December Rewind: Karla Boza on the Realities of Coffee Farming

December Rewind: Karla Boza on the Realities of Coffee Farming

We're spending the next few weeks revisiting some of the most popular Boss Barista episodes

Hey friends. For the rest of the year, we're bringing back old episodes of Boss Barista. Part of the reason we’re doing this is because the community of listeners who are part of Boss Barista is so different than it was just a few years ago. But also, many of these episodes carry lessons and ideas that I still carry with me and are worth revisiting. If you haven’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, here’s a handy link to do so:

Below, you’ll find one of the most popular interviews I’ve ever done, and what I think is one of the most transformative conversations Boss Barista has ever aired. This episode features Karla Boza, who owns a coffee farm with her family in El Salvador, and originally aired in July 2019. From the pricing crisis facing coffee farmers to advocating for your work’s worth, Karla’s stories and perspectives have completely changed me—and I hope they change you, too. Here we go:

A few weeks ago, I was honored to attend Re:co, a coffee convention that invites speakers from all over the world to talk about these big ideas in coffee. This year’s conversation was focused on coffee prices and the crisis that we face as the price of coffee dips lower and lower.

I talked to the head of the coffee price crisis response initiative a few weeks ago, so if you want more context on that, listen to the Ric Rhinehart episode a couple of episodes back. But at one of the lunches during the conference, I met Karla Boza, a third-generation coffee farmer in El Salvador.

And the way that she spoke about the coffee crisis was in a way that nobody else was at this conference because it affected her everyday life. She was one of the handful of coffee farmers at this conference talking about coffee prices.

Don’t you think that maybe more of the players affected by the crisis should have been in that room, talking about this crisis? In this conversation that I recorded with Karla, which you’ll hear in a moment, we talk about the flaws in coffee buying. We often applaud coffee roasters—the folks that are on the other end of the supply stream—for being transparent with their prices, but are the prices that they’re paying actually changing the lives of farmers? Mostly, no.

Being transparent doesn’t make a price fair, and oftentimes the business of paying a higher price comes with a demand from a coffee farmer to do something extra for their coffee to stand out or taste different, which ends up costing the producer even more money. In this episode, I urge you to rethink the way that you consider quality, not just in coffee, but in every realm.

Karla’s experiences with coffee buyers—ranging from being tricked by an importer who told them that their coffee was shit, to another noting that it was a standout from the samples that they were sent—question where quality really comes from, and if we should be basing our price standards on arbitrary markers of quality. This is easily one of the most informative and remarkable conversations I’ve ever had, and I promise we’ll be hearing more from Karla in the near future.

Karla: I am Karla Boza, I am from El Salvador, and I am a coffee farmer. And my farm is San Antonio Amatepec, and it's located in San Salvador, so it's 15 to 20 minutes away from the city, so it's in a pretty urban area.

Ashley: Did you grow up on the farm? Is this a generational family farm?

Karla: I would technically be a third-generation coffee farmer, and [my dad] technically started this farm. He bought it when it used to just be used for grazing, part of it, and there were no trees; nothing. And then another part of it used to be a stone quarry, so then it was sort of like the private stone area for a local architect. Then he would just be blowing up parts of the hill whenever he had a project. So there was nothing there before, and then [my dad started the farm].

I didn’t grow up there. I grew up in the main part of the city and we used to go every other weekend to the farm with my family. I wasn’t ever really taught how to be a coffee farmer. I would just go there to hang out with my family for the weekends.

Ashley: So at what point did you decide that that was something that you and your family wanted to do?

Karla: So my dad had been doing this specifically at this farm since 1969, which is when he bought it, and ever since then he had been working in that. And I don't know really why [my sisters and I] weren't ever really involved up until maybe a few years ago when it was SCA [Specialty Coffee Association of America Expo] in Atlanta.

At that point I had finished college and I had studied sociology, something that wasn't related at all with coffee. I was working at a nonprofit with water projects, so nothing to do [with coffee], right? But my sisters called me and they were like, you know, “Our farm is certified by Rainforest Alliance, so [my dad] sent in some samples and he was invited to the yearly breakfast that they do at SCA.” So then I was like, “Okay, sure, I'll go there with him and support him and everything.”

