At the Chapadão farm, the entire process is carried out with the family. Ciro Sousa, 70 years old, is the producer in charge. He runs the business alongside his wife Maísa and their two children: Gustavo and Rodrigo. Ciro says that his family has always been of farm owners as well as stock raisers. His grandparents were already coffee producers in the southern region of Minas, and when Ciro and his family went to the Cerrado Mineiro region, in Minas Gerais (Brazil), they also invested in crops.
His current property, the Chapadão farm, was inherited by his father-in-law and is now under his responsibility. When he decided to invest in the current farm, it was an empty area with nothing but a rough “cerrado” (Brazilian savanna). So the family’s first decision was to build a house and plant a small coffee plantation of 2.2 hectares. Today, after their expansion in coffee production, it measures 25 hectares.
Ciro says that at the beginning, in 1989, things were very difficult. The process was basically manual and planting coffee required a high investment. Since the family could not afford it, they were unable to make such investment. Thus, even though they planted coffee, it was not the family’s first business back then. They opted for cattle raising instead. They even leased the farm to a neighbor for some time.
Things started to change in 2008, when Ciro’s son, Gustavo, finished high school and dedicated himself to the farm. They both decided to stop working with cattle and focus on planting coffee. At that point, they were already able to invest in their business. The change took place gradually, and after 2 or 3 years the farm started to solely produce coffee.
The first steps were also very difficult for them. It was a new crop and the work was done only by the members of the family, which meant heavy manual labor. Also, they worked on dirt land, which made the work even more difficult. Even so, Ciro knew about the good quality of the coffee produced on the farm. However, he felt dependent on warehouses and cooperatives in the city, as this market was quite complicated. He points out that it has been improving, mainly due to the internet, which facilitates contact and access to knowledge about the market.
Nowadays, information comes from everywhere and with it the farm’s processes can be improved at all times, both in terms of crop care and post-harvest care. Therefore, Ciro believes that technology has greatly boosted the wave of specialty coffee commerce and opened many doors for producers. Now, there is a specific market for this type of coffee, which encourages constant improvement and investment in this field.
Between 2018 and 2019, Ciro’s son, Rodrigo, finished college and moved to the farm to help take care of the crop. Since then, they have started a micro-roasting business that is under his responsibility. Gustavo stays on the farm taking care of the green coffee and his father contributes to the activities. As a consequence, the coffee produced on the Chapadão farm is sold all around Brazil and can be found in several coffee shops.
As their workforce is limited to their own family, they plant a smaller portion each year so that they can handle all the processes and they also invest in more technological seedlings. Ciro explains that he goes to Patrocínio, Minas Gerais, to buy tube seedlings that can be planted in a tray, which makes it very easy. Besides that, the seedling is already fertilized and it grows very easily. Compared to years ago, the process has evolved in terms of advantages and convenience.
The farm is equipped with a coffee harvesting machine and a coffee picker machine for the cherries that fall on the ground. To handle everything, Gustavo and Rodrigo take turns using them all day to make sure they harvest all the coffee. Ciro admits that it is a difficult task for only three people to tackle, but he believes it is the right decision. In this way, they manage to follow all stages, dedicating a lot of love and care to the process, and if any problem does occur, it will be quickly identified and resolved, reinforcing Ciro’s belief that it is only beneficial to his product.
When it comes to sustainability, the producer claims that about 50% of his property’s vegetation is untouched — reserved forest territory –, and his intention is to increase this area even more. He plans to reforest a few areas around an existing stream source near his property. He has already reforested another area, where the trees are now growing. His intention is to plant many trees close to the road and the crops, as he understands its numerous benefits, such as creating windbreaks and pest control.
They also have plans to plant avocados. This fruit is considered a great sustainable alternative because it captures CO2 and does not have such aggressive management in relation to agrochemicals. The idea is to increasingly expand the sustainable initiatives they have already started on the farm and improve them every day.
In what concerns post-harvesting innovation, Gustavo mentions controlled fermentation technique. He points out that he recently took a course on controlled coffee fermentation at the Procafé Foundation, located in Varginha, Minas Gerais – Brazil. The course was taught by Lázaro Dornelas, an expert on that subject. That being said, their intention is to start testing it on the farm before the end of 2021. For the time being they will not carry out large-scale tests, but they guarantee that they will start testing their land, all the entries they will make in the tillage, and keep the records to their history in order to increase the volume of fermented coffee in the upcoming year. Ciro believes that the fermented coffee is the most current trend and the main post-harvest innovation for producers today. Since he already works with specialty coffees, he intends to explore the fermentation process as a way to diversify and increasingly innovate with the results of his coffee. He believes that being a family farm is their greatest asset — a business to which he, his wife and children dedicate their lives to.