Have you ever tasted a low-quality coffee that left you feeling like you didn’t want to repeat that experience? Have you considered the potential impacts generated by the production of the second most consumed beverage in the world?
Now think about the pleasure you experienced when tasting some of the best cups of coffee you’ve ever tasted. Imagine if this sensory experience originated through conservation agriculture practices applied to previously degraded soil.
It was the search for change between the two different scenarios mentioned above that have guided our efforts over the last 18 years to carry out a major transformation through the application of scientific principles to develop a sustainable production system for specialty coffees in a very specific region.
Our agricultural and socio-environmental practices are Rainforest Alliance Certified, which, as defined by this organization, “contribute toward a better future for people and planet.” Our employees support these efforts as together, we have been recognized as a Great Place to Work company since 2021.
Change is driven by people and they are the ones who make the difference.
To many people, “science” can seem like an abstract or even threatening concept. However, nothing in life is outside of science. It is the key to everything that grows and is developed—and it is the key to building sustainable production systems with the future of humanity in mind.
Science is in our heritage. Although we are in Brazil, our farm is called “California,” in honor of the American state, because it was founded by a North American company in 1903. They were affiliated with the University of California at Davis, an important research institution specializing in agriculture since the moment of its foundation.
However, over the decades, the adoption of a series of inappropriate agricultural practices led to physical, chemical and biological degradation of the soils.
When we took over management of the farm in 2004, it had suffered from years of bad agronomic practices: The soil was so degraded that it had lost its fertility, there were serious erosion problems, chemical limitations to plant development, loss of physical structure with compaction, low organic matter content, plant roots were damaged, and difficult-to-control weeds were everywhere.
We knew we had to help the farm regenerate and we started from scratch. We replanted our coffee. We needed a new production system for a new era.
We brought scientific knowledge to soil management, restoring it through a set of conservation techniques and a bioactivation process. Soil erosion processes were controlled and mitigated, and chemical limitations were identified and corrected.
Different cover crops were used in the system, such as brachiaria, a tropical grass that covers the soil and protects it from the erosive process, promotes nutrient recycling, incorporates carbon and increases the content of organic matter. (You can get a good look at it toward the end of this video.)
We improved soil life by increasing the quantity and diversity of microorganisms and improved nutrient cycling so the root systems of plants would be healthy and more resilient to stresses. Instead of succumbing to pests, diseases and different kinds of stresses, our plants grow the healthy cherries that nourish the seeds that will flavor the drink we love.
Coffee plants are tropical, but they also need cooler temperatures to grow. Traditionally, coffee is grown in areas close to the equator, at high altitudes where the air is cooler. Many people believe it’s impossible to grow quality coffees at altitudes lower than 1000 meters.
The altitude of our farm is around 700 meters, but what we lack in altitude we make up for in latitude. We are a little further from the equator than most coffee farms, and therefore our climate during the cherry ripening period is cooler with a wide temperature range. In fact, we are located on the Tropic of Capricorn, at the southern limit of coffee production in the world.
Currently, Fazenda California exports its specialty coffees to more than 20 countries on different continents through a partnership with Exportadora Capricornio Coffees. The farm gained notoriety through different national and international awards, but mainly by establishing long-term relationships with some of the best professionals in the coffee industry.
We broke some paradigms by respecting the complexity of agriculture, understanding the importance of people as agents of change, and trusting in the transforming power of the application of scientific knowledge in our lives.