So we went to Atlanta and that's sort of when I started to get more involved. At the SCA, my whole mind was just blown with how incredible the coffee industry is, because we hadn't ever really been involved in specialty coffee. We were growing specialty-quality coffee, but we weren't involved in that area simply because we didn't really know how it worked, or even in my personal experience that it existed.

I had gone to specialty coffee shops before, but I didn't really see the difference between that. [I just saw] that maybe they were brewing using certain methods or things like that. So that's sort of where I started to get involved. And I saw how my dad’s coffee, the quality that he was growing, belonged to this other category of coffee that wasn't being recognized.

Up until then, what we were doing was that all of the coffee was turned into a local mill. Literally a little truck would show up to your farm, you would load the coffee cherries, and a few days later you would get paid. We never knew where it ended, where the coffee went, who was buying it, at what price it was being sold ... nothing, because we were getting paid at market prices. Every once in a while we would get paid a little bit more because it was Rainforest Alliance-certified.

So then at [the SCA] breakfast, we happened to be sitting with this lady who was a Q grader and she happened to remember our coffee. And I was like, “What?!” This whole time we had been told by this local exporter that our coffee was shit. Literally, that's what he told me. We would ask [the exporter to send samples to the SCA] breakfast and they'd be like, “Oh no, your coffee is so bad that we just mix it in with all of the other coffees, so then we don't really have any traceability for your coffee because it sucks.”

So we're like, “You know, okay, whatever. It is what it is.” And then [we wondered], “How come this woman who is a Q grader, who's cupped thousands of coffees, happens to remember this one specific coffee from a shitty farm?” So then we were like, something's wrong here, you know?

So then that night I started Googling our farm and I realized that the exporter had been selling our coffee to specialty coffee roasters in the U.K. and they were using everything: They were using our pictures, our story of the farm, my dad's name, a picture of him ... everything. And I was like, whoa. So I asked my dad, “Did you know that this is going on?” And he was like, “What??” He had no idea.

So that was part of it. The other part happened the next day when we were going around the show, and my dad found some friends and they were talking, and then this guy—with me standing next to my dad—he goes up to my dad and he's like, “I am so sorry that you only have three daughters, because who's going to look after the farm afterwards?” And I was standing right there and I was like, “What??”

I'm very stubborn, and my sisters are as well, so that's sort of what pushed me to get involved and be like, “No. The next time I see this man, I want to show him that I got involved in something that he thought that I didn't belong in.” So then it was more to prove him wrong and to get the value out of the coffee that we were producing. It was a mixture of things.

Ashley: That's ... this is a story that you have told me before, and I'm still listening to it and I'm like, “Oh my god!” The idea that you would be told that your coffee is terrible and then someone else makes this huge profit off of it. Do you think that's something that happens a lot—the lack of information to farmers being exploited?

Karla: Yeah, definitely. This is our story and it's very sad and everything, but at the same time, what makes it worse is that this is the most common story that you will find across coffee farmers. We have all had this happen to us. It's not something unique to [our farm].

[Farmers may say], “This local exporter is only paying this much,” or “This local exporter is paying that much,” and they are all prices that are just so bad. Then when you talk to roasters or Q graders, they tell you, “Coffee from El Salvador, even if it's grown at a low altitude and it's not well taken care of, and this and that and blah, blah, blah ... it's generally really good-tasting. It's usually—maybe not necessarily specialty [grade], but pretty much up there.”

So it's pretty sad to see all of these older people [getting taken advantage of]—because you know, most coffee producers these days are of an older generation. All of these people are the age of my dad, or maybe someone's grandfather. They are all being told these lies that are just horrible. And they're being taken advantage of, either by local exporters or international importers.

Ashley: What does the coffee scene look like in El Salvador right now? You mentioned before that you had been to some specialty coffee shops, but you weren't really sure where your farm fell in that realm until you went to SCA.

Karla: Before there were maybe one or two coffee shops that I didn't even know were considered “specialty” up until now. The thing is that our local market is flooded with really good coffee because we produce it. Even the coffee that is maybe not the best out of that farm, it gets sold locally and it's still pretty good.

