OTTO AND MAYRA HIGUEROS
FINCA LA UNIÓN, ACATENANGO, GUATEMALA
Welcome to Finca La Unión
Upon arriving at Finca La Unión, we were greeted by the giant smile of Cesar “Otto” Higueros. It’s hard to convey the warmth that we felt before even making introductions. Otto gives off a contagious air of happiness. We parked at the loading dock of the wet mill where some neighboring farms would bring their cherry to be weighed and left for processing. The substantial wet-processing facility sat directly below us along an active river and the beautiful sounds of rushing water encompassed all. The next thing we noticed was a unique network of pipes running to and from the processing area to where drying patios are located on the other side of the river. This is something I’ve never seen. Washed coffees that were ready to be dried would be sent through these pipes to the other side of the river. The innovation was quite impactful and left me excited and curious about what else Finca La Unión had to reveal.
Next we crossed a bridge over the river towards the guest house to meet the rest of the crew and Otto stopped to tell us something. He emphasized that the health of the river is crucial and that they take extra care to ensure that the water is never contaminated by the water after coffee processing is completed. He said that after filtration, the spent water was treated with agricultural lime (“cal” in espanol) before being reintroduced into the ecosystem. Globally, many wet mills contaminate their local water supply by failing to complete this very important task. The Higueros showed their respect for the ecosystem and their reliance on the health of the water for their operations as well as the health of the wider community. The extra cool thing about this type of waste-water treatment is that it provides a bonus by-product: nutrient-rich compost! All of the producers that we work with have showcased different variations of this crucial water treatment process, which creates a healthy regenerative ecosystem.
Next we met Myrna Higueros, the niece of Otto Higueros, and head of the coffee processing at Finca La Unión. Big surprise, she had a wonderfully contagious spirit just like her Uncle. I don’t think we’ve ever laughed so much on a farm tour. The Higeuros have a way of creating warm relationships very quickly. “Mayra” showed us around the farm, pointing out special varieties such as the Yellow Catuai that we are featuring in August. She also showed us the site of a new state-of-the-art washing station which would reduce the use of water by some 70% during wet-processing. It became quickly apparent that Finca La Unión is heavily invested in their future and are constantly moving towards efficiency and regeneration. On that note, a rather large waterfall (pictured below) was pointed out as a source of energy for the new mill. Sure enough, we saw that the Higueros were working out a hydro-electric power system to further maximize their local resources and reduce the use of electricity. A waterfall that provides power for the wet mill. Now that is a wonderful adaptation!
Finca La Unión also roasts their own coffee and sells it locally for in-country consumption giving them an additional outlet for a range of coffees. We were shown around the roasting facility which held quite a few impressive machines including some antiques that none of us had never seen before. Roasting is a way that Finca La Unión has been able to diversify and find stability in coffee. We mentioned earlier that Otto and Mayra also process cherry for neighboring farms. This is a brilliant way for a milling operation to not only help its fellow coffee farmers without the resources, but also diversify revenue, buying cherry and selling it off after processing.
yepocapa coffee: The exporter
Short for San Pedro Yepocapa in Chimaltenango, Yepocapa Coffee is the name of a very special exporter run by Guatemalan Abdiel Tax Illú (“Chino”) and American Ryan Chipman. After a gruelling process to receive an export license, Yepocapa Coffee is supporting local smallholder farmers in a very awesome way. Aside from education and support, producers are extended market access that was not previously available to them. On our visit to the region, we met many producers who were selling coffee at very low prices to “coyotes” prior to meeting Ryan and Chino. Now they have opportunities to fetch higher prices for their hard work. This is encouraging them to take small steps to improve the quality of their coffee, which can earn premiums. This is a concept that didn’t exist before for many of these smallholder producers. We had the honor of tasting and sharing feedback with a few of the farmers during our trip and it was very rewarding. It’s amazing to see what Yepocapa Coffee is doing for the community. It is an arduous process to make a difference, but Ryan and Abdiel really have the heart for it. Look out for more of these smallholder coffees in the near future!