Last week Nicolas and Angel left to Brazil, to visit some of our exporter partners, to take a sip on some of the new coffees arriving for this harvest (which are veeery promising), have their impressions on the current situation the country is facing, and of course, have their news in general.
The first of the visits we did, was just next to Sao Paulo (where we arrived), we visited our friends from FAF, who are located in Mococa (3 hours and a half drive from Sao Paulo) and that you might certainly know better, for their Bob-o-link coffee.
It is always a pleasure, to meet with the Croces. Their good vibes and enthusiasm, can be easily transmitted by spending a minutes with them.
We were received by Marcos and his sons, Felipe & Daniel, and headed with them to FAF (Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza). What Marcos has done in his region, and with all of his producing partners, is admirable & respectable.
The Bob-o-link story
Arrive to FAF and visit the different farms working with them, is something, if we can say so, that offers a very different image in what concerns Brazilian coffee production. Driving over mountains, under shade farms, organic farming, honey production… You know somehow, that you’re getting into something.
When Marcos and his wife, Sylvia, moved from the States after she has inheritated the farm, they didn’t know much about farming, but they were happy with the change, and above all, had strong life convictions that wanted to adapt to their farm.
They didn’t want to continue working the farm the way it was.
First, 50 families living there, they didn’t want employees, they wanted partners involved on their project. They propose much more, starting from education, demanding just their engagement. As he says, some wanted, some others didn’t.
Then, the production system. They were convinced about organic farming, even tough, unknown at the time at Brazil. Production, as now they know, went down (they are producing now, around 10% of what the farm used to produce.
“Let’s give it a name.” Fazenda Fortaleza, was re baptized, as Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza.
“How can I improve my quality ?” Marcos traveled to Central America, to see how production was in other countries, there he saw something that wanted to apply for sure, shaded coffee farms. And here, I would say, the person that helped him the most, was Felipe, his son. Formed by an American roaster, he knew a lot about coffee, and felt that his parents were into something, and that he could still help them much more. Daniel, his brother, followed the path too. An expert with the spoon, the other with the calculator. FAF had it all, to start the path to become a farm model system.
To be complete, and reach the sustainability, they started with some other productions. Wood (used for everything, from the African beds that they use to drying the coffee, until tables in the house), bees and their honey (a perfect indicator of biodiversity), water preservation, vegetables production, milk & cheese, rural tourism (they receive visitors during the whole year).
The project was working, despite the fact that volumes of coffee were decreasing. And neighbor farms started to get interested. And that’s when the Bob-o-link project started.
The Bob-o-link is a migratory bird that travels all over America, which is very touched by mono intensive agriculture, and the Croces used to live on Bob-o-link road. Everything was given, to have a name.
As he says, first thing he did was to empty the fridges of farmers wanting to join his project. You are what you eat, he says, how could he change the philosophy of someone that drinks coke instead of a juice made out of the fruits of his garden.
To become a bob-o-link farmer, they ask them to:
- Start planting trees for shade, and all over the farm
- Do barriers, to preserve water
- Start decreasing the use of fertilizers & pesticides
- Install African beds & pre-sorting machines on the farms (with their financing help)
- Selective harvest. Being mountain & small farms, harvest is done by hand
- They help them, to change their food habits
- Interest in coffee cupping & recognition
- Have some alternative productions. It is quite common to see lots of animals on the farms, such as cows for milk products & meet, and vegetables production
- With all these, birds & bees would come. For the first, they ask respect, from the seconds, to get into honey production.
Every step is very important, Marcos says, but if there’s not quality, nobody would be willing to pay more for what they do. And there’s where them in a strong relation with them, work in order to improve the quality.
They form the farmers, in a way that they can improve each step of the production. And for the post-harvest selection, Felipe is the man behind, cupping every batch to know where is it going to go.
A bob-o-link coffee, needs to score 84-86, according to the SCAA scale. If it’s lower, they won’t consider it worthy to put the name on. If they find any outstanding “microlots”, they would separate them, and sell them separately as their “special reservas”.
What started as a single farm project, has now over 50 farmers involved, from which (according to Marcos), 28 are completely converted into the bob-o-link philosophy.
Changing and getting so many farmers adepts, took them 10 years. Now, their wish, is to be a model of sustainable production for the country.
What we also liked about them, is something Marcos said, he liked to form every farmer as much as they can. Otherwise it would be but a man project, and you know what happens when that man is missing…
Before leaving, I said to Marcos what I like to say to lot of farmers we work with : we always like to work with people that are like salmons, those that always go against the flow, those that always follow the hardest path. Where would be the fun otherwise ?
We are very happy to announce you, that besides continue our natural bob-o-link coffee, we would increase what we are doing! Two new bob-o-links are flying to Europe this harvest, the pulped natural bob-o-link & the yellow bob-o-link (made out exclusively from yellow varietals).
Stay tuned with us for the second part of our Brazilian chronicle: “The untold stories of the pan do queijo: you need to drive at 160 km/h through the Cerrado highways… that’s what the PGI specifies!”
* a small, baked, cheese-flavored rolls, a popular snack and breakfast food in Brazil