So without knowing it, everyone here has been drinking really good coffee for a while. But then what's happened recently with the market [being] so bad right now is that a lot of farmers have decided to open up their own coffee shops. Out of nowhere you see all of these coffee shops popping up everywhere, and they have really good coffee. There have also been some roasters that are popping up as well, and they are roasting really well.

It's something that I'm so proud of because now not all of the good coffee goes abroad. A lot of it stays here and it's starting to get recognized. All of these coffee shops are starting to have guest roasters come in or they open up cuppings to people so we can start to evaluate our own national product in a way.

Just yesterday I was at this mall that just opened near our farm. It's like a strip mall. In the food court area, there's this coffee roaster. So I went in to see if I could offer them samples for coffee and they were just like, “Oh no, thank you for your interest, but this is actually the coffee roastery/coffee shop of a farmer.” So I was like, “What??” It's so cool that everyone is starting to get interested in selling their coffee in the local markets. That's really cool.

Ashley: Something you mentioned earlier is that one of the reasons people are starting to produce and consume more coffee in El Salvador is that the market outside of El Salvador is really bad. Can you talk a little bit about that—what it looks like selling your coffee to exporters?

Karla: Sure. We started selling our coffee independently a year ago. After Atlanta, we were all left with this big question in our mind of what we had to do in order to survive. I started looking into it with my sisters, and we convinced our dad—we don't have our own mills, so we convinced him [to go through] a local privately owned mill that is specialized in processing specialty coffee. We convinced him. We had no idea of what we were doing. We were just angry about the whole situation of people taking advantage of him and everything.

So we went through that route and I think that the best thing that has happened to us has been having social media presence. I opened up an Instagram page for our farm, posting pictures every once in a while, commenting on stuff ... the usual. When it was time for the harvest and to start selling our coffee, we had never done this before and there is no manual or instructions and how you become, you know, like a coffee ... not an exporter because we're technically not exporting it ... but like commercializing all of this coffee.

So I just started reaching out to people through Instagram because that's what I knew how to do. I started reaching out to some roasters and, fortunately, Girls Who Grind Coffee in the U.K. were interested in our story. We sent them samples and they got back to us pretty quickly, and it was just so amazing to hear this first confirmation of having someone value not just yourself, but having someone else value your coffee and be willing to pay a fair price.

Dealing with them has been so incredible because it's been completely transparent and we have both been moving on our ends to see that everything goes well, and that was really cool. For this year, we already had sort of proof that our coffee was valued elsewhere, so we continued the same strategy: going to different shows, sending samples and everything, and it has been pretty good.

What we have found that has worked for us the best has been approaching roasters that share the same values that we do. They are interested in transparency, they are interested in female empowerment ... all of these things that we value—sustainability, the environment—and that has been pretty cool.

I have also tried to approach importers and it has just been the complete opposite [experience]. I think that we have been talking to some importers since maybe November of last year and they take a month or so to get back to us. Clearly they're not interested, you know?

I spoke with this other importer in the U.K. and it was pretty bad. Supposedly their page said that they specialized in selling coffee that was sustainable and that they valued all of these great social and environmental things, then we started talking [to them] and they were like, “We only pay like $115. So that's $1.15 per pound.” And I was like, “What?? If you value all of these things, then you know that that's not enough.”

Fortunately we found an importer who we love. They're based in Canada and it's called Mountain Coffee. We're working with them this year to import our coffee to Canada and to parts of the U.S. and they have been great. They came to see the farm, they saw the mill, they met other producers that we really love here, and they were really interested in purchasing coffee in a way that is fair and respectful on both ends.

That has been pretty neat. So I think it's sort of the strategy that has worked the best for us has been going on Instagram and sharing our images and everything, and then also looking for partners who have our same values.

Ashley: What does that mean “to purchase coffee fairly,” to you?

Karla: To me it just means not only recognizing monetarily the value of coffee. It’s definitely working outside of the C market, because the C market is not sustainable. It's not realistic. It doesn't reflect the actual value of a coffee.

Aside from that, it means going outside of the C market and going outside of scoring numbers. If a Q grader scores your coffee at an 80, which is where you're told that it's “just specialty,” it doesn't mean that it's any less valuable than something else, like something that is scoring higher.

