The Finca San Isidro Story

Nov 19, 2018Stephen Robertson

Finca San Isidro has always been part of Katia Duke’s life. It is the farm she grew up on and where she learned about coffee production. Katia’s family has been growing coffee for four generations and her farm consists of 68 hectares of land on what is part of a larger family owned property in the mountains of Honduras’s coffee growing region of Copan. Katia’s farm consists of over 180,000 coffee trees and supports 15-20 year-round employees with up to 50 additional employees during the busy harvest season. Prior to owning her farm, she opened a cafe in the town of Copan Ruinas called Cafe Ixchel, named after the Mayan moon goddess. For a while, Katia roasted and sold her father’s coffee, but eventually wanted to branch out and experiment with different varieties and processes. She asked her father for a parcel of land to begin producing her own coffees. While she continued to purchase coffee cherries from her father as she honed her own farm operation, Katia built her own fermentation tanks and African drying beds to maintain full control of her coffee processing.

Katia and her father still use the same facility for reception tanks but at different hours. The only thing they really share is the machine that depulps the coffee. “It’s like living apart, together,” she explains. The experience Katia gained growing up in the coffee industry is naturally inextricable from her job as a specialty coffee farmer today. However, she’s been determined to expand that knowledge from the beginning. She holds a degree in Agricultural Sciences from Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School located outside the capital of Tegucigalpa in Honduras. At Zamorano, Katia was given the resources and hands on experiences to experiment with agricultural production and has been able to apply that knowledge to coffee production. Katia explained to us that she always knew she wanted to have a career in coffee and that going to school was simply a part of that. “There were a lot of things that made me put my efforts into specialty [coffee].” she explains, “One of the things was that they saw me like just a lady who will get married and forget her career. I said well, I don’t know anything right now, but just give me a little time and I’ll prove it to you. It took me a while, but I did it. Sometimes you have to prove to people that you can do it. But coffee is my passion so that’s why it’s easier for me to spend so much time in the fields or trying to look for new information.”

Her urgency to seek out new information has driven her to earn her brewmaster, intermediate barista, intermediate roaster, and intermediate coffee cupping certifications from the Specialty Coffee Association and the Honduran Coffee Institute. When asked if she felt as if getting these certifications was necessary to being taken seriously as a farmer, she emphasized the social value of these certifications, but that they were, in fact, supplemental for her. She thinks of herself as a conduit for sharing knowledge and resources with the next generation of coffee farmers and those within her community who don’t always have access to information or education. “For me it’s very important that my community has a school. And the kids become educated. Our industry needs that. It’s about creating opportunities.” In 2014, Katia began working to build a new school for her community. After visiting the local elementary school and seeing the poor condition of the building, she insisted that her father donate land to construct a new school building. “This experience motivates my heart, to seek for resources to build a decent, comfortable, and safe space with which the attendance of more children to school could be increased”. She found financial support from Morning Star Missions in 2015 and they completed the new school in February 2016. Since it’s construction, attendance has gone up from 20 kids to 40. Hoping to continue to increase that number, Katia is working to implement a meal plan so that the school can provide nutritious meals throughout the school day. She also plans to construct a play area and design a post-primary scholarship program.

When Katia talks about the success she’s had with Finca San Isidro, it’s rarely about her own personal achievements, but rather about how those achievements can motivate and benefit others in her community. When asked what she felt was most important for us to write about, she answered that she is a successful female coffee farmer and she wants other women to know that they can be too. “If you see me, you think, Oh she’s short; she’s skinny, but she’s doing that. We can do that! We can be in the fields and we can lead!”.  She’s also trying to motivate her father and the community that works on both their farms to produce coffees they can be proud of. “When I’m in the field,” she says, “it’s not just about the women, it’s about all the people that are working with me. It’s very important. If I’m doing something really good that can have a good impact, I need to share that blessing with the people that make it. So then I’m not just making great coffee, I want to have an impact on my community.” She focuses heavily on training, putting time in to make sure that everyone is confident in the work that they are doing on her farm. Katia has built her farm on trust. To her, every person on her farm has a vital role to play.

This year at Finca San Isidro, Katia has expanded her offerings to represent different processing methods. The new harvest will include natural and honey processing methods alongside the traditional washed processes. The natural process leaves the cherry wholly intact with the bean and is allowed to dry in the open air for a controlled period of time. The end result is a fruit forward cup with a creamy body, and winey or acidic flavors. Honey processed coffee is a hybrid processing method between washed and natural which was developed in Costa Rica. Honey processing removes the pulp of the coffee cherry from the bean and leaves some residual sugar to dry around the bean while using a very small amount of water throughout the process. This results in a silky smooth body and a complex cup. For any coffee farmer, experimenting with a new processing method is a risk, but it is a risk that could add value to their harvest season if it is done successfully. As Katia is of a new generation of coffee farmers focused on quality and unique offerings, experimenting with alternative processing methods was an obvious choice to get into the specialty coffee market. However, natural and honey process coffees require a higher level of skilled labor and a greater attention to detail. Katia offers comprehensive training to the local people who work alongside her at San Isidro. She believes that spending more time educating the workers will ensure a higher quality harvest. By investing more in her workers, she can trust the coffee cherries are being harvested at the right time and will be monitored closely while drying to prevent over fermentation and other defects which are common among natural and honey processed methods.

During our time getting to know Katia, it has been easy to talk with her about the hard work she’s doing and the impact she’s having in our industry. She is an inspiring woman working in a non traditional role both socially and professionally. Naturally, the last six years since owning her farm have been challenging and time consuming, so we asked who she leans on for inspiration and support: “When you’re in coffee production, you sacrifice a lot of things, and often that’s [sacrificing] the romantic part. If you find someone who really understands what you’re doing you’ll have the right support. I haven’t found the right one… But my mom has been very supportive of me. She’s like, Okay you never give up. You have to dream big. You have to think ahead. She’s always questioning me and making me think twice.”  Katia’s hard work and fearless attitude have made her a paragon for women in our industry. Her coffee is excellent because she has devoted herself to implementing best practices and is placing value both in her own efforts and the efforts of those working alongside her.

Katia is doing some incredibly focused, sometimes risky, work both on her farm and off. She’s in a pursuit of quality that doesn’t stop with cultivating an agricultural business. Her focus on achieving greater quality products in her own work as well as providing better services and opportunities for other people in her industry echoes a lot of what we try to accomplish at Blanchard’s. We continue to learn from Katia and all of our producer partners. Katia approaches coffee with thoughtful attention to detail - something we also strive for at Blanchard’s. Katia and producer partners like her are pushing us to be better every day, in the coffees we offer our customers and the stories we tell. 

More articles