GRIT AND GRACE

After more than two decades writing for local and foreign publications, Ross Harper Alonso decided to be a robusta coffee farmer. So, in 2012, she and her husband purchased raw farm land near Mt. Malarayat in Lipa City, Batangas. The romantic side of living on a coffee plantation certainly appealed to them.

They bought 4,000 coffee seedlings from Nestlé farm in Bukidnon for provenance and quality. Ross initially handled the day-to-day operations as her husband traveled every week. While agronomists and agricultural consultants from University of the Philippines Los Baños provided technical support for the first few months, Ross supplemented this with hours of online research. In time, she learned to care for the young coffee trees at different stages of their growth.

The harvest created jobs for 15 to 20 women in the barangay for six months. They were trained to pick the coffee cherries one by one, since stripping is not allowed. Several of the women stayed on to sort the dried coffee beans.

Ross laments the long list of direct costs a new coffee farmer must be ready to shoulder for at least five years or until a major harvest. In Ross’ case, the intercropped vegetables and other produce from the farm helped bring in cash during the early stages.

Developing the humble 2 ½-hectare coffee plantation was expensive―especially during the first three labor-intensive years of the coffee trees’ lives. The cost further increases if an automated drip irrigation system is installed to get the trees through the dry season. Even maintaining shade-grown trees and using organic fertilizer doesn’t come cheap.

Ross shares being a coffee farmer isn’t easy but it has been fulfilling and profitable. “To be a successful lady farmer is even more challenging because it entails a lot more grit and grace to deal with men, to establish a clear line between the business and a woman’s natural instinct to nurture,” she said. (Photo by Pennie Azarcon)

The coffee trees will be five years old by July 2017. The first major harvest began in October 2016. The coffee cherries are divided by area and processed in three different ways. Wet, dry, and raisin for coffee cherries are left to completely dry and shrivel, still hanging on the tree. This year’s harvest yielded nearly 5,000 kilos of dry beans. To save on post-harvest costs, the beans are then brought to a family-run roasting and toll-packing facility in Las Piñas City.

The coffee brand, Finca Del Carmen Single Origin Estate Sweet Robusta, is currently sold at specialty stores. Ross believes the farm has been able to produce fine Robusta because of the ecological balance and harmonious working environment it created. Their three types of roasted coffee taste each boast of a unique taste, even if they all come from a single origin coffee estate.

Instilling the value of education, virtues, and an appreciation of the dignity of a farmer’s honest work has made Ross’ workers better role models to their children and in the rural poor community they’re from. Making positive changes in the lives of the people around them is just as important as a good harvest for this coffee farmer.

 

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