Also valuing the local impact that you're having on communities; the fact that you value your workers [and] that you respect them; that you value and respect the environment as well; that you're doing what you can to make the working conditions the best that they can be through your circumstances.

That is something that I would also like people who are purchasing coffee to take into account whenever they are purchasing coffee in a way that is fair, taking into account these factors. I don't necessarily have a number [to say], “It needs to be above this or that,” because everyone's costs are different, and the things that they're doing are different as well. So those things change.

Ashley: No, that makes sense. It makes sense to, number one, make it very clear that the cost of production for every farm is very different. Because it's easy to say, “We're paying this much more because the C market is this,” like, that's a number that could cover every farm, which I'm sure is frustrating to see on your end.

But I think something that you said that's really interesting is going outside of scoring. So I think something that we talked about—because we met at Re:co in April of this year in Boston—and it feels like roasters will say, “Hey, we're paying more for coffee,” but there is a demand on quality that seems not viable, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.

Karla: Sure. So when I say to value coffee outside of scoring, I mean that there are other factors that you need to take into account. Just talking about scoring, I mean, we've had our coffee scored by many different people in many different countries, under many different circumstances and I would say that a lot of them are certified Q graders, which sort of standardizes everything despite all of that.

And we have still gotten very different results, which personally, I think that that is completely normal because I find this obsession with standardizing coffee almost silly, because from a grower’s perspective, it's almost impossible to have it rain the same amount every year or to get the same amount of sunshine and all of these other factors that we don't have control over.

The fact that we get told that we get paid on quality and not even the Q graders can decide on what “quality” is, or the score that we get, or the attributes that we have, or the aftertaste, or “the this or the that.” Out of all of these reports, who do we base it on? Because it's not that they are different in one or two points. It’s that sometimes some people score it at an 81 and others at an 85, you know? Does that mean that the person [that said it was] an 81 who was also a Q grader ... I don't know. Those things, they just don't make much sense to me.

And I think that it's also very unfair because I think that this obsession with standardization and coffee and making everything repeatable and all of that doesn't happen at origin, and I don't think that it happens in roasting either. You can get two very similar cups of coffee and that's great, but they won't be identical.

At the point when it touches the barista's hands, they won't be able to make the same espresso or the same pour-over twice. It can be very similar, but it won't be the same, and just because they taste differently, it doesn't mean that the value is different. Coffee goes through so many different hands that you can't make it the same twice. And I think that is something that, instead of penalizing it in [the coffee score], we should value it and be like, “Wow, I had this one really good cup of coffee,” and just keep it in your mind, then value it for what it was, because it's going to happen once and that's okay.

Ashley: Right. Does it happen often where maybe you're working with a roaster or an importer and they make a demand or request for a value add, like, “If you try doing this, we'll pay more. If we try doing this sort of growing process, we'll pay more,” and are those requests viable?

Karla: A few years ago (well, maybe last year), I was talking with some roasters and they were like, “Do you have any fermented coffee? Do you have any of this?” or something like that. And I was like, “Guys, we don't even have our own mill, so no, we don't have our own fermented coffee. We are barely learning how to make naturals and how to process [honey processed coffee] this year, so we haven't gotten there yet.” And they'd be like, “Well, you know, if you did this one type of fermentation with this one type of yeast, it would all work out and your coffee would be so great and this and that.”

And, you know, I really value their opinion and I’m sure that they are great at roasting, but that's what they know how to do. You know? And I don't know how to ferment coffee. I know for a fact that they don't know how to ferment coffee either, so the fact that they're putting this pressure [on us] for those stories, I don't think that it's safe.

I am thankful and fortunate that I have this background in sociology that makes me question everything a thousand times more so that I'm not as susceptible to going out of my way and being like, “Okay, this year, we're going to ferment our coffee, even though we don't know what we're doing and we're just going to do it.” You know?

But I know that other people—other farmers—they don't have this mindset. It's like power structures. [The farmers] value the input of roasters and importers a lot more than their own experience and their own judgment and what they know how to do. So then if you have someone who has this purchasing power come and tell you, you need to ferment your coffee, I am sure that a lot of them, without having a clue of how to do it, are going to go out of their way and do it.

