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The UVI Experience

It’s been a few weeks now since I traveled to Colombia to join the team at Unblended Coffee and Ventola Coffee to experience their UVI (Unblended Ventola Institute) gathering in Antioquia, Colombia. Unblended and Ventola are working together to make coffee farming a more attractive career option for young people across Colombia. Together, they created UVI , which is an incubator program that uses a mentorship model for young producers to understand and improve the value of their coffees.

 

Throughout the trip, there were a few standout learning opportunities that I’m still trying to fully grasp and understand. Some of the learnings were that data collection is not yet fully understood or even seen as a necessity by a majority of producers. Another important learning is the continued and growing interest in extended fermentations. While these are somewhat different observations, they also pose an important opportunity to emphasize the importance of data collection not only for cost of production but also for quality. With more producers interested in experimental processing, there are risks that come with these fermentation methods that only data collection for QA/QC can help mitigate. It's essential for producers to log and manage data around their fermentation trials because without that, they aren't able to assess what worked, what didn't work, how to repeat successes, and avoid repeating failures.

The trip consisted of a few farm visits near the town of Santa Bárbara, Antioquia to understand how Unblended and Ventola are working with producers  and where technology like Cropster Origin is needed. During these farm visits, I felt a slight disconnect between the excitement behind these producers’ fermentation experiments and the little knowledge of how data collection impacts the quality of production and provides insights into the cost of production. I say slight disconnect because with the high willingness to introduce fermentation methods at their farm, there needs to be that same willingness to collect the QA/QC data around those fermentation methods to mitigate any risk that comes with experimental processing.
 

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However, the main part of the trip was the UVI gathering where 30 producers  came together for a day of learning and connecting. The gathering took place at Felipe Trujillo’s, owner of Ventola Coffee, lab near his farm, Finca La Ventolera. The average age of the producers was 25-27 years old. As part of the day’s agenda, I presented  on the importance of data collection for producers. Andrew Lyman of Atlanta’s Finca to Filter presented a workshop on the importance of photography for the producer’s personal brand.

Finca to Filter has 4 cafes in Atlanta and is keen to bring their baristas closer to origin through various initiatives. Unblended also holds the same goal of elevating the socioeconomic opportunities for young coffee producers in Colombia and hopes to bring producers closer to baristas.
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I opened my lecture asking questions of the group and quickly realized that I needed to focus on presentation on basic best-practices because of the limited level of technological understanding. I focused on why producers should collect data, which data points should be collected, and why this data should be digitized. On a technology level, the producers ranged from those who collect various data points digitally to those who don’t yet even see a need to collect any types of data points. Throughout the session, I made some heads turn for the better as producers were asking important questions on how to collect their data.

By the end of the lecture, I concluded that there are 3 stages of data collection at the farm:

  • Stage 1: Doesn’t collect data at all and doesn’t think about the need to collect data. Simply processes and sells their coffee. Not sustainable and no way of knowing if they are financially stable or not.
  • Stage 2: Collects data via a notebook but has no organization or method of filtering out important data points. There is also a barrier of understanding how to digitize their data.
  • Stage 3: Collects data via digital tools, like Cropster Origin, and is able to filter/organize important data points for their own information and for potential buyers.

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As with any trip to origin, cuppings are a must and It was amazing to taste the coffees of all the producers that I met the day before. It was quite something to taste the work and passion behind these coffees. If anything, it made me more motivated to continue thinking of ways of how Cropster can be more accessible to producers and become a widely adopted tool to help producers  envision their farm as a business.

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