, Mélida and Alcides, were present throughout his life providing him with example and support. As a child, while riding his horse, Dinosaurio, Juan dreamed of going beyond the mountains.
Adventurous and risky, he was a public servant, lived in Santiago de Chile, washed dishes, became a sushi man, and still he felt that something was not complete in his life. It was not until after he turned 25 that Juanito, as Granny Mélida used to call him, found what really made him happy.
A magic that he cannot describe attracted him like a bee to the honeycomb, to beekeeping. He left public service and cooking for the bees, and after four years of adventures, he also came back home. His grandfather Alcides had already told him in a dream that he had to set down, and his grandmother Mélida gave him a piece of land, where he set off his project.
Solidaridad aims at recovering Colombian coffee culture through art, education and a succession process where parents and children can find a common ground to work together.
"We look for points of union between families, and from there we promote dialogue so that parents do not feel relegated by their children, and children feel that they have no place in the management of the coffee farm" says Isai Galvis, a field technician that works with more than 20 young people that today make up the group of “Generational turnover.”
For Rodrigo, one of the best experiences working with the group was getting his father to believe in his abilities and become more flexible, to allow him to experiment, implement new and better practices and, finally, be more than a work force in the farm.
At the family farm, the way of managing is changing. Now rigorous records are kept, and intuition has been replaced by data, which allowed the two Rodrigos to make better decisions regarding their crops that generate profits.
"My dream is for my daughter Isabella to like the world of coffee, for her to grow up knowing there is a business she can continue if she chooses to," says Rodrigo, who is getting specialized in differentiated coffees, those that have made Colombian coffee famous.
INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
"This has been a learning process for us, young people. We have a lot of potential and I know that, from now on, we will be creating great things in Mistrató and Risaralda," assures Sofía with optimism. And her optimism is well grounded. She and her peers are building a network with people from Mistrató living across Colombia in order to market and advertise Mistrató coffee industry.
Solidaridad is combining articulation between parents and children with a portfolio of services aimed at stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship among young people.
I hope that young coffee people study what they want, travel, but never forget their roots," – Isai Galvis, on preserving the coffee tradition
Melia has told her mother that she wants to continue the family coffee business, but she wants to drink the best coffee at home. She wants to develop other skills such as barista, cupping, gastronomy and even art and literature, all surrounding those blessed beans her whole family has put their hearts into.
"We think coffee harbours the conditions for us to make a living, and if there are not, we must create them," says Melia, adding that women's and youth associations are powerful instruments to generate changes in the structure of traditional leadership in the coffee sector.
"Isai has become our sponsor, his work with Solidaridad gives us the tools and support we need to materialize our initiatives," adds Melia.
Juan Sebastián alternates a fast food venture with the cultivation and processing of his own brand of coffee, “Tierra Fría”. Together with a friend, he developed a hand made roaster that allows customers to enjoy a freshly roasted cup of coffee; a delight for the senses that starts with the smell, and ends in the palate. In his premises, Juan says there is also room for the other products that are produced on his farm. "Let them come buy turmeric, honey, coffee and even onions."
"Sometimes you have to take distance to grow and let the facts speak for us" says Juan Sebastián Vélez, coffee farmer, beekeeper and entrepreneur.
This is represented by all these young coffee growers who, far from replacing their parents or grandparents, will build on what they have built the new foundations of the coffee of the future.
Read more about our work in Coffee.