MEET OUR FARMERS
Our Meet Our Farmers series provides a glimpse into the history, legacy and dedication of the farming families whom we partner with. When you purchase San Francisco Bay Coffee, you are joining our efforts to improve the lives of our farmers and those in their communities around the world.
September 1, 2022
Abelardo Antonio Arias Velez, Colombia
Abelardo Antonio Arias Velez, second generation owner of Campo Alegre in Colombia.
It’s pre-harvest season at Campo Alegre, and that means that Abelardo Antonio Arias Velez and his family are beginning the back-breaking work of weeding. Like so many of the small, family farms that make up the mountainsides of this part of Colombia, most of the work is done manually. And the money the Velez family saves by not using herbicides comes at a cost, as the weeding by hand means they must pull away ground cover to expose the area surrounding each coffee plant, painstakingly remove the weeds from this exposed area, and then replace the ground cover – plant by plant, row by row. Small producers like Abelardo perform tasks like this all year long in order to produce the maximum yield possible. One bad year, and a farm can go under.
Abelardo Velez is 79 years old now, and he inherited this farm from his parents, who passed away 10 years ago. Abelardo’s father, Pedro Julio Arias Velez, originally planted the land with coffee crops back in 1920. Over the decades the Velez family has augmented the produce of the farm with corn, cassava, plantains, and bananas. Many small farms in this region diversify their output, and Campo Alegre is no different. From the age of 15, Abelardo learned how to work these crops alongside his father, and now, over 60 years later, he cares for what his father started – 10 acres of high-mountain land and 16,000 coffee plants.
Abelardo and his wife Gloria Rocio Gonzalez Restrepo.
Abelardo married Gloria Rocio Gonzalez Restrepo back in 1970, and they have seven children together: Diego León, Luz Miriam, Jorge Eliecer, Deida Nubiela, Claudia Milena, José Adrián, and Alfa Roció. Two of his sons, a son-in-law, and his wife Gloria, help him with the tasks related to the cultivation and collection of the coffee beans. Come harvest time, Abelardo is supported by several of his neighbors and other workers from the surrounding area.
This region is a mile in the sky, about 6 miles southwest of the town of Concordia, Colombia. It’s a 3-hour drive to Colombia’s second-largest city of Medellin in the department of Antioquia. The climate is mild here, with gentle slopes of fertile land, abundant pure water, and an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Orchids, particularly the Cattleya trianae (aka the Christmas Orchid) grow here by the thousands. Andean condors, Colombia’s national bird, frequent this elevation on their way to higher altitudes.
Abelardo has two houses on the farm, and his family members who work the farm live in them. For the upcoming harvest, he will employ 10 additional pickers, and since they’re all local workers from the area, they won’t require living quarters onsite.
When the harvesting begins, there will be three varietals to pick: Colombian, Castillo, and Cenicafe-1. Each of these beans is known for its resistance to coffee rust – a fungus that attacks the leaves of the coffee plant and, since 2011, has been responsible for billions of dollars of damage on farms in Central and South America.
Colombian beans are hand-picked, which means there are a set of eyes constantly on the process. A machine cannot decide between unripe or overripe coffee cherries. It takes a seasoned, human eye to discern which beans are ready. Colombian yield always offers a higher-quality coffee. Castillo beans are known for their smooth cup, the aroma of red fruits and spices, and citric acidity. And Cenicafe-1 is classified as a specialty coffee with notes of cocoa, honey, and hazelnuts.
San Francisco Bay Coffee has been supporting Abelardo and Campo Alegre since 2016 with new coffee plants to renew his crop and fertilizer to increase his yield. And since 2018, through his relationship with San Francisco Bay Coffee, he has been able to sell his coffee at prices higher than his competitors.
One of the biggest challenges to the small coffee farms of this region in Colombia is the lack of labor. Younger people can feel limited by living in rural areas here, without access to cultural and leisure activities. Luckily, Abelardo can cover most of the farm chores with the family he has living on the farm. Another challenge is climate change, which is showing its presence in unexpected periods of heavy rainfall or overly dry conditions. The seasons themselves have shifted from their normal beginnings in the calendar year. As degrees of warming edge higher and higher, scientists in Colombia are suggesting that the production of coffee needs to rise in altitude by 500 feet for every degree of temperature rise.
Abelardo has a short-term goal to improve the infrastructure of his mill. The narrowness of the structure makes for a very uncomfortable working environment, and improving this building will improve the quality of his work and the quality of his coffee.
The Velez family is very proud of the three generations that have passed through this small farm. Abelardo loves working with his family by his side and is so grateful that they are working for their own farm and not split up and working for others. He’s thankful for the relationship he has with San Francisco Bay Coffee. Family is important, and the support that San Francisco Bay Coffee Company provides, allows the Velez family to work together to bring quality coffee from their small family farm to the global marketplace.