5 Questions with Paula Magalhães Paiva, Fazenda Recanto
Paula Magalhães Paiva is the 5th generation of coffee growers at Fazenda Recanto, a tradition that dates back to 1896. Nestled in the hills outside of Machado, Minas Gerais, the farm has been winning awards for their quality for over 100 years. Fluent in Italian and English, as well as her native Portuguese, Paula in many ways represents the new generation of Brazilian coffee growers – informed, connected, quality conscience, and, faced with unstable prices and ever-rising input costs, finding ways to increase quality and efficiency to carry on the coffee tradition they inherited. Although she is in the middle of the harvest, Paula was kind enough to sit down for five questions about life at Recanto.
Casa Brasil: Over 30 years ago your parents moved onto the farm and took over the coffee production. What were some of the challenges that they faced, and some of the changes that they made?
Paula: After graduating from college, both majoring in agricultural, my parents were full of energy and new ideas. My father always has had an adventurous and brave spirit, and that led him to put plans into action to make his dreams come true here on the farm. The first major changes were to prohibit hunting and deforestation and to reforest areas that had been previous clear cut for cattle grazing. As far as coffee, they continued the work of seeking excellence in quality that my grandfather had pursued, and my great-grandfather before him. To the extent possible they sought to combine technological innovation with tradition, seeking to always be more efficient without losing quality.
Casa Brasil: Fazenda Recanto is such a beautiful idyllic place, but at the same time it is a functioning coffee farm, replete with the day-to-day realities that come with that. What are some of your memories of growing up on Fazenda Recanto?
Paula: All my childhood and teenage memories are the incredible, and all, it seems, are connected with coffee. I’ve always liked to play on the coffee patio and on the trolleys. I also remember doing picnic in the tillage. I was always trying to be as helpful as possible, with any kind of duty. The proximity with the farm workers and the realities of living on a farm definitely made me a better person. I always sought to understand the needs of people who work with us and I saw home together we all had the objective of providing an increasingly better life for everyone on the farm. In my adolescence, when I had moved away for school and no longer lived full-time on the farm, I tried to come as often as possible during the holidays or school breaks to help with the harvest, picking and processing coffee, and working the coffee on the drying patio.
Casa Brasil: As you take your place in the coffee farming (and roasting), what are some of the challenges ahead for you. How is the future you face different than the future of what your parents faced?
Paula: The realities are quite different. When my parents took over the farm, the coffee culture was in a different era than it is now, and access to information was way more restricted. Today with the technology, I can have access to more information and faster than before. The idea of roasting came with the intent of promoting our name and to know even more what we produce. Furthermore, the scenario is different. The coffee industry changes quickly and growers must change with it to remain competitive. The labor supply has decreased, and currently a coffee picker earns on average 180/200 reais per day. That is not a bad thing, but it is a very different reality than my family based a generation ago. Although in some regions it is possible to harvest 100% mechanized, that is not a reality we face here. To continue on, we need to differentiate ourselves through our quality because that is the way of the future of coffee farming.
Casa Brasil: Fazenda Recanto has produced high quality naturals (of which we were fortunate enough to buy the a Rainforest Alliance winner several years back) and pulped naturals. How are you altering the pulped natural process for the black honey, and how is this affecting the flavor?
Paula: The black honey last year actually originated from a lack of space. During the harvest we were running low for space on the drying patio to spread the coffee, so we decided to try this technique that we had heard about that was being done by some growers in Central America. We did several loads of pulped natural coffee, and carefully controlled it so that it would not ferment. The result in the cup was a coffee with a little more acidity than we are accustomed in our coffees.
Casa Brasil: As we enjoy the fruits (or rather beans) of your last harvest, what can we expect from this upcoming harvest?
Paula: We were betting a lot on this being a great season. The rains until March returned to settle though we had the month of April very hot and heavy rain at the beginning of the harvest. That hurt us quite a but because most of the mature coffee fell to the ground and besides that in many lots the abnormal weather has caused the coffee to go directly from unripe to overripe on the tree. I believe this compromise a little bit the quality though we are still waiting to get to taste and evaluate. Fortunately, we managed to do a selective harvest before the rain that lasted for more than two weeks, and we have high hopes for the quality of these lots.