LET'S TALK COFFEE HARVEST
Updated: Oct 1, 2019
Despite its modest population, the town of San Agustín is anything but quaint. Music blares from every bar, bus and corner store and spills into the gritty streets to meet the zips and pops of motorcycles in a cacophonic dance. A crowd gathers around a truck filled with freshly picked pineapple, while shouts of better offers bellow through the crowded calles, and camouflage-clad police officers mingle in front of a church filled with locals testing their luck at the betting game of Toruro. Here, there is a system all its own; one that being on the outside of is as intimidating as it is fascinating.
San Agustín lies deep in the Magdalena River Valley and is famed for its ruins that pre-date Machu Picchu. The lesser-explored coffee farms, though, are the true marvel of this area—Edenic hills surrounding the town not only boast views that rival some of the most sought after locations in South America, but also play host to the finest coffee grown in Colombia. The high elevation, proximity to the equator, and densely lush region make for a winning combination when it comes to coffee. For the farmers who live here, the verdant landscape is a semblance to the ‘pura vida’—a life that’s easily romanticized, but one that comes with a serious compromise: security.
In San Agustín, the local coffee cooperation serves as a platform to connect its growers to a worldwide market of buyers as well as grades the coffee for quality. Although these services are undeniably essential to the coffee producers of San Agustin, “The incentives are minimal and it’s hard to negotiate a fair cut,” says Edimer Ome, owner of a coffee farm called Campo Bello. “The problem is not necessarily dealing with the industry, but rather the cooperatives and middlemen that buy the coffee from the alliance and then sell it to other merchants. I’m happy if I can get $1.20 per pound of green (unroasted) beans,” which falls twenty cents short of the current market rate of $1.40 per pound—a significant difference for an already stifled wage.
The Ome family runs an award-winning, specialty coffee farm. Despite their quality products and large production, the volatility of market prices means there's not much room for anything other than survival. Edimer has dreams to expand and improve his facilities, but without the prospect of a wage increase, the feat is simply impossible.
To see their craft, livelihood, and hard work consistently undervalued and without security is a difficult reality for Edimer and his family. “I live in this beautiful place, though, and I have a certain amount of freedom; I’m not bound to a desk or a job that I hate, so maybe that is my compromise.” Edimer said. “I don’t necessarily need more, but I shouldn’t have to fight to be paid a fair wage."