Walquiria Peixoto Correa didn’t plan on being a coffee farmer.
When she left home, she attended university, earned degrees in chemistry and education and intended to be a teacher. But when her father, José Clemente, became sick, she left an internship and returned home to help the family coffee farm he’d started in the 1980s.
What she found back on the farm was her destiny – but first she had to prove herself. Coffee is traditionally an industry run by men, and very few farms in Brazil are owned and operated by women. Six years ago, after her father died and she took over the farm full-time to continue the work he started, it took several years to find workers willing to take orders from a woman.
“Yes, we have many challenges, many obstacles, prejudice,” Peixoto Correa says. “The workers had trouble accepting my ideas because I’m a woman and an academic from the city, so it was difficult.” She overcame that, she says, “with great care and many teachings… talking to them, making them see that we all have our opinions, treating them with kindness.”
Today, Peixoto Correa is considered a pioneer in her community for the high-quality coffee she produces and the way she runs her farm – decreasing her reliance on pesticides and chemicals, using organic fertilizers, incorporating solar power, reducing and reusing water and materials in the coffee washing and drying process, reforesting native plants, protecting the natural waterways on her land and managing her workers with the utmost respect.
She runs the farm with her mother, Dagmar, 73, who still operates much of the equipment. Together, they care for approximately 76,000 coffee trees.
Her coffee is just a few points from some of the highest scores possible, according to a quality grading scale used by Cooxupé, a regional cooperative and exporter representing more than 13,000 small to medium-sized family farms in the state of Minas Gerais. Cooxupé sells her coffee, which is Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices certified, to Starbucks. Brazil is Starbucks largest supplier of coffee.
“When I was studying, I couldn’t stand being indoors,” she recalls. “(When my father became ill), that’s when I realized that wasn’t what I wanted, that my life had to be here, close to nature, freedom, fresh pure air. So, I decided to come back and stay here on the farm, taking care of my little coffee plants.
“I chose coffee because it’s fantastic to see it grow, the aroma of the coffee blossoms, the yellow and red fruits. It’s heartwarming. We have a lot of love for the crop.”
On a warm day several months ago, she drives her work truck to the edge of a large open field, where neat rows of bushy coffee trees overlook a hillside drenched in sunlight. She squats down next to one and examines a handful of dried coffee skins she uses for fertilizer, crushing them with her hand. A toucan flies out of a nearby tree. Cows meander in the distance. She explains that she aspires to sell specialty-grade coffees one day.
“This is my open-air office,” she says, looking around. “I prefer this office to the four-walled one. Look at how beautiful nature is. So, here is my life… My hope for this farm is to protect the springs, the waterways, to teach other producers by example to take care of nature.
“I don’t have any children, but I want to teach future generations to take care, to protect, for a better world. And I hope my mother and I live for a long time, and we can enjoy it, and see this better world.”