Eliover Garcia, a foreman at Hacienda Venecia in Colombia, has been working in the coffee fields since he was 8 years old. His humble origins make Eliover fully appreciate everything in life. “Working on the coffee fields has allowed me to put food on our table and satisfy my family’s basic need, for which I’m very thankful. I know now that my work here on this Colombian farm will be reflected somewhere in the world, in someone’s cup of coffee. I want people who drink our coffee to know that hard-working, but grateful farm workers were behind the cup of coffee they are enjoying.”
Eliover was one of the coffee farm workers we invited to the Specialty Coffee Association of America show in Boston last April. Traditionally, we have supported hundreds of small farmer representatives each year to attend this show. This was the second time we had coffee farm workers at the show too.
This week we spoke with Eliover over the phone, asking him to reflect on his experience at the SCAA show.
–What did you enjoy the most about your SCAA experience?
“Well, I think that I was more concerned about how I was going to get to Boston than anything else; I always heard stories about people getting on an airplane and flying to other places, but I never thought I was going to be one of them. It was my first time getting on an airplane and I panicked. I closed my eyes and once the plane started going up I thought: this is it; I will not see my family again… I was panicking. It turned out flying was quite a great experience.
Once I got to Boston, I enjoyed everything; from my hotel room to the different kinds of food I tasted. I was not sure what was expected of me, or what to expect from my visit to SCAA. Once there, I learned that there are people with good and kind hearts that are thinking of ways to help farm workers like me. During the Fair Trade coffee forum I was asked to go to the microphone and say something on behalf of my fellow workers. I knew I was representing them and that was the reason why I was there. I overcame my shyness and I spoke at the forum. I was the voice of the farm workers I was representing.
As farm workers, the only life we know is our daily journey to the coffee fields. We start working from crack of dawn until the afternoon. Many migrant workers travel the same road, the same journey, but in many ways, they have been forgotten. Farm workers have very minimum benefits or no benefits at all. SCAA was the opportunity for me to let the coffee world know that migrant coffee farm workers exist and that they are at the very bottom of the chain with limited benefits. Things need to change for them. After SCAA my message to migrant workers is that we are not alone in this journey–and I don’t mean just the journey to the coffee fields, but to the journey that could change the life of every farm worker, even those at the bottom of the chain.”
“I’ve always been the kind of person that loves what I do. I love my work, I love coffee. I put my heart and soul into what I do. But now, my experience at SCAA gave me the opportunity to re-discover how important my job is. Many people, thousands of miles away from where I live are enjoying a cup of coffee grown and picked by farm workers just like me. My work is bringing pleasure to other people’s lives, and the thought of that made me feel good.”
What did you do when you went back to the farm? Were you able to share your experience with the other farm workers?
“I did. I shared photos of my trip and talked to everyone on the farm about the things I saw and did. Many of those around were happy for me, but there were still those skeptical people who didn’t believe what I was saying. We live in a country where politicians promise heaven on earth and they never fulfilled their promises. In the farm we have experienced a little bit of the benefit. In order to comply with the standard, we now have drinkable water and electricity in each camp site. But we haven’t fully experienced the benefit we could have with the Fair Trade premium since we have not sold Fair Trade coffee yet. Once we start selling our coffee on Fair Trade terms, then I will revisit the conversation with my fellow co-workers and I will probably use the line “you see, it was true.”
What is next for you?
“The concern among the farm workers and farmers in Colombia right now is to work to improve the quality of the coffee. As a farm worker, I would like to see things moving and improving on the farm where I work. With current coffee prices, farmers are barely getting by. That affects us workers. Most of the money earned from the coffee right now is going towards harvesting and paying the salaries of the farm workers. It’s getting to a point where coffee is not sustainable and farm workers are very concerned. Can you imagine how many farm workers and their families literally depend on coffee? We are currently working on improving the quality of our coffee and hoping to sell it in Fair Trade terms. We need the support of the coffee buyers too.
Let me tell you, Colombian coffee is here to stay, because farmers and farm workers are working together to make sure that Colombian coffee remains the best coffee in the coffee world.”