We had already spent over a week traveling through the high mountains of Benguet and Mt. Province, bouncing around sharp turns, barreling past steep cliffs, when we made the journey to Auntie Rosita’s farm. Her coffee stood out in our last cupping, and we had to find a way to make a visit to this farm.
Two hours in the car from Sagada, we pass villages built into the mountainside, endless rice terraces, and clear blue water flowing in the river at the bottom of the valley. Her village is on the “sunny side” of Mountain Province, and although most of the roads are in good condition throughout this province, the last half hour is a stony bumpy journey. When we arrived at Auntie Rosita’s farm, I thought the road would never end.
She greeted us with a hearty laugh from the front of her store where her and her family sell meats, produce, and the typical sari-sari store goods to her community. Taking us through the back, she led us to her balcony over-looking the village where she stores her processed coffee in big white flour sacks. Some of it was in parchment still, but most of it was stored as green beans. We chatted about her farm over fish, rice, and homemade pancakes before I bought one kilo of her highest quality hand-sorted green beans.
There was no sign, no formal entrance to their land, just a small spring next to the road with stairs hidden in the brush. We began climbing, me following Auntie Rosita, who although of an older generation, knows the steps well, and was accustomed to making the hike regularly. Along the way, she pointed out her sugar cane, ‘money trees’, alnus trees, and of course, coffee trees.
Half way up the mountain, we were greeted by her farm house, with a source of fresh spring water that is siphoned off into tubes for irrigation and drinking. The path from there was much less clear, with coffee trees growing everywhere, vines hanging from large thick canopy trees that engulf the plantation in shade. Making our way through the coffee jungle, as it can only be described, we passed the stream again, this time it provided a very cool breeze as it carried fresh water from the top of the mountain. We also passed some old trees that had been taken down by the typhoon, destroying a section of her coffee plantation.
During our tour of her land, I asked her how she manages to harvest all of this land. While her children do help some, they make their living outside of agriculture. She explained that they don’t have enough money to hire day laborers, and instead do all of the pruning, weeding, harvesting, depulping, drying, and dehulling themselves.. by hand. (Not to mention carrying the coffee down the hill afterwards.) Right now, although the machinery exists in nearby villages, she and other farmer don’t have access to a depulping machine or dehulling machine.
This means that each bean is picked by hand, broken from its cherry shell by hand, dried in the sun, then dehulled from its parchment, by hand. One bean at a time.. When we left, we thanked her and her husband profusely for letting us visit, assured her that we would be back to buy more coffee.
Although she is very fortunate to have land on a watershed, which has helped to create this coffee oasis, without the help of the next generation or outside laborers, it will be difficult to keep the plantation running for much longer. While improvements in post-harvest processing would increase the quality of her coffee immensely (and cut down on her labour), these improvements are capital intensive and require help from the local government unit. So far she is on her way to receiving machinery, but she is not sure if it will come this year.
Either way, we will be back very soon, and definitely for the next harvest season to help with the picking and listen to her laugh a little longer.