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 woman coffee producer who is also 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 good for growing coffee), and you must climb up 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 the property, power, and political economy of farming households in Costa Rica, throughout Costa Rica, the vast majority of 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 land signifying complex livelihood strategies and representing historical and ongoing social ties. Doña Ana Lorena’s father had 14 children who each 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 starts on lower ground and extends up into the hills. This strip of land contains all of her family’s coffee plants—the ones that are still cared for at least. The bottom-most portion of the inheritance was actually 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—the land best primed for coffee cultivation because of its high altitude. Doña Ana Lorena tends to all of the coffee plants on the remaining inheritance, even though all the mature plants are not on her portion. She says, “it is not my land, but these are MY plants.” Her brother and her 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 reap none of the profit produced by them.

Meaning of Coffee

Ana Lorena has only been living on her farm for 5 years. When asked why she chose to live this country life, Ana Lorena conveys how she has always been a restless worker. For the past 30 years, she lived in San Jose, balancing 3 different jobs, always needing a change. Ana Lorena worked in pharmacy and was incredibly unhappy. The city life was not enjoyable for her and she had problems with her husband. While speaking in an animated manner (her style) Ana Lorena says gravely:

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, he observed how much older in the face and body she appeared. Now, Ana Lorena is revived and full of energy and with dreams of having her own coffee processing area on her own farm. Working on the coffee farm saved Ana Lorena’s life while simultaneously providing for her a life—a purpose and dreams. She talks about all the labor required, and also about the pain in the struggle of working on the farm, but ultimately, coffee brings her tranquility and happiness and there is nowhere else in this world that she would rather be or nothing else she would rather be absorbed in. Passion—you might call this.

Problems in Coffee

Ana Lorena drinks coffee twice a day: one in the morning when she awakes and one in the afternoon as a “descanso” (break) and always with a little snack such as cookies, tortillas, or bread. Ana Lorena states that this particular coffee is hers 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).

This batch, however, Ana Lorena needed to supply her own raw coffee – also known as green coffee or “café “oro”—for a free class on roasting that she is taking at the University of Costa Rica. Ana Lorena dreams of roasting her own coffee, but first, she must learn how. Thus, she must do the entire post-harvest production of coffee herself—usually the task performed by cooperatives, beneficios, or by other producers who have the equipment. From selecting the seed, digging the terraces, planting the seed, cultivating the seed, applying fertilizer, trimming the plant, harvesting the cherries, de-pulping the seed casings by hand, setting the cherries out to dry, peeling the dried skin, and finally obtaining her “café oro” to bring to her class—all this Ana Lorena must do and has done. She produces about a dozen small bags from this experimental home process, each one a slightly different color because she is testing out the 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 because chipped beans decrease the quality since moisture can easily enter the bean. She states:

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

Ana Lorena realizes that she must improve the quality of her coffee after it has been harvested if she wants to even begin roasting her coffee to, perhaps one day, sell it. A critical step in processing coffee requires the machinery needed to transform the coffee cherries into raw coffee that is ready to be roasted. However, these machines are extremely expensive for a small holder coffee producer. Roasters are also expensive, which is why small holder coffee producers must sell their coffee cherries to the 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—no idea what company buys it, whether the coffee is sold raw or roasted, or what country it ends up in. Typically, the last phase that producers touch their coffee is as a ripe, red cherry. They have no idea that perhaps, their coffee ends up inside a single soy latte at Starbucks sold at a price of $5.00, which is more than 5x the price of what one pound of coffee producers sell for. What coffee producers do know is that they are receiving way less than what they should receive and what they need. In sum, after producers drop off their coffee, the knowledge of where their coffee goes ends.

Ana Lorena feels 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 do not think about an alternative process involved in the harvesting, processing, and selling of their coffee. She believes that after producers perform the cultivation process that they have known for repeated generations (planting, fertilizing, trimming, harvesting), they 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’s argument is not that the producers lack control over this cycle, but that they are complacent within it, which is why she aspires to process her own coffee one day without relying on a cooperative or beneficio. Ana Lorena is strongly opinionated and strong willed, thus believes she can work hard to cultivate her coffee in such a way that demands higher prices; however, a main challenge she addresses is the lack of autonomy and resources small holder coffee producers have in changing the systems that help increase 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 fights to not be taken advantage of, while also learning from anywhere she can to produce the best coffee and learn new techniques in order to have a sustainable farm and livelihood.

Infinite Projects

Some of the projects Ana Lorena is engaged in include planting her 500 baby seedlings and experimenting with vermiculture, which is composting using various species of worms and other organic material. She wants to produce her own fertilizer because most her money she earns annually is spent on commercial fertilizer for her coffee plants. Ana Lorena points at a giant horizontal freezer. Inside there is a ton of cow manure, old decaying coffee cherries, and dried leaves. She reaches inside and pulls out a handful of worms saying that the compost is working, however; the soil is bit too hot from the day’s sun and she quickly grabs a hose to pour cool water over the compost bed. Where does she learn to do this? She 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. Learn by doing, and Ana Lorena is always doing. When asked about her next projects responds:

“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 youth and women coffee producers in Costa Rica, 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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