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Marysabel Caballero: Learn from everyone in order to make great coffee

Marysabel Caballero from Finca El Puente, Honduras, was guest of DABOV Specialty Coffee in August 2018. Their coffee El Puente won first place at COE Honduras in 2016 with 91,70 points.

We finish our focus on Women in Coffee Industry with an interview with Marysabel Caballero. With her husband, Moises Herrera, she manages the family farm Finca El Puente in Honduras. Marysabel has coffee in her blood – her family has been growing it for four generations. Their efforts and continuation of traditions have led them to the highest result – first place in Cup of Excellence two years ago.

You are a fourth-generation coffee producer. Did you have any choice not to enter in the world of coffee? What do you really love about this world so that you have decided to follow the steps of your family?

Ever since I was a little girl, we were living in a little town and every weekend, every vacation we went to the farm. As I was growing up, I always talked to my parents that I wanted work in the coffee world. When I went to high school, I had to move from my home town. When I had to decide what to study in my higher studies, I wanted to go to agricultural college. I told my father that I was going to study agronomy and he told me that agronomy was for men. He told me that for a woman was administration, finance, etc. I told him that I would study what he wants me to study but asked him to let me come back to the farm when I wanted to do so. “So, let’s make a deal. I am sure that you won’t want to come back,” he told me. During my studies, I had to have a practice and I went to the international department of a bank. I could continue working there. My father told me that in our farm I wouldn’t have this good salary, but I said, “OK. Nevertheless, I want to come back.” So, I did have a choice!

Can you say that you have faced challenges as a woman in the farm? What were they and do you have any advice for other women farmers that start now?

In that moment there weren’t many women in this business. When I came back to my father’s farm, he gave me the option to manage his farms. He had one manager and when I came back, my father put me as a deputy manager. The manager didn’t like me. The workers didn’t like me either because I was a woman. I told them to do something, for example, but when I came back, I discovered they haven’t done it. I had some friction with that person but I knew I needed him to learn. So, I tried to be always with him, talk to him and try to learn from him and from the workers as well because you never know everything.  Especially in the coffee every year is totally different. You have to learn from these people, from all the people that are around. I started to learn from them, and you know, six months later they have already accepted me, and we started working very well. But at the beginning, it was difficult. Nowadays, I see many women and I don’t see the friction that we had before. Imagine what was for a woman forty years before me. I don’t know how they did it because even in my time it was difficult.

Can you say that the key is to communicate with each one of the people who work in the farm so that they accept you?

I think the key is to know that you have to learn from everyone. Go to the person who manages your farm and ask him everything because he has been working more years than you and he has more knowledge. You must be humble with people that work in your farm, listen to all their ideas and keep the one that you feel it’s good for you.

You are especially interested in giving back to your community in trying to run your farms the way that it is not only eco-friendly but also helping your employees. How do you try to give back to those people and what do you receive in return?

You know, I think that when you believe in God you know that how you measure, you will be measured. You have to treat people as you want them to treat you and you have to share your blessings. Because in that way, God can use you. Market is tough but I can tell you that we have very good buyers, the best buyers – rosters. Thanks to them and the fact that they give us good price for our coffee, we can do it, we can share with everybody. This is a way to live better. Even socially because if people around you are feeling good, you will feel good. They care about you because they know you care about them. They know that if this year is good, their lives will be better as well.

As a producer, the most important thing for you is to sell your production. How can you choose your buyers? What kind of companies do you look for? What kind of people do you wish that buy your coffee?

As a family we say that money is important, but it is not the most important thing in life. For us is very very important to have good relationships. We want to understand what our buyers think, what they are as persons. And if I see that we can have connect with this person for a long time because we can understand each other, is the best to work with them.  

I read that your lots are situated in seventeen different farms. Why did you decide that you want to produce specialty coffee? Because in specialty coffee the quality is very important, not the quantity. The standards are more difficult to meet. It involves much more hard work.

If we talk about lots, we have now 32 lots. We choose different lots for different buyers. I will tell a long story to explain why we have different lots. When Moises came to Honduras, he came with a desire to invest because his idea was to buy coffee from different lots and then sell the coffee and go back to his country. But he never went back, he stayed to take care of the lots and instead we started buying other lots. Then we got married and we started to grow even more coffee. That’s why we have different lots. After we entered the world of specialty coffee, so far we have been very lucky because we have a different profile of every lot and our customers want coffee with a different taste. So this has been an advantage for us. We put a lot of efforts and work to give to our roasters the best coffee – the best according to their standard and it may not be according to ours. And this way we learn a lot from them. Market demands to have single origin from all the farms.

If you found this interview interesting, read also our interviews with the South Korean Q Grader Yunson Lee and Honduran farmer from Finca Valentina – Erica Pena.