Harvesting Change: Women at the Helm of Puebla’s Coffee Picking

10 Apr 2024

Saddle up and prepare for a journey through the picturesque northern mountains of Puebla, Mexico. After ascending 1,000 meters, you arrive at Rancho La Victoria, a historic coffee farm nestled amidst the mountains.

Leading the legacy is Efraín Lechuga, a fourth-generation farmer, who studied in Europe and worked around the world before returning home to Rancho La Victoria like the generations before him. It’s there, together with other members of the surrounding community, that he founded the Slow Food Community “Productores de Café Sustentable Cuaxtla Sierra Negra.”

Puebla Women and Coffee

In Puebla, women often find themselves as the pillars of households due to male migration. In some villages, women make up a staggering 70% of the population, therefore employment opportunities for them are paramount.

Rancho La Victoria recognizes this, employing local women and supporting numerous families. Their fundamental task is to pick every coffee cherry with precision, cherishing the quality and environmental stewardship of La Victoria.

© Justo Eduardo Marin Arce

Harvest Season

Unlike the rush of conventional farms, La Victoria beans take their time to mature. The beans are nurtured by the gentle embrace of their shaded mountain-top environment, with nitrogen-fixating plants comprising 60% of the land and native shade trees making up the remaining 40%. This creates a protective canopy over the coffee plants.

From seed to sip, the difference between commercial coffee and quality coffee grown in agroforestry is evident. One important difference is the harvesting; in commercial coffee, big machines are used to harvest coffee all at one time. In the agroforestry system, coffee is intercropped with other plants and picked by hand. To have a high-quality cup of coffee, one determining factor is picking it only when at the perfect ripeness. At La Victoria, this takes up to four or five rounds on each plant. The coffee is then processed within a few hours to ensure quality. The pulp of the coffee cherry is removed to reveal the actual coffee bean. The beans are then fermented, washed, and sun-dried for several days before they reach perfect humidity.


Every year, La Victoria gives each worker enough roasted coffee for their yearly consumption so they can also enjoy the coffee they have helped to produce.

The Economics of Picking Coffee

Traditionally, coffee pickers have been paid per kilogram. This could be a problem as the ripening time of coffee is not always the same throughout the season. Pickers can often be tempted to harvest coffee that’s not in its optimal condition, to earn more.

La Victoria opts for another approach. Pickers take their time selecting only the ripest cherries with care. Workers are paid either by kilogram (when it’s the middle of the season and there is a lot of ripe coffee on the plants), or they are paid for a working day. People who have a specific job, like picking coffee for the micro lot, will be paid by the day. Sometimes payment is a mix of the two things – they ensure a basic wage for the working day and then an extra if the price per kilogram exceeds the daily basic wage.

This year, the market coffee price dropped so much that many producers didn’t even harvest the season because paying the pickers would have cost more than actually selling the coffee on the market.

At La Victoria, due to sustainable practices they have and the quality of their coffee, they can sell their coffee outside the traditional market, with a price they establish directly with the buyers, which in turn makes them more resilient against the ever-changing economic landscape of coffee production.

Time For a Shift in Perspective

As farmers struggle to make ends meet, it becomes increasingly challenging to heed the call of sustainability. From producers to consumers, we must acknowledge the true value of coffee beyond its price tag. By understanding and supporting the journey from farm to cup, we can create a supply chain that is equitable and sustainable for everyone involved in it, and enjoy a better cup of coffee.

Join us in redefining the role of coffee in our communities and our world.

Join the Slow Food Coffee Coalition today and be a part of our mission for a brighter coffee future.

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