By Tere Domine
From our last visit to the mountainous coffee growing town of Atok, Benguet, a particular sample from one of the farms caught our palette’s attention. This coffee tasted so good that we had to return for more, meet the person responsible for its production, and hear her story. We did this in the hope of sharing both the coffee and the people’s stories behind it to everyone.
We learned that the roads that lead to the farms are almost always challenging to traverse. They are winding, bumpy, and steep. To add to the challenge, some of these trails are difficult to find as there are no signs that help point the direction from one place to the other. Most of the time, we rely on people by the roadside for directions. Getting deeper into Atok and not knowing where exactly the farm was, we had to ask a lady standing by the side of the road where Baldino’s farm is located. The lady, Auntie Doris Baldino, turned out to be the owner of the farm we were looking for. Albeit a little shy, she greeted us and led us to a narrow and steep path down to her farm.
From atop the hill, Auntie Doris’ farm looks like a sea of green. Vines of a local crop called sayote create a canopy that covers the coffee trees. Sayote is harvested weekly to cover for daily expenses, while waiting for the coffee cherries to ripen for harvest. A single mother of two, this farmer picks, processes, and later brings the coffee to the cooperative to sell. She is currently tending to 1000 coffee trees. Still, she hopes to expand this parcel of land she inherited from her parents by planting more trees this coming rainy season. However, Auntie Doris is a bit worried that she might not have the time to attend to the trees on her own. She was barely able to pick all the cherries from this year’s harvest and has always wished she had more hands for this task.
Walking us through how she processes her coffee, I asked how she knows if the beans are dry enough. Auntie Doris took me to the wooden baskets where the beans are set to dry. As she stirred the beans, she shared that she listens to the sound that the beans create, a skill taught to her at an early age. This skill has proven to be accurate, as her coffee always has the right moisture level. Auntie Doris has been growing coffee since she was 23, taking over the family’s farm from her mother. Even though she had devoted virtually her entire life to farming coffee, even she is unsure if any of her children have the same interest in coffee as she has.
After our visit, we bid farewell to our newest farmer partner, Auntie Doris, and promised to return for the next harvest season. When we do, we’ll make sure to share more of her stories and maybe, just maybe, grant her wish for next harvest season – to give her more helping hands!