Maybe they'll get lucky and they'll do it really great, but most likely they won't. It puts a lot of pressure on producers to sort of jump whenever a roaster or importer tells them to jump, even though maybe that's not what they're used to doing. So it's good if you are telling people good meaning, well-meaning suggestions like, “Maybe you can try this,” or, “I have seen this [at] another farm,” but not give it as an absolute truth or demand.

Ashley: Right. It's interesting that you talk about the idea of power structures, because I think you're absolutely right that when a roaster asks a farmer to do something, like try a naturally processed method or to grow something like this, it's really a play of power to say, “We will pay you more,” because there's always money involved and it's impossible to ignore that.

Karla: Exactly.

Ashley: So how do we remove that power from roasters? I mean, maybe “remove” isn’t the right word, but how do we start to acknowledge the fact that this is a system based on power structures?

Karla: I think that what is happening right now with the coffee crisis, I have noticed that it has made a lot of producers very angry. It's the good type of anger that makes you become a lot more aware of where you stand and what is fair and what isn't. I have seen [the farmers] become a lot more aware and be like, “You know what? I am not going to sell my coffee for 70 cents a pound after processing. I am not going to do this because someone told me to. I am not going to do that simply because it's the best thing that I can get at the moment.”

They're starting, I think, to respect themselves a lot more out of this frustration and this anger and this lack of recognition. Even though it's something horrible that is happening right now, because a lot of people are really struggling and they're really suffering, but at the same time, this has made them realize that we are the base of this whole industry, and without our well-being—without our survival—no one else is going to have a job.

It has sort of made them realize that they are definitely needed and that they need to be definitely valued a lot more. I think that it sort of starts with that: having producers become aware of their role in the industry and how much they're needed and how they also get to have a say in everything that happens. Just because someone is offering you a dollar for a pound of coffee after processing, while the C market is at 90 cents, that's still not a good price, and you shouldn't feel the pressure to sell your coffee simply because someone tells you to.

I understand that sometimes the situation forces you to do something that you don't want, but as long as you are aware of what you should be receiving and how much you deserve to be valued, I think that that is a start to sort of changing these power dynamics that are happening.

On the other end of importers and roasters, I think that if you simply talk to a producer—I understand that a lot of the times there is a language barrier and that it's really hard, but—as long as you're asking questions and you see farmers as real-life human beings with families, with a job that is supporting your own livelihood as a roaster, I think that you start to value people more for who they are instead of just some random person within the coffee chain.

I think that slowly, that is maybe how you can start to change these power dynamics, but it definitely needs to start with the empowerment of coffee producers.

Ashley: One thing that really struck me when I first met you ... we were at Re:co, which is a big conference bringing all these coffee thinkers together, talking about big issues in coffee. This particular Re:co was about the coffee price crisis, and when I talked to you, you seemed angry, and I wonder what it's like to be in a room in a non-producing country, mostly surrounded by people who don't grow coffee, talking about a problem that affects you directly.

Karla: Yeah, that was pretty shocking. Fortunately this year I had the opportunity to be a Re:co Fellow, which is something that I'm really thankful for because it opened the doors to an event that I had really always wanted to attend because it just seemed so cool. This year the topic was the C market.

Wow. People who have a say in this are talking about something that's really important and that affects me.

So I got there, really excited, and once I started seeing that even though the whole topic was the C market and how hard it is to be a farmer these days, there were no farmers in the room other than maybe a few people. If you're going to be talking about someone, then I think that someone needs to be in the room, especially if you're supposedly discussing how to help them out and how to realize the struggles that they're going through.

So that was really shocking to see. At the same time, this is the Specialty Coffee Association. So we're supposedly talking about this coffee that gets paid pretty well based on quality and everything else that we have been talking about that isn't always so simple. Right?

And we were in those rooms when they asked us to have the group sessions and everyone was just going on about how maybe we needed to create not a C market, but an “S market” for specialty coffee. And I was like, “What??” You know? This is what got us here in the first [place]. Why are we replicating something that we know for a fact doesn’t work?

