Coffee Portraits: Ana Lorena

Ana Lorena Jimenez // Vuelta de Jorco

AF-S NIKKOR 24–70mm f/2.8G


Independence and Resilience

Gender Empowerment

Meaningfulness in Coffee

Ana Lorena standing amongst her ripening coffee trees (2019).

Coffee: The Giver of Life

Ana Lorena is a woman coffee producer a part of Bean Voyage’s Care Training program. She is from a small community called Vuelta de Jorco, about an hour south of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. Her farm is located high up in the hills (which is ideal for growing coffee), and you must climb steep—borderline treacherous—roads to reach it.

Looking out from Ana Lorena’s house towards her coffee land (2019).

In Costa Rica, as in many agrarian societies, the family household is the major corporate social unit for mobilizing agricultural labor, managing productive resources, and organizing consumption. According to a study on property, power, and political economies of farming households in Costa Rica, the vast majority of Costa Rican rural households continue to support themselves through coffee production, and the coffee farms in these communities tend to be small (Sick, 1998.). Men comprise 71% of landowners and own 82% of the land; women comprise 29% and own 18% of the land (Sick, 1998).

Coffee production is no exception when it comes to complex relationships between land, livelihood strategies, and the historical and ongoing social ties that determine ownership. Doña Ana Lorena’s father had 14 children each of whom inherited a parcel of his 28 hectares of coffee land. Doña Ana Lorena’s two-hectare plot takes the shape of an irregular narrow strip of land that begins on lower ground and extends up into the hills. This strip of land contains all of her family’s coffee plants—at least the ones that are still cared for. The bottom-most portion of the inheritance was sold to a non-familial neighbor who raises cattle. The mid-portion of the land is owned by one of her older brothers, and Doña Ana Lorena owns the topmost-portion of the land—which is best suited for coffee cultivation due to its high altitude. Even though all of the mature coffee plants are not on her portion of the land, Doña Ana Lorena tends to all of the coffee plants. She says, “It is not my land, but these are MY plants.” Her brother and neighbor agree to her claim about owning these plants and their coffee cherries, as long as she cultivates and harvests them. Her brother and neighbor have no part in the coffee industry and do not share in the profits produced by the plants.

Meaning of Coffee

Ana Lorena has been living on her farm for only five years. When asked why she chose this country lifestyle, Ana Lorena explains that she has always been a restless worker. For 30 years, she lived in San Jose, balancing three different jobs, always seeking change. Ana Lorena worked in a pharmacy but was incredibly unhappy. City life was not enjoyable for her, and she also had marital problems. Speaking in an animated manner (her style), Ana Lorena gravely states:

I came to this farm very sick. I was sick with depression, anxiety, stress, and problems with my husband…

Café me da vida- coffee gives me life.

Ana Lorena.

Ana Lorena’ son, Christopher, noted that when his mother was working hard in the city, she appeared much older in both face and body. However, now that Ana Lorena is working on her own coffee farm, she is full of revived energy and has plans of having her own coffee processing area. Working on the coffee farm not only saved Ana Lorena’s life but also provided for her a life—a life full of purpose and dreams. Although she acknowledges the labor and struggles of working on the farm, coffee brings her tranquility and happiness that nowhere else in this world can provide. There is nothing else Ana Lorena would rather be absorbed in. Passion—you might call this.

Problems in Coffee

Ana Lorena drinks coffee twice a day: once in the morning when she wakes up and again in the afternoon as a “descanso” (break), always with a little snack such as cookies, tortillas, or bread. Ana Lorena states that this particular coffee is from her farm, which is unusual. Usually small holder coffee farmers do not see their coffee actualized into a drink because they sell their coffee in full cherry form directly to the cooperative or beneficio—which are privately owned coffee mills.

Ana Lorena sorting through defective coffee beans (2019).

However, this batch, Ana Lorena had to supply her own raw coffee, also known as green coffee or “café oro” for a free roasting class at the University of Costa Rica. Ana Lorena dreams of roasting her coffee, but she must first learn how. Thus, she must do the entire post-harvest production of coffee by herself, which is usually done by cooperatives, beneficios, or other producers with equipment. With help only from her son, Ana Lorena selects the coffee seedlings, digs the terraces, plants the seedlings, cultivates the seedlings into plants, applies fertilizer, trims the plants, harvests the coffee cherries, de-pulps the cherries casings by hand, sets the cherries out to dry, peels the dried skin, and finally obtains her “café oro” to bring to her class. Ana Lorena produces about a dozen small bags from this experimental home process, each one a slightly different color because she is testing out different factors involved in roasting, such as time and temperature. She then brings her roasted beans back to her farm to sort through the defects before grinding them into grounds. Ana Lorena sorts through her coffee to remove chipped beans since they decrease the quality of the coffee by allowing moisture to enter the bean. She states:

If you are going to sell coffee it has to be better than this.

Ana Lorena understands that she must improve the quality of her coffee after it is harvested to even begin roasting it and potentially selling it in the future. A crucial part of processing coffee involves using machinery to transform the coffee cherries into raw coffee that is ready for roasting. Unfortunately, these machines are prohibitively expensive for smallholder coffee producers. Roasters are similarly expensive, which is why smallholder coffee producers often sell their coffee cherries to cooperatives or beneficios.

