Catalina Vasquez is part of this young generation of producers who brings a breath of fresh air and dynamism to an aging Colombian industry [Ed. note: the average age of Colombian producers is today 58 years old]. Located in the region of Antioquia, in the municipality of Ciudad Bolivar, we quickly saw the potential of her farm … A potential still to enhance! Given her enthusiasm, we had suggested a visit from Marjorie (Belco agronomist) to help her reveal all the typicity of her terroir. She did not hesitate and it is with this same energy that she implemented the technical recommendations of our agronomist. The results did not take long to come and we have started to import Catalina’s coffees this year.
During her stay in Bordeaux, we asked her a few questions to better know her story and the one of her coffees.
Catalina, can you tell us about your connection with the world of coffee?
Coffee, I have it in my blood! I am the fourth generation of producers in my family, but it is my grandmother who, mainly, worked on the development of our farms located in the region of Antioquia.
Finca la Gabriela was the first farm the family bought. Then, following the decline in coffee prices in the 1970s and the attractive prices of many farms for sale at that time, the family acquired Finca la Rosa. We then bought Finca Colombia in 2010. Each farm has the distinctive feature of owning its own wet mill.
Finca Colombia produces mainly washed Caturra with a typical Antioquia profile that is to say with a medium acidity, a full body, and notes of cocoa with a long finish of red berries.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Succeeding in exporting my coffees and not just selling nationally. Of course, the family has had to deal with many production issues, but the biggest challenge was to change mentalities and get the point across that another system was possible.
Today, what projects are you currently working on?
One of my strengths is active listening. Following the visit of Belco and Angel early 2017, Marjorie [Belco agronomist] travelled to the farm to analyse our operation and see what could be improved. Following her visit, we experimented the natural and honey processes, and this year we will work on different types of fermentations.
There are many talks about global warming in Colombia. As a producer, what do you think about it and the future of the industry?
We are seeing the first impacts on the environment, and they are clearly being felt. One of the problems is that most producers cannot see the impacts of their present actions on the future. In fact, we are already observing that it is increasingly difficult to produce coffee at low altitude. I believe that the lowest threshold is today 1100 meters above sea level. Below that, it is very difficult to grow coffee. Colombia has set up an institute able to create new and even more resistant varieties. This is, actually, a global issue and not specific to Colombia. Today, producers are beginning to change the crops they grow, to diversify and obtain more revenue. They will also need to grow at higher altitude.
How do you create loyalty amongst your seasonal workers?
Each year, we require 180 pickers across the three farms because the period is highly intense and the harvest is made exclusively by hand. In general, the pickers are nomadic people and so it is difficult to create loyalty as they prefer to move to different estates during harvest and go where they get paid the most.
One of Marjorie’s proposals has inspired many production managers. We are starting to implement a new pay system related to the quality of the harvest: pickers who efficiently sort their cherries will be paid accordingly. On one side they sort the overripe cherries, on the other side the fruits that are well mature, and then the immature ones are put yet into another basket.
The other action is to provide accommodation facilities with dormitories, showers and a canteen, all aimed at building loyalty amongst the pickers year on year.
Catalina continues to improve quality and we are convinced that outstanding microlots will soon arrive from her farm.
Jordan for the Belco team.