And then someone else was like, “Where are we going to base this market at?” And then someone else was like, “We don't need to base it anywhere, physically, it can be the internet.” And I was like, “Whoa whoa whoa,” you know? We're all talking about these things that don't really matter as much right now, because right now we're in a crisis and this is not something that we're going to solve in a day, but it's something that we need to be talking about for what it is and not replicate the same systems that have brought us here in the first place.

Surprisingly enough for me, [in this conversation] I didn't know where I stood, because if these were the big thinkers in the room and these were their concerns, then I don't know what I am as a coffee farmer because I don't see my future in there and it doesn't seem very good for me at the time or in the future, according to what they were saying.

I was so surprised that the only people who cared about this were the people from Walmart. I was like, “This is just so wild.” You know? The things that we hear about this company are pretty bad usually. They are known for the horrible things that they do, and yet their employees, their representatives are the only ones who seem to care.

And they were asking a lot about the conditions of what it is to be a coffee producer, our costs, what we were doing, what they could do. I was like, “You know, there's Walmart in El Salvador and [you could] actually open up your shelves for local roasters of specialty and non-specialty coffee to put their products in.”

So that was pretty helpful. [The representatives said], “We feel bad because we represent Walmart.” And I was like, “Actually, don't, because you are doing a lot more than a lot of the people who supposedly should care more and who are supposedly more in tune with ethical things. They’re doing a lot more.

In the case of El Salvador, at least, I know the person who roasts the coffee for McCafé, which is the coffee side of McDonald's, and they are paying a lot more for coffee than a lot of specialty importers are. So it's just this wild situation where the people who were supposed to be responding to this crisis weren't, and the other people who are often the “villains” of everything in the world were [comprehending better] what is going on. So yeah, that was a really weird experience for me, but it was very eye-opening as well.

Ashley: What has the coffee price crisis done specifically to you and your farm? How has it affected you?

Karla: Our farm [has] stopped working maybe about a third of the coffee farm, because it's just not viable anymore. We have also had to lay off a lot of people. And every year we used to give everyone [raises] and this year—well, for the past two years —we haven't been able to do that. So, that has affected their households as well. It has been pretty bad.

Then we have also had to take out a bunch of loans from the bank. In El Salvador there are only two banks that are giving loans for coffee because it's so risky right now, and the interest rates that they offer are extremely high. And one year we were only able to pay the interest rates and not really pay our loans, so that sucked as well. We lost maybe over $500,000 U.S. dollars just in that.

So yeah, it's been pretty bad. And this is the best-case scenario for El Salvador right now because we're also part of a local co-op and they are really good. They are maybe one of the best functioning co-ops in El Salvador right now. They're very transparent. They're very efficient. They have their own roastery, so they make a lot more earnings.

And despite that, since so few people are turning in coffee—because a lot of them have shut down their farms—their productivity has gone down, so that has impacted everyone else's prices. That has impacted us a lot as well because that used to be sort of a more stable way to sell our coffee and now it isn't. So yeah, definitely a lot of bad things.

Ashley: Yeah, no, none of that sounds good.

Karla: Yeah.

Ashley: It’s pretty jarring to hear it all laid out like that too, and I think it bears repeating because I think that still this hasn't landed for a lot of people.

Karla: Yeah. I think that a lot of people know that something is going on, but they don't really know what it is, and I think that those would be the majority of the people that are more aware. But generally I think that people don't know how bad it is and how we're not being very dramatic about this.

Like what I just told you, it's not even the worst. It just ... it is what it is, and it's our reality. And like I said, we are one of the best-case scenarios of farms right now in El Salvador. A lot of [farms], they just shut down and they locked the gates of the farm, they fired everyone, and that's it.

It's so ironic because this is something that my dad tells us all the time, that his friends who used to be coffee producers, the ones who shut their farms [down] about three to four years ago, are doing a lot more, they are a lot healthier, they feel a lot safer financially than people who are still in coffee right now. So he's like, “What if I would've just shut down the farm a few years ago? We wouldn't be in this situation right now.”

But then he takes it all back and he's like, “Well, but then four or five families wouldn't have a job, and maybe 20 or 30 people who are seasonal workers wouldn't have a job, and then the 20 or 30 coffee pickers that come for the harvest wouldn't have a job either. So yeah, it's pretty bad. It's actually really bad right now, the situation.

Ashley: So what does viability look like for you? How do we begin to change that trajectory?

