Colombia Coffee

Meet Bibiana.

When we set up our first trade relationship in 1997, small-scale coffee farmers in Colombia told us that the education of their children was a top priority. In response, Famicafé was founded to fund education for small-scale farmers’ children.

So how does it work? Level Ground Trading pays a Community Premium to Famicafé each time we purchase coffee from Colombia, which funds student scholarships and classroom resources.

 

Meet Bibiana.

We met Bibiana as one of the first group of students Level Ground sponsored in Colombia. Her life was difficult. In 2001, armed men forced Bibiana’s family out of their small home on the tiny sliver of land they owned. With only a few possessions, they took refuge at the Famicafé boarding house until Bibiana’s father was able to find a place for them to settle.

Graduating high school in 2002, Bibiana went on to nursing school after she was unable to get into medical school. She completed nursing school four years later, but her dream to become a medical doctor remained. She continued school in Armenia, Colombia, studying diligently and living with her Famicafé schoolmates.

Bibiana graduated from medical school in 2015. She moved to the big city, Medellin, to work at a walk-in clinic. The 12-hour shifts were draining, and the pay was menial. She was burning out quickly because she didn’t have enough time to care for each patient that waited to see her.

Earlier this year, she managed to find work at a clinic that specializes in hemophilia. She now focuses on diagnosis, treatment and follow-up with hemophiliac patients. She lives in the big city of Medellin, but continues to travel back to San Bartolo to visit her parents. She is able to send money home to help her parents who are day labourers in coffee farms near their small house in the mountains.

Bibiana is a great example of the benefits of investing coffee premiums into the lives and education of young people. Women like Bibiana bring joy to our hearts because in her we see hope for a better rural Colombia.

Bibiana poses with Level Ground staff and Julian, the director of Famicafé.

Bibiana poses with Level Ground staff and Julian, the director of Famicafé.

Famicafé students Sandra and Bibiana in the mountains of Colombia.

Famicafé students Sandra and Bibiana in the mountains of Colombia.

Hugo, Level Ground Co-founder, and Bibiana visiting this week!

Hugo, Level Ground Co-founder, and Bibiana visiting this week!

Why isn't our Colombia Coffee organic?

In 1997, our first trade relationship was with a co-operative of coffee farmers in Colombia. That relationship, which is close to our hearts, remains today. These coffee beans, which you may know as our Colombia, Decaf, and French Roast, are not organic; we wanted to take the time to explain why.

Our Colombian coffee is not organic certified. We buy from small-scale farmers who grow coffee and other crops without pesticides, but they do use fertilizer to maximize plant health and yield. 

 

What is the difference between Pesticides and Fertilizers?

Pesticides are used to eliminate and prevent pests and insects from farms. Pesticides include: insecticides, weed control and rodent poisons. Fertilizers, on the other hand, are organic or inorganic compounds that feed plants with required nutrients. The basic mentality difference between the two is that pesticides aim to kill, while fertilizers aim to grow. 

When a farmer uses either pesticides or fertilizers, their crop cannot be certified organic.  

 

Why don't the farmers switch their practice to organic? 

Farmers choose fertilizer to maximize plant health and yield. In Colombia, coffee is a cash crop that many families rely on for income. Organic isn't about higher income for farming families. Often, organic is about sacrificing yield, which means lower income for families.

The journey towards organic is costly for farmers: third party inspectors need to visit, collect data and samples, and write a report card. Farmers have to follow standardized protocols and keep logs of everything they do. This is more than just a financial barrier for illiterate farmers. 

 

The process of Fair Trade is never easy. In an effort to maintain relationships and support Colombian farming families, we're committed to continuing to purchase this coffee that we have been buying for 20 years! 

Stacey (Co-founder) & the face of our French Roast coffee, Luis. 

Stacey (Co-founder) & the face of our French Roast coffee, Luis. 

Meet Jaime.

MEET JAIME, THE FACE OF COLOMBIA COFFEE.