Ana Lorena and her son claim that after coffee producers sell their red coffee cherries to the cooperative or beneficio, they have no idea where their coffee goes. They don’t know which company buys it, whether the coffee is sold raw or roasted, or what country it ends up in. Typically, producers interact with their coffee only as a ripe, red cherry. They have no idea that their coffee might end up in a single soy latte sold at Starbucks for $6.00 or more than six times the price they sell it for per pound. What coffee producers do know is that they are receiving much less than they should and need. In short, after producers drop off their coffee, the knowledge of where their coffee goes ends.

Ana Lorena believes that one of the biggest challenges in Costa Rican coffee production is that most producers, at least in her community, do not care to learn more about the market system or consider alternative processes involved in the harvesting, processing, and selling of their coffee. She observes that after performing the cultivation process they have known for repeated generations (planting, fertilizing, trimming, and harvesting), producers simply sell their coffee at low prices and then repeat the same exact processes in an unending cycle of labor and unjust prices. Ana Lorena argues that the producers are not lacking control over this cycle, but rather they are complacent within it. As a result, she aspires to process her own coffee one day without relying on a cooperative or beneficio.

Ana Lorena is strongly opinionated and strong-willed. She believes that by cultivating her coffee in a way that demands higher prices, she can work hard to increase her profitability. However, she also addresses the main challenge that smallholder coffee producers face is lacking autonomy and resources to change the systems that could help increase their farm profitability.

“Now comes the fight to not give all my coffee to the beneficios. I am trying to find all options. This is very hard because you have to fight against the whole sale people to find out where to sell your coffee. It is not easy—it is a constant struggle.”

Ana Lorena strives to avoid being taken advantage of while learning from anyone and anywhere possible to produce the best coffee and acquire new techniques for maintaining a sustainable farm and livelihood.

Infinite Projects

Ana Lorena is currently involved in several projects, including planting 500 baby seedlings and experimenting with vermiculture, which is composting using various species of worms and other organic materials. Her goal is to produce her own organic fertilizer, as she spends most of her annual earnings on commercial fertilizer for her coffee plants.

Ana Lorena shows a giant horizontal freezer containing a ton of cow manure, old decaying coffee cherries, and dried leaves. She reaches inside and pulls out a handful of worms, demonstrating that the compost is working. However, the soil is a bit too hot from the day’s sun, so she quickly grabs a hose to pour cool water over the compost bed.

When asked where she learned to do this, Ana Lorena responds, “No one is my teacher. I ask people for advice, or I read, and then I go and do it.” Experience and trial and error are her teachers, and she learns by doing. When asked about her next projects, she replies:

“Do not worry about the projects I have in my mind… my mind is not only active, it is INFINITE!”

Ana Lorena then responds to a series of important questions. Beginning with:

Q: Where is the true value of coffee is found? Ana Lorena responds, “In the sense of life.” And what is the sense of life?

A: “The sense of life is to be happy. It is very simple. I produced this—everything here on this table. It is a good sentiment. I do not have to buy them [produce] and I am not eating chemicals. I produce everything. And my coffee is my coffee. I have not purchased coffee in months because I now have it here. It is coffee through my strength… I produced the soil; I planted the coffee—and now we are drinking it.

Q: What brings Ana Lorena the most joy involving coffee?

A: “To see its beauty. To see it clean. To see it green and bearing fruit. This is what brings me joy!”

Q: How do you imagine coffee consumers envisioning your life as a coffee producer?

A: “No one can imagine what is behind me. No one can imagine that behind me– Ana Lorena– is a life of lot of work. People who come to the coffee farms imagine that there are pickers or workers, but not that Ana Lorena is that laborer. No one knows me.

Q: How would you like consumers to see your work?

A: “All of my work, all of it: The good life, but also the hard life. I would show the paradise I am living. This is my little bit of heaven.”

Q: How should we define ethics in coffee production and coffee consumption?

A: “To my mind, I want to be a good person—to call forth the best of me, myself. Ethics is to try to get the best person of you. To benefit yourself at the cost of other is not ethical. Ethics is what is original. If someone does the work, then you pay him the salary that corresponds to that work.”

Q: And if the coffee price is low? How will you survive or life your life?

A: “It would be the same. I would make the sacrifice and continue working in coffee. If I don’t get a good price for my coffee it will be the same: working, pruning, doing the maintenance that coffee requires, but hoping, of course, for better times.

Ana Lorena, Christopher (her son), and their dogs enjoying a moment on the coffee farm (2019).

About the Author:

I spent the summer of 2019 in Costa Rica exploring the sources of ethics, injustice, and success situated in the coffee value chain involved at the producer sphere. I learned that behind the resilient, family- oriented, inspirational and environmentally conscious coffee producers exists an asymmetry in the resources and knowledge for women producers, struggles in gender empowerment, effects of climate change, and cycles of capitalist injustice. Through Bean Voyage, a non-profit dedicated to empowering coffee producers in Costa Rica by eradicating the gender gap in coffee production, I visited the communities and farms of small-holder women and youth coffee producers, listening and capturing their realities through interviews, photography, and story-writing. The result is a series of 4 documentaries—the human stories behind the coffee inside our mugs.

These stories are a call to action to inspire a more sustainable and equitable way of consuming coffee. To see where, to understand how, and to know from whom this coffee was produced— look to its origins.

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