THERE IS NO COFFEE LIKE EMILIO'S

A job in the big city called – but Emilio Gonzales, 32, chose to stay in the mountain village and take over his father's coffee farm.

A choice he is proud of:                                            

– My unique coffee has taken me forward, I have studied and been able to help my family, he says.

Emilio Gonzales grew up with eight siblings in a coffee farming family in a village in north-western Colombia, almost directly on the equator. But when he was in his twenties, he planned to move to Medillín, the country's second largest city, in search of a job and new adventures.

Farming coffee is so much more than a job for his family and almost everyone he knows. It is a beloved and natural lifestyle – lined with new difficulties. The climate change has brought more unstable crops, and it has been tougher for many coffee farmers to make a living. Vermin and diseases that attack the coffee plants have spread over new areas, and periods of drought can be alternated with continuous rain according to all new patterns.

But Emilio's father encouraged his son to stay in the village and take over the family's small coffee farm of 1.5 acres, which is almost the same size as half a football field.

Emilio got support from the Swedish coffee company Löfbergs's program for young coffee farmers at the same time. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Löfbergs is involved in a development project for the future coffee farmers in Colombia through Young Coffee Entrepreneurs.

– We got help with machines and manure to farm our coffee. It meant a lot, and it gave me the possibility to stay instead of going to the city, says Emilio.

Today, he is proud of his well-tended and Fairtrade certified farm that Martin Löfberg, purchasing director at Löfbergs, visits together with his employees one day in May.

The village where Emilio lives consists of about ten houses and a small school that share the hills where the coffee farms spread. Emilio is close to his parents and siblings – and a visit at Emilio's turns into an encounter with his entire family that treats the visitors to food, conversation and Spanish football: A small TV in Emilio's house broadcasts the Madrid derby between Real and Atlético.

– Farming coffee is a heritage from my father. He really likes coffee and has helped me by letting me take care of the farm. Our production is good, and the bean is excellent. A lot of people that come here wonder how I manage to keep things so organized. I like working with quality, and I hope that it can give me some advantages.

Emilio shows the way through his farm, which is surrounded by thick jungle greenery – a greenery that all of sudden disperses and you can see the depth of the valley and the mountains afar. A breath-taking view.

– The best thing about being a coffee farmer is the moments when I come out here. It gives me the power to improve – I would like to have more land and keep doing what I do.

• What are you most proud of?

–  This moment – that you are here.

In what way has Emilio received help from Löfbergs and Young Coffee Entrepreneurs?

The education and the training are most important, he says.

He has learnt, among other things, to analyse the soil and how he, from these analyses, can supply best possible nutrition for the coffee trees. He grows his own coffee plants, and he has gotten new kinds of coffee trees that are hardier to fungus diseases and weather changes.

He has also gotten education in economy, entrepreneurship and how to organize.

The temperature right now is between 23 and 25 degrees Celsius (73 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit) – and when at the coldest, it drops to about 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

• What can you tell us about the climate change?

– It was very warm last year, but this year it is unusually cold. The production is small too. But I should not complain – I am doing something important. The trees do not blossom if it is too cold. If it is too hot, the crop is lost too. It has to be a climate somewhere in between for the production to be good.

Emilio also farms bananas to earn more money. The banana trees protect the coffee plants against the strong sun. And when the banana trees' big leaves fall to the ground, they hold moist and nutrition that benefit the soil and with that the coffee beans.

Martin Löfberg is full of praise for Emilio's well-organized farm.

– It makes me happy to hear Emilio telling us about the choice to farm coffee, and his positive basic outlook. I can tell that he likes it and that he cares for his farm in the best way possible. 

• What does the coffee that Löfbergs purchases from here taste like?

- It has a fresh, fruity flavour with notes of chocolate. The flavour depends on a number of factors like soil, altitude, how you grow and process – every coffee is unique. By supporting and cooperating with farmers like Emilio, we contribute to preserving this richness of flavours.

Löfbergs regularly purchases coffee from the Fairtrade cooperative Antioquia that Emilio is a member of.

He sees several advantages with being a member:

– One: I am able to save money. Two: I get some protection, a security. Three: I get education.

Emilio starts every day with a cup of coffee around five, when the fog huddles up in the valley and the daylight rolls over the hills.

• What does coffee mean to you?

– It has taken me forward. I have studied and helped my family, which is important too. I have a morality that leads me: I want to continue working and expanding.

colombiasofia Svahn