From Sod to Brimming Silos

Measuring fresh picked coffee cherries at La Meseta
Measuring fresh picked coffee cherries at La Meseta

Interview with Gloria Muñoz, recorded May 15, 2013 in Chinchina, Caldas, Colombia

If you could just say a little more about what you were telling me before, about how your family got started, your mom’s dad…

Raquel, we’ve now been doing this here for 30 years. It was property that mother received. My grandfather’s name was Manuel Castaño, and he had, at that time, the finca called “La Meseta.” At the time of his death those lands were divided between 6 children, and so my mother received a piece.

From that, my brothers started with a sod house, with no light, water- they got there and there was nothing- barely a few banana trees.

Over time, they started planting a little coffee here and there…planting coffee. In the year 1985, with the explosion of the volcano Nevado de Ruiz, a few acres of land on the edge of Finca La Mesta were for sale.

These acres were sold to people who weren’t farmers. These people didn’t know how to administer the fincas, they didn’t know how to process coffee, therefore my brothers- in Finca La Guamera, which is part of La Meseta- started buying their coffee at this time, in 1986, from the people who arrived after the volcano Nevado de Ruiz erupted. 

They started, at this time, a little coffee, and they then started to process and dry it. And more people started hearing about it, neighbors from the area, that Finca La Guamera was buying coffee.

They started, my four brothers Jorge Fernan, Jose Fernando Muñoz, Juan David Muñoz, Carlos Alberto Muñoz. And at that time, all the neighborhoods that correspond to the Municipality of Villa Maria- which are like 20 neithborhoods, with good altitudes of 1800, 1900 [meters above sea level]- started to sell all their coffee to Finca La Guamera.

And so they started to work really hard. They had to pack up the coffee, dry it- and all in very difficult conditions with little old machines that were practically all manual, working with their hands, drying in the sun.

This created the need to build the first silo. Then after another one, and another, and another, and from there they kept growing- in the purchase of coffee. 

From there they started to buy farms [a passing car honks and Gloria waves. She’s a known personality.] abutting the original farm that was my mom’s inheritance.

When my mother got her inheritance it was 7 acres, now the farm is 100 acres, all planted with coffee.

It was my brother Fernando who, from one moment to the next, said, “well, why don’t we keep looking? We’re growing more- we should try to be exporters! We have enough coffee here!” And they bought La Insula. La Insula is the largest wet mill [depulping/washing machinery] in the Department of Caldas- and I think in all of the Coffee Axis. La Insula consists of 30 silos, coffee from all over Palestina, La Esmeralda, Manizales, Trebol, El Triunfo arrives there. They dry the coffee there too and also send it to the trilladora [dry mill].

After La Insula Fernando Muñoz decided, “we have to build a trilladora! For ourselves, to not have to go to a middleman.” We started with a teeny, teeny tiny one. And then we started growing, and people knew about us, and people came from Medellin, from the east part of Caldas, to sell us coffee. And now we buy coffee from Huila, the east side, Medellin, all the Coffee Axis. Everyone brings us coffee. And right now we export to 17 countries. That’s, well, that’s the story of our family.

In total, we’re 4 men and 2 women, and we all work for the business, which is called Compania Cafetera La Meseta. 

And your mom’s siblings, do they still have fincas around here?

In this area, from when they also inherited land?

No, only one- two- two still have their fincas. Only two were left with farms. Right now. Only two ended up with farms, but they really only use them as retreats.

Last year, Compania Cafetera La Meseta, was the 9th largest [coffee] exporter in Colombia. And this started, well, in ’86, when they bought the first coffee cherries at Finca La Guamera. And we’re still in the same business. We’re a very united family, and we continue to fight in order to move onward.

I can see a lot of collaboration between you all. 

Lots of collaboration. We’re very committed to what we do.

And of all the work that has gone into the journey from 8’6 until now,

What has been the most difficult, and what has been the biggest success? 

Well, the most difficult, I say, was, were, the last 3 years. Because in the last 3 years the climate has not helped us. There’s been a lot of rain. The harvest has been down by a lot. And also, the prices have been very difficult. Last year the prices were very low, so, I say, of the big crises we’ve seen in the past 30 years, we can count the last 3 years among the worst crises. And, of the good stuff, it also started with the hard part of last year. Even with such low prices, Compania Cafetera La Meseta was the 9th largest exporter. 

[Perfect timing. As she puts the period on her sentence she pulls the car to the intersection where the pickers and the foremen and the big truck full of cherries are waiting for la medida.]

To read more stories told by coffee growers, processors, scientists, and exporters (coffeepeople) ADVANCE ORDER your copy of “When Coffee Speaks” via Kickstarter.

Bound for the 26 countries to whom La Meseta exports
Bound for the 17 countries to whom La Meseta exports
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