The Potential of Partnership
Alejandro Renjifo founded Fairfield Trading in 2002 and is Parlor's export partner in Acevedo, Colombia. Renjifo studied International Trade at the London School of Economics and worked as an economist with the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC) from 1979 to 1981 and the International Coffee Organization from 1983 to 1989. Prior to launching Fairfield, Renjifo resumed work at the FNC as its Vice President of Specialty Coffees with a mission to build direct supply chain relationships for Colombian coffee farmers.
Maria Bercelia's story mirrors the struggle of most coffee farmers in Colombia and across the world over. During her first five years as a coffee farmer, she received a very low price for her production which was heavily influenced by a far away commodities market. Her earnings were barely enough to pay her pickers and cover her basic needs. At the end of each harvest, she had nothing left to reinvest in her newly established farm.
Despite the challenges, Maria and her family were driven to succeed in their work. Though they were overwhelmed and lacked access to loans from the cooperative which bought their coffee, the family's positive attitude and strong work ethic fueled their collective determination. Seeking guidance, Maria followed advice from a neighbor, Ciro Lugo, to sell her coffee outside of the cooperative system to an exporter who would champion her coffee. That's when we met.
During my first visit to her farm, I noticed the family's strong will and spirit immediately. Unfortunately, their progress was hampered by poor infrastructure: the roof of her drying deck was filled with holes, and Maria had to continuously move coffee to protect each lot from the constant drizzle of rainwater leaking through.
I remember when Maria told me that Daniel, her youngest son, was unable to finish his studies due to a lack of funds for tuition. She asked me for a loan to improve the drying facilities on her farm. I did not hesitate, and I granted a second loan the following year to help her build a new washing station. Years later, I asked Maria why she didn't request a loan to help pay for Daniel's tuition. She said that, due to the success of our business relationship, her two sons, Daniel and Diego, realized that they could build a future for themselves in the world of coffee. She told me that they enjoy working on the farm, and they constantly push to improve quality in production.
Maria's message and story are an embodiment of my company's mission. And her words have proven true! Daniel's support has been integral to his mother's success. Diego went on to study coffee at SENA, Colombia's vocational school of secondary studies. He now conducts seasonal work with us at Fairfield in our Acevedo lab.
Hearing from Maria that working with Parlor and Fairfield has made a lasting impact on her life is a reassurance that I am doing the work that I love. And what have we done, a Colombian coffee exporter and a Brooklyn coffee roaster, that is so special, so impactful? We discovered a producer with great discipline and determination, and we supported her effort. We amplified her ability to produce incredible coffee. That's it! That's all. And the result is obvious: a family, otherwise adrift in the sea of commodity coffee, is now empowered and secure through our ongoing partnership.
Why don't more people in our industry take this approach? If we, as an industry, continue to walk about "sustainability" while ignoring the reality of microeconomics faced by our farming brothers and sisters on the ground, we have failed. They're playing against a stacked deck, and yet we can help them.