Hadassah in Brazil, Part 2
While planning this trip, I knew a week would not be nearly enough to learn everything I wanted to learn about coffee farming in Brazil. After tasting a few of the micro-lots we had sourced from FAF earlier in the year, I did some research on FAF and the Barreto Croce family. After reading about their farming practices, which so closely aligned with my ideas about the future of food, I knew I had to experience their estate first-hand.
I spent two weeks working and learning on the farm, lending a hand wherever I could, getting to know Marcos and Silvia, and their two sons Daniel and Felipe, and enjoying the family’s incredible hospitality.
The heat was overwhelming. This time of year is the start of the Rainy Season in Brazil, which means higher temperatures, but more rainfall which usually cools things down. However, it was dryer than usual during my visit, which meant it was nothing but hot, hot, hot. Walking across the drying beds (large concrete patios covered in black tar to absorb and radiate the heat from the sun, and speed the drying process) in the sweltering sun, the heat was so thick and palpable, it almost felt like walking through water.
My first week was mainly spent in the Coffee House with Marcos, Felipe and Daniel. It was a busy time of year for them, with samples coming in from farms all over the surrounding regions, and several shipping containers to organize. FAF is dedicated to improving the quality of coffee in Brazil, and a lot of time is spent working with farms to improve their processing methods, decreasing the amount of defects and over-fermentation.
This work – cleaning, grading and organizing green samples, entering them into the systems, cupping – was different from my romantic notions of spending two weeks lovingly tending to fields of blossoming coffee trees, but it was no less rewarding or educational. Felipe is an excellent roaster and cupper, and he was kind enough to share some of his knowledge with me. Marcos is passionate about the work he does, and took me around a few of the coffee farms they work with.
My second week was a little more diverse, including horse back riding, jam making and a flurry of baking. The women in the kitchen, initially disparaging of my pidgin Portuguese and fluorescent lack of a tan, were eventually won over with baking. I made a lemon pound cake which led them to reluctantly conclude that I might be able to find myself a Brazilian boyfriend.
The food was absolutely incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much as I did during those two weeks. Fraser had warned me I might come home with a few extra kilos, and my only salvation was Silvia’s love of yoga. Every morning at dawn we would rise and salute the sun, and she was kind enough not to laugh at how terrible I was.
It was an interesting time to be an ex-American Kiwi staying with a family of Italian-American-Brazilians. Heated discussions about the US Presidential Election were a regular pastime over dinner, and would often take place in a charming, but confusing, blend of English and Portuguese. These discussions about Brazilian and American politics made me realize how truly lucky I am to live in a country so free of corruption, and which takes such good care if its people. I was once again reminded of how resilient Brazil is as a nation.
During my time on the farm, I was struck by how close the relationships between the family and the farmers they work with are. Each time a farmer visited with samples, no matter how busy anyone was, work would stop for long enough to enjoy coffee, food and conversation.
Indeed, any visitor to the farm is treated with same warmth and welcome. The farm hosts WWOOFers, tour groups and researchers. Marcos and his family are not just crafting and exporting excellent coffee, they are creating a community; bringing together an eclectic extended family of farmers, WWOOFers from around the world, students, roasters, buyers, baristas, and anyone interested in learning more about what they do.
It was an incredible two weeks, and I was truly made to feel like part of the family.