Karla: This is maybe our last year that we will be working the farm if it doesn't work out. [My sisters and I] have become a lot more involved and we have been going to fairs because we have realized that's the only way that you can make a human connection with roasters and with importers and that has paid off pretty well.

So we're selling our coffee definitely at a higher price than the C market. But then we still have to see if that's enough, and if it's not, then I think that this might be the last year that we're working the farm. That's something that we're facing at the moment.

Ashley: That's really incredibly real and I'm honored that you shared that because, again, people aren't realizing quite how serious this is: Coffee will be gone. I'm feeling a little lost for words, honestly, because you are the base of the whole industry, which you just said too. And I don't know why we haven't reacted appropriately.

Karla: I think that it's just this lack of empathy, really, that is part of the problem. Because, for example, once you get to know about what is going on and what happens ... you're a person and you're a good person, so that causes something in you when you start asking all of these questions, and I think that's part of what needs to happen as well.

If you are a coffee shop owner and you get your coffee from elsewhere, ask your roaster how much they're paying for coffee. If you're a roaster ask your importer how much they're paying for your coffee. If you're an importer, ask your coffee producers how much they're spending on producing this coffee. I think that by asking these questions, you start to humanize coffee a lot more.

You start seeing that behind coffee there is the life of the barista, the life of the roaster, the life of the importer, the life of the coffee farmer, the life of the coffee transporter, the life of the coffee picker, and everyone else. There are just so many people that depend on this crop and there is no room for us to be selfish about it and not be transparent either.

Ashley: Is there anything else that you want people to know about you and your farm?

Karla: Yeah. I would like everyone to know that our doors are open. If you want to come and visit, let us know. I think that people also need to maybe see for themselves what is going on. If you prefer another country you can ask me and, if I know someone there, I can ask them. If you have any questions, my Instagram is public.

You can ask me whatever you want to know about coffee production, because I really do believe that as long as this information is out there and as long as it's accessible and as long as people are at least slightly interested in finding out what's going on, then things can change.

So if you have any questions: ask them. Don't be afraid. Don't be scared. Don't be embarrassed. There is room for everyone in the industry to grow and to be better about what we're doing and how we're doing things. Like I said, a lot of people depend on this and we all deserve to be recognized for what we do because we're all doing a great job and that needs to be recognized.

Ashley: Karla, thank you so much for being on the show and thank you for sharing your stories.

Karla: No, thank you for being interested [in me] telling these stories about things that happen in this industry. If there's anything else, just let me know.

Ashley: I know, I already have a list of questions I want to ask you for a follow-up.

Karla: And just one more thing, because I don't want this to be depressing and horrible for whoever listens to this. I go to a lot of these meetings in coffee and it's usually a lot of older, older men who are very negative about how things are looking and they feel very sad about how it is.

Like I said, our story is not unique. It's very common for a lot of people, but fortunately despite all of this, you know, you've heard me laughing throughout this whole interview and it's not that I think it's funny. It's just that we have this saying in El Salvador, “No se dona, para se goza,” [which loosely translates to], “Maybe you're not winning, but at least you're enjoying it.”

So it's sort of like making the most out of things, you know? So whenever you go to these meetings, you hear all of these men laughing about how ridiculous it is that someone offered them a dollar per pound for their coffee. They're just crying—crying out of laughter because it's just so ridiculous.

So we're definitely struggling, that's very true, but our take on things has been to adapt to the situation, to see what we can do to move on, because this is something that we love to do. We would give anything—well, we're giving everything that we have to keep working the coffee farms. It's something that we genuinely love doing and that we do with a lot of pride. Even though things are really bad, we're making the best out of what we have. So even though it's pretty bad, we're still enjoying it as much as we can.

Ashley: That's nice that you were so generous to help end on a positive note. That was very kind of you.

Karla: You know, it's not like the most positive thing, but yeah.

Ashley: Well, thank you again for being here and it was an honor to talk to you.

Karla: Yeah, no problem. And just let me know if you need anything else, if you have any more questions, or if you'd like to discuss anything else as well.

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A newsletter and podcast about a thing you drink everyday. Interviews and articles about big ideas in coffee, the service industry, and collective action.