Returning to the coffee farm was one of the hardest decisions of my life.
Growing up, I never wanted to work in coffee. Although I come from a producing family, I’d always wanted something more exciting – a job in the city, in big business. It’s a common story across Latin America, of youths rejecting their parents’ coffee farms. And so for many years, I worked in multinational corporations in San Salvador, rejecting my father’s job offers again and again.
Yet, now I have returned to coffee, I cannot image a more fulfilling career.
Natural coffee dries at San Pedro Mill. Credit: Sicafe
The Allure of the City
I live in El Salvador, a country known worldwide for its quality coffee. Yet I chose to study Business Management and live in Rhode Island, USA. I started a logistics company and quickly realized it wasn’t for me. My father offered me a job; I turned it down. Instead, I took a job at a retail department store chain and worked there for three years.
I never saw myself leaving the city. I had everything I needed close to me: banks, supermarkets, my house, restaurants, coffee shops, malls, my family, and my bride-to-be.
But two years into that job, I realized my love for coffee. I went from turning down my father’s job offer to asking if my parents could find work for me. I discovered that coffee has been with me throughout my life. It has provided me with a home, an education, travels, and a good living.
So why did it take me so long to realize this?
I had never taken my father’s job offer seriously. I had little love for coffee. I knew the company belonged to my family and it wasn’t going anywhere soon. I took coffee for granted.
What’s more, I’d seen big city jobs glamorized in the media, and dreamed of a secure career path over the ever-changing coffee market. I think this is a common trend; more and more of this generation is leaving coffee behind.
Back on Finca Noruega, I walk through the coffee fields every day. Credit: Sicafe
Family & Tradition
My passion for coffee grew slowly, but it was based on family and tradition. I come from six generations of coffee producers, all on my father’s side of the family. He is an entrepreneur, someone who decided to build a mill for our farm, enabling us to see greater profits and have greater control over quality.
The mill started off small, serving just our family farm, but soon neighboring farms wanted to use it. It is in a state of constant growth and innovation. We’ve achieved a reputation for quality, as we work towards providing clients and consumers with the best possible single origin coffee.
I am extremely proud of the accomplishments my father has been able to achieve. Yet it wasn’t just pride that drew me back to coffee; it was also responsibility. As the company grows, more help is needed. My family has dedicated themselves to this farm, and they need me as well. Now, I work with my father as the Administrative Manager at the Mill.
And it was also my growing love for coffee itself.
I am proud of the quality of coffee that we process. Credit: Sicafe
A Growing Love for Coffee
When working in the city, coffee slowly became a very big part of my daily life. Every day, I took a thermos of it to work in the morning and bought to-go coffee in the afternoon. And, after a time, I began wanting more and more high-quality coffee.
What’s more, I realized that if you love what you do, you will never get bored of it. Coffee is such a dynamic industry; you have to constantly learn and adapt. New varietals, chemicals, farming techniques, and mill processes are constantly appearing.
For me, whenever you stop learning, you stop being interested and the job becomes boring. But in coffee, that does not happen.
San Pedro Mill, Apaneca. Credit: Sicafe
The Difficulties of Coffee Farming
Yet that’s not to say that working on a farm is idyllic. There are many obstacles in a producer’s life, whether they appear during the planting and cultivation of the coffee trees, the harvesting and processing, or the final packaging for sale and/or export.
And they’re very different challenges to the ones I faced in an office.
Coffee leaf rust, la roya, was one of my first challenges. This coffee fungus devastated Central America’s crops in 2012, and still remains a problem today. I had to not only understand the complexity of this plant disease, but also look for solutions.
The 2016/7 harvest was a new challenge. Here in El Salvador, harvesting begins in November, and the season’s cool and dry days are perfect for it. But this year, torrential rainfall took us by surprise – and caused many problems.
Yet, despite these difficulties, I have never regretted leaving the city for the coffee farm. It is one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
The view from La Fany coffee farm. Credit: Sicafe
I go back to the city only once or twice a week now. I appreciate the better weather, cleaner air, less traffic, lack of honking horns and greater peace. And, most of all, the time I now spend with my father. I could not ask for a better teacher than him. And while I used to see him two or three times a month, now I see him every day of the week.
Everyone aspires to move to the city and succeed in business after graduating. I wanted it too – and I did it. But why work so hard for someone else, when you can grow your own business and work for your family?
Coffee is not for everyone, but if you have even the slightest amount of passion for this industry, nurture it. Take the opportunity – you will not regret it.
Written by Rafael Silva of Sicafe.
Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article, and cannot directly endorse them.
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