Valeriana, 24, began her work in coffee the same way as many women do: processing beans that are grown and harvested by other farmers. In Guatemala the tradition of leaving land only to sons persists, meaning that many women start out with no land of their own on which to grow coffee.
The challenge of not being landowners didn’t stop Valeriana and her husband Mario from pursuing a career in coffee. Mario comes from a large coffee-producing family and his father is one of the founding members of the San Miguel Escobar cooperative. Valeriana formally joined the cooperative in 2013 as a way to work and earn her own income, after her husband took a full-time job at a local orchard.
“Before I was married, I worked at a fruit farm. I started out picking strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Then I moved up to a position in quality control reviewing fruit for export. Now that I have two children I work hard to care for them, so it was a beautiful experience when the opportunity to join the cooperative arrived. Now I can work from home, processing coffee in the afternoons, caring for my children, and earning my own income. All I do is processing, it’s a lot of work - you need strength and a strong will to do this work, and I get that from my children,” says Valeriana.
Every day during harvest season, Valeriana works at home while waiting for the harvesters to come down from the coffee fields on the volcano so she can buy only the highest quality ripe fruit. This year she plans to export over 3,000 pounds of green coffee - that means that she must process over 20,000 pounds of coffee fruit. To make this task more challenging, Valeriana rents out the use of her father-in-law’s coffee depulping machine, a machine that is shared by five coffee producers - which means that Valeriana is often depulping her coffee late into the night, sometimes working past midnight.
As Valeriana shares her daily routine of waking up early to see her husband off to work before 6 am, caring for her home and kids throughout the day, washing and drying coffee beans on the roof of her house, preparing dinner for her family, and depulping the day’s fresh coffee cherries late into the night, her husband looks at her with love and admiration in his eyes.
“I admire her so much, she is a great woman and she impresses me every day. We wouldn’t make it without her work. She is a great example, she has three responsibilities: mother, wife, and coffee producer and she succeeds in them all,” Mario says. Mario supports Valeriana in working towards her goals, and on his annual two-week vacation from work he worked alongside her each day. “Normally in agriculture the woman is the assistant or helper, but here she is the boss and I am her assistant,” he says in good humor.
This year Valeriana decided that what she needed to grow her business was to purchase her own depulper which costs 7,500 Quetzales (~$1,000). A depulper would allow her to process more coffee, in a more timely and efficient manner, raising her income and freeing up time to spend with her husband and small family.
Valeriana is proud of her accomplishments, and eager to keep working towards her goals of one day owning her own home with her husband and kids, owning her own land to grow coffee, and providing her children with the life they deserve. She is living by the very advice that she wishes to share with other women in coffee, in Guatemala, and around the world. “Keep pushing forward, it will be hard but you won’t achieve anything if you don’t try.”
Women like Valeriana are the reason we started the Women’s Fund two years ago. The fund is dedicated to supporting women in coffee by creating access to the capital, resources and information so that they can grow their businesses and flourish in an industry that in Guatemala is heavily male-dominated. Two days ago we successfully raised just over $500 to pay for half of the depulper for Valeriana, and will issue her a low-interest loan to cover the other $500.
Help us further our impact by supporting women in coffee. Make a donation to our Women's Fund and help more women get the resources they need to succeed.