Within 30 seconds of meeting Astrid Medina, she invited me to her finca. She invites everyone, and her invitation is genuine, she would really love to show you her home and her coffee. She is a rockstar of specialty coffee with fans across the globe, but Astrid is a caring and humble person, grateful to coffee for what it has given to her family.
Astrid is from Planadas, Tolima, an area of Colombia that suffered the some of the worst of the Colombian internal conflict, caught between the FARC guerrillas, the government, the narco-traffickers and the paramilitary groups. People of this region tend not to talk of this violence. Everyone has a story. Everyone suffered. As Colombia begins its journey to peace, these people are looking forward, not backwards.
I asked Astrid to answer a few questions for me, and what she provided was this heartfelt essay. Rather than edit it into our usual style of blog post, I decided to post it as is. It has been translated from Spanish, and modified slightly for flow, but it remains Astrid's story, in her own words.
By Astrid Medina
My farm, Buena Vista, is located in the municipality of Planadas in Gaitania, Tolima at an altitude of 1780 to 2000 metres above sea level. The varieties I grow are Caturra, Colombia and Castillo. The total area of my farm is 15 hectares of which 13.5 a dedicated to coffee production.
My coffee is cultivated, picked, processed and dried with upmost care to maintain the quality. Quality is our primary objective when working with coffee.
Coffee has always been part of my life
My paternal grandfather was a coffee producer, my father was a coffee producer, and the family of my husband were all coffee producers.
When I was 29 years old my father, Aureliano Medina, was killed. My three younger siblings and I inherited the farm. Two of my siblings sold their share, so now Buena Vista is owned by my husband, my younger sister and me.
It hasn’t been easy, it is a constant struggle to be a coffee producer, the price, the climate, the varieties, the work that must be done by hand. But it is a passion and an art, and we never stop learning.
Entering the specialty market
I began producing specialty coffee in 2014 when the National Federation of Coffee Growers and Nespresso launched a program called LH TIME, or Late Harvest, which was just for the Castillo variety and consisted of collecting the mature cherries. In our case we picked the cherries over four weeks to obtain the best state of ripeness of this variety. We managed to sell 5000 kg of coffee in parchment at a premium of 300,000 pesos (approximately an additional $100 USD per 125kg). This additional money really helped us to make investments in our farm to implement more processes to achieve better quality and improve salaries of our workers.
In 2015 they held the Cup of Excellence in Colombia and we decided to enter, it was held on the 13th of March, and our coffee won first place! This competition changed our lives. It not only proved that quality coffee is worth the effort, it also proved that hard work and dedication bring good things.
This competition lifted us from anonymity and introduced us to the world of specialty coffee. Many people were suddenly interested in visiting our region, tasting and buying coffee from Planadas. This really helped our region which was hit hard by the internal conflict in Colombia. The coffee producers improved their conditions, could invest in their farms and improve salaries for their workers.
Specialty coffee changed my life and that of my family for the better. It allowed us to improve infrastructure, improve the salaries of our workers, and gave us the opportunity to travel abroad, encounter new cultures, to meet with the people who had come to visit us on our farm. Coffee really unites people.
Specialty coffee allows us to educate our children and support my daughter who is studying at a university in Bogota. It has returned my sense of security, my will to work, to listen, to travel, to learn, to dream.
Family and the role of women in coffee
My husband is Raúl Antonio Duran, my daughter is Dayhana Alejandra Duran, she is 19 and is in the sixth semester of an environmental science degree at Universidad El Bosque, and my son Raúl Alejandro is 9 and finishing 4th grade.
My husband is a medical veterinarian, and I am an agricultural production technician. We have always worked in coffee. Before we inherited the farm, we worked for a coffee cooperative, and my husband continues to work as a buyer. In my free time I help with physical analysis, and this has really helped us to learn more about coffee.
My husband has a good head for finances and is an excellent administrator. This has given me the opportunity to participate, to learn, to contribute, and it has really helped us to grow and work towards the same goal. We work as a team.
To be a woman in the Colombian coffee sector is a crucial role that requires great commitment, work, dedication and above all, great passion for what we do. Gender equality is so important. In coffee there is always work for every member of the family, and it is very important to empower those who want to work. Men and women always complement each other and both are important. Both are in charge of what they do, both develop a role very important in their family.
Plans for the future
My plans for the future are very ambitious. I want my farm to be a place that does not harm the environment, where many varieties of coffee exist, where there are many ornamental and fruit trees, where we never want for vegetables. I want to have the highest standard of water treatment, to offer my workers training, and above all we want to learn more ourselves. We want to have some means of air transport to bring the picked coffee from the highest lots to the washing station.
I dream that my children will speak English, finish their university studies, and be in love with coffee.
I am very proud of my farm, it is the legacy of my father, but I am prouder of the coffee that we produce. It is wonderful and privileged position to offer specialty coffee, it gives me great satisfaction and fills me with gratitude. I am proud to know that we have placed one grain of sand in building the country of our dreams.
Astrid Medina Pereira