Humberto Pecupaque and his wife Alba Zuleta are the proprietors of Finca El Diamante in Gaitania, Tolima, Colombia. Their farm is situated in the Nasa We'sx indigenous reserve, a sovereign territory within Colombian borders administered by the native authorities, which allows the indigenous worldview and values to dictate community life, education and trade.
For the third year in a row, we decided to get this beautiful washed coffee in. Again, Humberto and Alba's coffee is a real stand out among the Colombian coffees we tried and we're proud that we were able to get the whole lot again this year.
Humberto has a long story himself that should be a book. But in few words, he spent his childhood in the indigenous reserve where he now lives and works, but was displaced by armed conflict as a child, leaving him a young orphan trying to scrape by on the other side of the central mountain range in Corinto, Cauca. He took the only job that allowed him to survive at the time, in illicit agriculture. In Corinto, he met his wife, Alba, who is just as much a part of Finca El Diamante as he. (It's actually divided in 2 parcels and titled to each of them respectively.) They desired a different environment for their 2 young children to grow up in, so they returned to Tolima and purchased a small farm in Planadas, then later moved to the indigenous reserve of Humberto's childhood. Since then, he has been active in community organizing, representing the indigenous community to the outside world, including politically. Humberto is an important bridge for the community, speaking perfect Spanish while much of the community does not, and understanding non-indigenous society, politics and trade.
Understanding the risk implied in alternative coffee growing techniques and the potential reward they can provide, he has elected to invest heavily and take great risks with the goal of improving producer income in the reserve. He has constructed immense drying structures and replanted half of the farm with prized delicate coffee varietals in order to test whether any of them could work well in the reserve and provide an economic impulse so that the others don't have to take the same risk. Just as these plants were coming into their first season of full production, he suffered a terrible accident, falling from a cable car high over a ravine, suffering severe trauma several hours by motorbike from the nearest hospital. He was in a coma for several weeks, totally paralyzed for several more, and for the last 6 months has been slowly recuperating.
His wife, Alba, returned to the farm alone and found the wet mill ransacked. She faced the challenge with determination, grace, and strength, a combination that can only be described accurately in local vernacular as "berraquera." Using a kind of coded treasure map, the results of several seasons of processing experiments with Cedro Alto, she has been able to keep the cup profile consistent, rebuild most of what was lost, and continue the project moving forward. With this year's quality premiums, the family plans to continue to improve by planting additional native shade trees in the coffee plots and build lombriculture (worm composting) chambers to further reduce productive dependence on the commercial monetary economy.
The Pecupaque Zuleta family are a shining example of what is possible if one is able to observe and internalize market realities while staying true to one's own values and community. Despite immense difficulties and setbacks, they have never compromised and honored commitments and friendships.