Alessandro Hervaz is one of the founders of the Associação dos Produtores do Alta da Serra (APAS), a Fair Trade association in the hills outside of São Gonçalo do Sapucaí, Minas Gerais. Alessandro not only won the APAS competition last year with his own farm, Sítio Esperança, but traveled the world promoting APAS and the quality coffees they are collectively producing. Before he headed out to Gothenburg for the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe World of Coffee event, we were able to spend some time with Alessandro to get to know him, Sítio Esperança, and APAS a little better.
Tell us a little about you and your family.
Our family consist of my parents, two brothers, nephews, my wife, two daughters, and myself. We all live together on the same property, work with coffee, and are members of APAS.
When did your family start working with coffee?
We started working with coffee in 1993, when my father bought the property and we moved to São Gonçalo do Sapucaí. I didn’t know anything about coffee, I was only a consumer at that time. I started learning how to produce coffee and little by little we improved the property, planted coffee and “discovered” how to produce quality coffee.
I know you also work with honey. When did you start that work and why? Besides honey, what are other products that you produce?
I started with beekeeping back in 1995. My brothers had taken a technical course in honey production and I was inspired to get into it. I currently produce a whole line of honey products such as propolis extract as well as honey mixed with propolis, ginger, watercress, pomegranate, eucalyptus, pennyroyal, and guaco. I also sell bee pollen and royal jelly. Apiculture is a good secondary source of income for coffee growers since the coffee harvest (and therefore income from coffee) is annual whereas beekeeping is a consistent source. For that and other reasons, coffee and honey make a good partnership.
When and why did you create the Associaçao dos Produtores da Alta da Serra (APAS)?
I was one of 24 producers that started APAS back in 2006. We wanted to work together to increase coffee production and coffee quality, pool our buying resources, and unite in order to look find a market for our coffees. At that time, we did not know what kind of quality potential that we have here in São Gonçalo do Sapucaí.
Your coffee won the APAS coffee competition this year. What did you do differently to produce a high quality coffee?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in the finals of several competitions: Coopervass and Emater (two coffee competitions here locally). I have also had a coffee sample that was pre-selected for the Cup of Excellence Early Harvest of 2013. This year I was first place in the pulped naturals category and I was fourth in naturals category at the APAS competition. I guess, what I did was to enter the competition believing in the quality of our region’s coffees. Besides that, I invested in equipment and drying patios and I searched for new information and new technologies such as suspended patios and best practices for coffee pulping. This coming harvest I’m planning on building a greenhouse to control the post-harvest even more. I remember when we first started and we were talking about investmenting in quality, people said we were crazy. Thank God we were right and I’ve started to be rewarded for that work. Actually now several of the APAS members are “addicted” to quality. They have been working each day looking for quality improvement, and not just with their coffee, but their properties in general. Quality coffee is important, but we also have to make sure we focus on our families’ quality of life. Our coffee is special and we must be the first to appreciate it.
What are your plans for the future, not only individual plans, but also for APAS?
APAS producers and I want to continue learning more about producing unique and high quality coffees, taking into consideration social, environmental and economic sustainability. And we want to show this quality to the world. We seek not only an increase of the producers’ income but also quality of life for us, our families, and for the workers. We also seek to produce a great coffee for the consumer. We want to be a strong and organized group in specialty coffees and Fair Trade production.
What makes APAS different is not only the quality of our coffees, but also the quality of the people who produce these coffees. We value the people because they are the ones who form our group. This is our secret: the unity of our group, members’ participation, and our partners’ support. We are transparent and we trust each other. We believe in our dreams and, together, we make them come true. Our coffees are produced not by only one special person, but by a group of special people and in a truly special place!!!