We interview René from the Urrutia’s Group about the challenges of growing coffee and his personal hopes and dreams for his family business, he manages their farms along with his brothers Enrique and Gustavo.
They are a fifth-generation family business located in the Cordillera de Apaneca Mountain range in El Salvador and were established in 1870.
What are your hopes for the future of the farm?
Believe it or not, it is not an easy answer to give, it is easy to forget our hopes since we are facing the toughest crisis since I have been involved in coffee (more than 30 years) and I believe the toughest crisis and the more significant one in our family history (since 1875), since it threatens all we have been working for. Of course we have faced and solved previous crisis, like our civil war, at that time we were not able to visit the farms, because you could get kidnapped or killed, so my parents found the way to keep working without risking our lives and it was only my father who every now and then went to the farm. For more than ten years he managed the farms this way, we had to move and live out of our country, but he kept working, (pretty much how we handle gang affected farms nowadays).
As silly as it sounds, this crisis is worse for the future of the farm, many things got together so we must plant new coffee trees, what is the big deal about it? Please keep in mind new coffee plants won’t produce coffee until the third year after being planted and we have to deal with the financial cost. Our company grew up to 4 times what it used to be and just when we harvested our best crop ever, we were hit with the leaf rust and we lost 80% of our production and we had to sell our crop below our cost of production. Too bad by that time we were not working with DR Wakefield or other conscious coffee importers and we sold our coffee at the New York Board at trade price.
Currently we are paying our loans, long term loans heavily impacted by the coffee we lost because of climate change since our crop decreased as mentioned by 80%, I can remember we had to sell many estates, that were part of our heritage so we could keep working and we were so happy to see that our effort was paying off, and just when we were about to begin our harvest season we had unexpected rains, the coffee bean were beautifully ripened and after the rains it fell down and of course we lost it, and obviously you still have to pay for the loan anyway.
I have faith we will succeed. We are doing our best and we are not alone – all our workers are aware of our situation and we are all praying and for sure we can tell our hopes will materialize and they will keep alive and safe, as well as the family tradition, our heritage and keeping our estates sustainable. That being said, my hope for the future of the farm is to keep the passion alive in coffee for the coming generations in our family and the families of our workers. And not just our buyers, but also the people whom surround them, this is the only way to keep this passion alive.
What are your personal dreams?
I dream to see in my old age, at least one of my children developing his/her/their own ideas at Urrutia´s Estate Coffee, no matter what they study, to see that they will support the heritage they will receive. (I really love to see how they enjoy going either to the farm, to the coffee mill or drinking coffee)
I dream of being able to keep working in coffee, I dream of being able to finish re-planting the farms, (we have already begun to plant new coffee trees).
I dream of being able to have Montessori Schools in our farms for the Children of our workers.
I dream of opening again the free medical clinics for our workers and the communities nearby our coffee farms (we also had to close these because of the crisis).
I dream to give our workers healthy, delicious and varied food, we use to do it, and it was worth it but had to stop it.
I dream to attend my coffee trips together with my wife and/or my children, so they can get to know the wonderful people at the other side of the coffee world, so they are able to see how all our effort is being noticed and considered and what matters not just the quality of our coffee.
I dream that DRWakefield keeps growing so we can sell more coffee to them.
I dream of a day when no matter how the price NYBT market is, it is not going to affect in any way all our projects our commitments and the work in our farm.
I dream of having comfortable infrastructure for all our workers.
I dream of not having violence of any kind, specially the one we suffered by the gangs, that´s why it´s important to have the Montessori schools (to promote good values) and work as much as we can so we can pay well all year long.
At last, but not least, I dream of having a family vacation not caring about any long term loan or any other problem, enjoying life at it is together with my wife and children.
Do you get on well as brothers? What is your relationship like?
Thanks god we get along well, otherwise think all we have been through with someone you are not comfortable with. Far away from that we always talk about the things we should do in our farms, or how to improve the wet mill or the dry mill, how we like or dislike a roast profile, whenever we get together we always will end up talking about coffee, even if we have spent all day long at the office, at the farm or at the coffee mill.
With my brothers, we often remember our parent’s advise which is always very useful. My brothers and I have spent a lot of time together with friends and family and because of that we have a bond that has been strengthened with the passage of time.
Of course, we have had differences and argued because we do not always see things the same way, but we respect each other’s point of view, and we even support it.
What do you enjoy about farming?
Everything you do at the farm, at the coffee mill and at the roaster, will affect the cup, and you have to keep that in mind so you can get along with the trends of the market. Whether you choose to plant a native variety of coffee, in our case like the Pacas or Bourbon or a boutique one like the Pacamara, or whether you choose to keep working shade grown rather than open shade coffee plantation will affect who you will sell the coffee to. I really enjoy seeing how having a passion for coffee is playing a fundamental role at origin and at its final destination.
It feels so good to remember that the work developed at the farms is directly helping many people in different ways, as an income for many families, as an environmental support, keeping the wild life safe (both flora and fauna), keeping springs clean and alive, producing oxygen, preserving the micro climate and if at the end of the day you blend all these together and get feedback from your customer letting you know they really enjoy the coffee, trust me you won’t get any sweeter words than those ones.
I also enjoy seeing how broad the coffee world is at every stage you look at it, even at origin and of course other coffee producer countries, I always like to visit other friend’s farms, coffee mills, cupping labs, roasters, you won’t find two that are similar, there is always something you can learn in coffee.
Since I enjoy my work and I get along pretty good with my brothers, it feels like spending quality time with them, if there is a problem we face it altogether as a challenge and on the other hand good news is always welcome as a gift.
Working with my family also makes it feel warm and cozy, knowing you are part of a company that has lasted for more than 140 years is a privilege and a big responsibility.