Jesus Mario Palacio’s coffee dreams came true last year when Pact customers gave his coffee the highest approval rating in the history of our company. He had been involved in the production of Colombian coffee as man and boy; living through some dark days when his part of the country (the Antioquia region around Medellin) was home to the notorious drug gangs led by Pablo Escobar.
Will, our Head of Coffee, first discovered La Falda in 2016, when Jesus took part in a national coffee competition. He only entered on a whim and was staggered when Will offered to buy the whole lot for a premium price there and then.
Pact has cemented our partnership with Jesus and now the next year’s crop of La Falda is back as part of our Micro-Lot Plan…
So what does it take to grow a coffee like La Falda? And how does it feel to suddenly be a player in the specialty coffee industry, after so long selling his beans on the commodity market? We find out during a chat with Jesus…
Have you always worked in the coffee industry?
Since I was eight years old; my dad worked on coffee farms and during the harvest I would pick the cherries with him after school and on weekends. I spent my childhood saving up because I always dreamt of having my own farm. After a lot of hard work my dream came true: I bought a tiny patch of land, just 0.4 hectares, and planted my first 2,000 coffee trees.
So what was it like in the beginning?
It was a hard time. Starting a business is not easy; I was in charge of everything. It was a big responsibility but I loved it because I was working on something I am passionate about. A few years later I sold that patch of land and I was able to buy La Falda, the farm I live on today. I have been here for 14 years and over that time we’ve come to have around 10,000 Castillo variety trees, and I’ve raised my family here too.
Are your children following in your footsteps?
In Antioquia it is traditional to have big families and mine is no exception! I have been married to Ana Elmira for 34 years. She is a wonderful wife and raising our five children hasn’t been an easy job. Now they are older, three of my sons work in the coffee industry; one owns his own farm and the other two help out picking coffee at harvest time.
My youngest son, Norbey, is just 13 and still at school. We’re very happy that our little man still lives at home with us. I have never asked him if he would like to work in coffee when he is older, he is still too young to decide what he really wants to do for the rest of his life.
How has it been working with Pact?
I feel blessed to work with Pact. In the time I’ve worked with Will my profitability has increased by around 40%. I have invested the money on the farm; improving the wet mill, buying a de-pulper and building a covered area to dry the coffee. It has also meant I can fertilize more often with higher-quality fertilisers, which is very important for the coffee plant. Now the farm is more productive and my family is very motivated to help me in the coffee production, because it benefits all of us.
What’s your typical day like?
From Monday to Saturday I work from 7am to 5pm on the farm. At the end of the day I feel tired, as I’m getting old and I don’t have the same energy as 10 years ago. I like to spend my free time with my family, watching TV and relaxing. At the weekend I head into town with my wife and Norbey to buy the food for the week.
What does your farm mean to you?
I love this place. My farm is where I live and where I have spent the greatest moments of my life. Working here for me means happiness and that’s what I try to make people feel when they come to work here at harvest time. My family and I always make the effort to build great relationships with our workers.
Where’s your favourite place on the farm?
There’s a place on the farm where I have a perfect view of the coffee trees. For me it is indescribable and whenever I want to think, I just go there and sit for a while.
A word about La Falda from our Head of Coffee, Will
I’m not surprised that customers gave this coffee such a high score. It’s outstanding. It’s complex in almost every way with flavours of mango, pineapple and pear; delicious fruity sweetness and acidity to match. The juicy body brings all these tasting notes together perfectly; it’s truly a great coffee.