Day in the Life of A Coffee Farmer – Gean
The moon spotlights the century-old abandoned church that sits on Gean Gomes Ferreira’s (32 years) coffee farm in the mountains of Manhuaçu, Brazil. It’s 6 am and across from the church lives Gean in his modest 3-bedroom home together with his family. The lights are on, water boiling, and the freshly roasted coffee is being ground. Gean takes coffee seriously, from growing to roasting and understanding the various taste profiles. Something that gives him an advantage and has allowed him to market and sell his roasted beans to the community. He finishes pouring his coffee and kisses his wife Verenice (26) and son Victor (5) goodbye.
As Gean heads up the winding dirt road to the top of the mountain, the sun is rising and reflecting off the 20 hectares of coffee trees he owns. It’s at that moment he knows his long day has started.
Gean and other coffee growers are currently participating in an ICP funded project in the area. The project provides resources and trainings, something Gean appreciates as a new farmer. Taking what he has learned, he throws on a hat and protective eyewear and starts harvesting on his Yellow Bourbon coffee tree. Moving from branch to branch, selectively picking the ripe cherries which have a deep, golden yellow tone and tossing them in the homemade wicker basket. He isn’t harvesting the entire crop yet, just enough to produce a test. It will be an indicator of this season’s crop quality, and if there is anything, he can do to improve the outcome. Gean currently allocates 30% of his land to growing specialty coffee with the expectation of increasing that to 80% over the next years. The other 70% of his coffee trees are of a “commodity” variety. The specialty coffee market is an important one, and the community in which Gean lives knows this.
“Today we have in the community the intention of making a “specialty coffee group.” Where it is my coffee and some friends who also grow specialty high-quality coffee. We aim to encourage people to know our community, our coffee.” But the purpose of the group is not only about marketing. Consumers should learn that coffee is a complex product, explains Gean. He explains what he wants consumers to experience:
“How we bring the coffee from the fields, how we wash and put it out to dry. All of the methods we use for producing coffee, to know the coffee from the cherry to the bean to the cup.”
As more coffee farmers, such as Gean, continue to put a focus on growing specialty coffee varieties; the desire of smallholder farmers to produce a unique coffee is increasing. For now, Gean sells his specialty coffee in the local community where he lives as a side business. But he hopes that someday people far and wide will know his specialty coffee by name.
It’s midday and an excellent time to take a break and head into town for a refreshing lunch. In Brazil, you’ll find cantinas on every street corner with all having a varying array of lunch staples but all having one thing in common, buffet. Gean walks into his favorite spot, loads his plate.
He joins his fellow coffee farmers at a table where they are talking about the abnormal climate conditions. The longer raining period and warmer summers have produced a second flowering of the trees before the current coffee cherries have been harvested. This leads to increased production cost due to the varying harvesting times. It is also still unknown if there are long term effects of this double flowering that would affect the next years season. “In recent years, climate change has affected us both positively and negatively. Positive, because it has been raining a lot in the region, we have no lack of water. Even with other crops, for example, I have a cornfield near my house, and it’s very good. The issue that negatively affects us is that this year, there was a difference in the issue of flowering.”
Just as the day started with the hot sun, the weather is expected to change later in the day. Gean hops back onto his dirt bike and heads back to his farm. There is still plenty to do before the weather gets bad. He joins a friend of his and his wife who turn their focus to building several additional drying tables. Something he learned about from the training he received as part of the ICP project in the Matas region. The tables are made of a solid wooden frame with a mesh screen stretched over them. Gean also added a canopy over his tables to keep any rain from damaging the drying coffee. Drying the coffee on these simple wooden framed tables improves the quality of the coffee in the end, which in turn will provide a higher return when it comes time to sell the coffee. The heat of the day is still bearing down, but that doesn’t stop his son Victor from playing under the drying tables.
Gean lays the small basket full of Yellow Bourbon he harvested in the morning on the drying table. Spreading them over the mesh screen on a single layer allows just enough air to get through to dry the cherries instead of rotting due to the moisture that could be trapped using other drying methods. He then heads to the other side of his farm to check out another variety of coffee he is growing. This variety is not as high maintenance as the Yellow Bourbon but still requires attention. The cover crop he planted a few seasons ago is helping keep the soil moisture consistent; something coffee trees need a lot of and another climate smart agriculture practice he learned through the ICP project.
As the day draws to a close, Gean heads back to the house. Joining his wife and son on the terrace, they talk about what the future holds for them. Gean and his wife have discussed how they want to ensure they leave the land they farm on in a better condition they received it. For the sake of Victor should he choose to take it over, but also for future generations to come. Gean explains the steps he has already taken.
“I am already changing some things. There is a spot on our farm that was once occupied by a cattle pasture and water springs. We have now isolated this area and planted several native tree seedlings. This will ensure I leave this farm in a better condition for my children.” Gean goes onto say about his own family, “I see our family a little larger because we do want to have more children, we have Victor, but we do want to have more. I believe a family should be united and united with the community, for the sake of coffee, but without forgetting nature and loving thy neighbor.”
The sun sets over the mountains just as the rain begins and another Day in the Life of a Coffee Farmer comes to close.