It’s 6:00 am Saturday morning, and the torrential jungle rains are flooding the streets & the moto-taxis have all but disappeared. By 8:00 am, it’s a grey wet mess, but we cautiously head out with our driver to the first Curibamba Coffee Project stop of the day. We’re scheduled for a 10:00 workshop, and the roads are likely to be tricky.
Sure enough, there’s been a huge mudslide & the road is completely covered with several feet of thick gooey mud. We’re not going anywhere, and the sprinkling of traffic begins to back up on this remote dirt road. After a 45 minute wait, a grader appears, and soon there’s a single vehicle path through the mud. We’re lucky, the grader is off at noon, and won’t return until Monday.
For the past three years, Ben Gangloff and his wife Yrma (a Peruvian native) of A Little Further South Coffee have worked with the Curibamba Coffee Project in the mountains around San Ramon, Peru in the central rain forest region of the eastern Andes. The project involves 180 farm families and is now preparing for the 4th harvest since beginning the program. The largest village is Uchubamba, which dates to 1619, but is still quite remote and isolated.
It’s rugged country, and only in the last few years have modern utilities (electric/phone) arrived. Roads are frequently washed out, or covered in mudslides during the rainy season. Some communities are not vehicle accessible. Yet, these higher elevation farmsteads can produce some of Peru’s finest coffees.
The project is funded by Enel, the multi national electric company, through local subsidiary Edegel, and consists of regular training via agricultural engineers & coffee experts such as David Bisetti of Lima, and donations of solar drying tents, drying tables, plants, and organic fertilizers.
It is yielding flavorful dividends, as cupping scores have consistently risen over the last several years. The growers have a friendly competition to produce the highest quality, and farmers actually receive feedback from roasters who are consuming their coffee. Direct relationships have proved fruitful not only in helping to empower farmers, but in improving quality for the end users.
Can a green coffee importer make a difference? Ben Gangloff thinks so. “We began our search, seeking to get connected at the farm level to our coffee. We try to look holistically at communities where we are buying, with a desire to works towards a fair and sustainable supply chain. We expect a more abundant harvest this year, and we’re excited to be bringing Curibamba to the US.”
This past year A Little Further South also imported some natural and honey-processed lots, including bags from world renowned Chacra D’dago in Villa Rica, which is the only Biodynamic certified coffee in Peru. There are limited quantities of these specialty lots currently available.
“We seek coffee producers & roasters who are committed to a sustainable coffee chain. It sounds easy in theory, but the reality in the field is daunting. We’ve learned a tremendous amount by working with farmers using sustainable agricultural methods such as biodynamic. Ideas can be shared, and much more can be done, and via environmentally friendly means.”
Future of Specialty Coffee in Peril
We are seeing young people abandon the farms. With internet & television, they’re aware that not everyone is a poor subsistence farmer, and many choose to leave, especially as commodity coffee prices are currently depressed. Seeing grandparents, and now parents struggle; it’s not hard to see why.
The average age of coffee farmers is in the 50’s. It’s hard work, and when prices are low, there is no profit left for basics such as fertilization, soil testing, healthy plant rotation & renovation etc.
All is not lost, however. As a focus on quality and more successful secondary crops improve earnings, farming is becoming an appealing pastime for the prodigal farm kids, many who have tasted excellent coffees in the cafes of Lima and want to bring it back home.
When asked about being a solar powered importer, Ben said, “We’ve been off grid & solar powered in Arizona since 1996. I think we may be the only green coffee importers that can say that.” Our coffee is all warehoused in Los Angeles however, where humidity levels are more favorable to preserving flavor than Arizona’s desert clime. A Little Further South says that they work where “the Grand Mohave Desert meets the blue Sonoran Sky.”
For more information, visit: alittlefurthersouth.com or call