Monte Alto – Brazil
Sitio Monte Alto is absolutely steeped in coffee tradition. The Ribeiro do Valle family has long dedicated their lives to the production of fine coffee, and after 136 years it’s no surprise that they’ve perfected the art. Now in their ninth generation of producing coffee, the family’s patriarch is very well-known in the region by the name “Barão de Guaxupé” (Baron of Guazupé) – which also happens to be the brand name of their commercial coffee.
The farm’s first coffee plantations were established around 1880 and were planted by the current owner’s first ancestor to settle in the region. Brazil’s Minas Gerais region is famous for its coffee and the southern part of the state, with its mountainous relief and fertile soils, is ideal for coffee. These same hills, however, mean that at least 70% of the harvest and other labors on the farm must be completed by hand. Machine pickers, which are ubiquitous throughout Brazil, simply can’t handle the majority of the slopes! While this makes agricultural work more costly to complete, it has the benefit of providing jobs to local families, of whom more than thirty live and work in the property. Interestingly, the majority of these are children or grandchildren of previous residents, which serves as a testament of how well the family treat their workers. They work very hard to foster positive relationships with both people living around the farm and the surrounding environment, itself.
While tradition is important, the Ribeiro do Valle family recognizes that innovation is key to sustaining high quality coffee production. As such, they’ve made many improvements to the farm in recent years. Some of these developments include installing brand new coffee washers and dryers, which has significantly reduced water consumption on the farm and has improved coffee quality by standardizing drying practices. The old drying patio has been transformed into a beautiful garden in front of the house, and work on the new patio has just begun. The new drying patio will be double the size of the old one and is located at a higher altitude, with access to sun the whole morning and afternoon.
Improvements extend to the old farm house, as well. The original structure has been carefully restored and preserved by its owners. There’s a whole room dedicated to relics and artefacts from their ancestors. The plan, eventually, is to turn the house into a museum so that others can learn about the origins of coffee farming in Sul de Minas.
More than 30% of Sitio Monte Alto is reserved as an environmental conservation zone. The jewel of this area is a huge Jequitibá tree – a native species – which is estimated to be over 1,000 years old. This enormous tree is not only one of the farm’s most remarkable spots but also is the centerpiece to a story that has become something of a family guiding principle.
The family was passing through a difficult moment, financially speaking, during the 5th/6th generations. The owner at the time – Carlos Henrique’s great great (?) grandfather – was offered a significant sum to cut the tree down for timber. Despite the family’s dire circumstances, he decided that the esteem and the emotional value of the tree was far too great, so he refused. The family recovered from the crisis shortly afterwards and went on to produce more and more coffee. The tree now serves as a reminder that no matter how dark the path may seem, there’s always a way out of the woods.
With this thought in mind, the owners and workers are increasing their investment in the coffee business, as well as in the specialty coffee segment, honoring the memory of their ancestors who initiated the coffee tradition. Year upon year, specialty coffee procedures are increasingly implemented in cultivation and processing, and thus the quality of the farm’s coffee keeps improving. So far, the feedback on improvements has been amazing.
Monte Alto takes the well-being of the local community very seriously and, in particular, believes in investing in children and education. They offer computer science classes, sewing and crochet, story-telling and from time to time cooking classes. They have funded both a playground and a library for the community school and also have horseback riding and hiking courses on the farm itself for which they hire the instructors. More recently, they have initiated a new partnership with the Federal Institution of Muzambinho (a city near Guaxupé) to help with biodiversity and conservation training for young people. Through the program, students learn about native fauna and flora, catalogue all the species they encounter and are taught how to take care of the environment with simple daily actions.