 
Colombia Dark Coffee
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Jaime Marín lives near Jardín, Colombia, where he grows coffee and fruits like lulo, a popular fruit among urban Colombians. His coffee plot is 2,000 meters above sea level, which makes his coffee a favourite among specialty coffee drinkers.  At this high elevation the coffee ‘cherries’ ripen very slowly and the flavour concentrates in the beans.  Jaime Marín’s coffee also earns Direct Fair Trade premiums through the “Programa San Miguel” and his coffee is shipped to Level Ground directly. 

Co-owner Stacey shows Jaime his face on the Colombia coffee package for the first time!

Co-owner Stacey shows Jaime his face on the Colombia coffee package for the first time!

Dave (Level Ground), Jaime, Robyn (Level Ground), and Elizabeth (Famicafé) visit at Jaime's farm.

Dave (Level Ground), Jaime, Robyn (Level Ground), and Elizabeth (Famicafé) visit at Jaime's farm.

Meet Julian.

MEET JULIAN.

Julian (pronounced 'hoo-lee-ann') is the Director of Famicafé, a small organization established to support coffee farming communities in Colombia.   

Julian is a trained Agronomist and well-loved in the coffee farming community. As the Director of Famicafé, Julian's job is to match children in the community with educational scholarships. He is vigilant in seeking out the poorest students in the region who stand to gain the most from financial support in their education. He provides thoughtful, human interaction between students and their educational funding so that best outcomes are most likely.

He frequently travels between schools and communities to check in on students. To these students, he is a counsellor, friend, mentor, and great resource. Julian's ongoing involvement with Famicafé has him caring for the efforts of the foundation in 36 schools with 200+ students!

Julian is a dear friend of Level Ground. This past summer, Julian and his wife came to Canada to visit Level Ground and encourage our staff with stories of how Fair Trade directly impacts farmers and the farming community in Colombia.

Since 1998, Famicafé has invested $1.4M in education, supporting over 1400 families! 

To read more about Famicafé, see our blog here.

Julian champions peasant farmers and their families’ future by thoughtfully directing our Fair Trade premiums to deserving students. He creatively inspires the students to work, plan and dream for a better future.
— Stacey Toews, Level Ground co-owner
Julian and Level Ground Quality Control Lead, Josh meet up in Colombia.

Julian and Level Ground Quality Control Lead, Josh meet up in Colombia.

Julian (far left) visiting Brazo Seco School in St. Inez, Colombia

Julian (far left) visiting Brazo Seco School in St. Inez, Colombia

Julian working from his mobile "office" - the top of a Jeep! (check out the 'cushy' seating)

Julian working from his mobile "office" - the top of a Jeep! (check out the 'cushy' seating)

Famicafé: Changing Colombian Families through Education

When we set up our first trade relationship in 1997, small-scale coffee farmers in Colombia told us that the education of their children was a top priority. In response, Famicafé was founded to fund education for small-scale farmers’ children.

How does it all work?

Level Ground Trading pays a Community Premium to Famicafé each time we purchase coffee from Colombia which funds student scholarships and classroom resources.  

Beyond student scholarships, there are other key factors which may not immediately come to mind such as: repairing washed out roads which must be in place for students to attend school, breakfast programs that ensure the students have adequate nutrition before they start their day, replacing leaky roofs or installing gutters on schools so that the learning environment is comfortable etc

One of the more significant challenges for rural farm kids is that their home is too far from school to be able to commute to and from daily. Famicafé has run a boarding house where each year from 3-14 students have lived during the week, with a ‘dorm mom’ to care for them.

Famicafé has been personal, caring and ultimately successful in accomplishing the goal of providing education for small-scale farmers’ children! Some students have gone on to earn post secondary degrees and are active in serving their community as medical professionals and agronomists.

A student displays his welcome poster for Level Ground staff on a school visit.

A student displays his welcome poster for Level Ground staff on a school visit.

Elizabeth and Bibiana stand against the incredible steep slopes of coffee.

Elizabeth and Bibiana stand against the incredible steep slopes of coffee.

The students at Brazo Seco were thrilled to receive their new Famicafé backpack!

The students at Brazo Seco were thrilled to receive their new Famicafé backpack!