MEET OUR FARMERS
Our Meet Our Farmers series provides a glimpse into the history, legacy and dedication of the farming families whom we partner with. When you purchase San Francisco Bay Coffee, you are joining our efforts to improve the lives of our farmers and those in their communities around the world.
September 1, 2021
La Fortuna Farm, Colombia
A few hours west of Medellin, Colombia, in the mountainous province of Antioquia, lies the small town of Concordia. If you find this town on a map, you’ll see that the region around it is abundant with coffee farms. One of these incredible small-scale farms belongs to José Cristobal Leon Herrera. It’s called Finca La Fortuna.
José grew up working on different coffee farms, eventually managing one of them for more than 15 years. Then in 2003 at the age of 46, he gathered his life savings and bought La Fortuna. Along with the coffee already planted on the farm, José added family-use produce such as corn, beans, bananas and cassava. It’s a small farm, a little over 3.5 acres (smaller in size than a New York City block).
The coffee farms of Concordia are all located well over a mile high in the sky where the coffee beans can really thrive. Coffee produced at this altitude is considered of a much higher quality. The water in the soil at these elevations and the average temperatures (Concordia’s is a pleasant 73° F) ensure more complex flavor notes than beans grown at lower altitudes.
When José first purchased La Fortuna, the crops were old and the coffee trees were of a variety that was very sensitive to rust (a fungus that causes trees to lose their foliage prematurely, greatly weakening the coffee bean output). He spent his early years on the farm renewing the crops and carefully managing the health of the existing coffee trees. He now manages 6,000 of them in total.
José lives here with his wife, Orlinde Ruiz. Together they’ve raised four daughters - Adriana Maria, Claudia, Sor Angela, and Leidy. The work on La Fortuna is all done by hand, overseen by José, and carried out by him, his wife, one of his daughters, and her husband. From sowing to harvesting, this crew of four keeps La Fortuna running.
La Fortuna is currently gearing up for this year’s harvest. José and his family are spending the end of the beans’ growth cycle carefully weeding and monitoring pests. The coffee borer beetle is the most serious of these. In Colombia, it is not unheard of for 75% of the coffee crop to be in some way affected by this little insect. Even a small infestation on a farm can send that year’s profits into a tailspin. Much care is taken after the flowering cycle and before harvest to watch for this pest’s appearance, and to weed out any beans that have been compromised.
Like many of his fellow farmers in the Concordia region, José has planted mostly Colombian and Castillo varietals. These varietals are optimal in this area, chiefly because of their resistance to coffee rust. Castillo, in particular, boasts a beautiful blend of both citrus and cacao notes. It’s perfect for both pour-overs and espressos.
San Francisco Bay Coffee has supported José and his farm with the fair price that they pay for the coffee. This has helped him not only to cover the production costs of the farm but also to increase the farm’s output in the marketplace. And in 2017, San Francisco Bay Coffee also supported José with the donation of 500 new coffee plants. José and La Fortuna have been the beneficiaries of San Francisco Bay Coffee’s social programs since then, and José has been a farmer for coffee purchase with San Francisco Bay Coffee since 2018.
Like many of his fellow farmers in the region, José looks to the challenges he sees facing the coffee industry. He’s expecting this year’s production to be lower than most years. José cites climate change and increasing production costs as two of the biggest obstacles the coffee farmers of Concordia must consistently work to overcome. But he’s grateful for the presence of San Francisco Bay Coffee in his farm’s life. He says that while San Francisco Bay Coffee is present, he always gets a fair price for his product above other buyers.
José has a goal of purchasing a coffee bean drying machine to improve the quality of his production even further. He’s grateful for his health, his family who support him in his work at La Fortuna, and for San Francisco Bay Coffee for their presence in the regional market which ensures a fair price for his work and his product.