Two weeks ago, I flew over the Mexican state of Oaxaca in a puddle jumper. We flew low, occasionally passing tiny towns and their brightly colored churches popping out from the blanket of deep green jungle. It occurred to me that somewhere between the mountains and the coast it’s possible that I passed over Fernando Diaz’s grandfather’s coffee farm. Diaz himself has never been there, but his roasting company, Proyecto Diaz Coffee, is helping to make sure it grows.
“The mission is to help rebuild one coffee farm at a time,” said Diaz. “The concept of the farm was always in my life and the love that my grandfather had for it was passed down to my father and to me. Being at a distance, I wanted to figure out how to create a bridge from the city to the farm.”
To do that the Oakland roaster is sourcing directly from grandpa and putting 10 percent of profits towards building back the farm’s infrastructure. That means a mill, drying patios, shelter for workers, and transportation. Construction started late last year and they hope to have the farm self-sustaining within five years.
[jump] Once a large estate in the early 1900s owned by Diaz's great grandfather, the farm was later split among four brothers, two of whom are still alive. Before the project, Diaz’s grandfather was selling what little coffee he kept in production to a middle man. The price he was paid was so low it couldn’t cover maintaining the farm. Proyecto Diaz is now paying him double.
“Grandpa is half blind, but he’s got a rejuvenated spirit. He’s having his dream revived,” he said.
Diaz, who grew up in Los Angeles and later in Daily City, is unique among the increasing number of roasters in the Bay Area for his family connection to his coffee source. And while he’s new to coffee, as a former immigration paralegal working on deportation defense, he’s not new to the larger economic trends that can negatively impact rural communities throughout Latin America.
“Workers will leave the farm for more economic opportunity in the city, and then often if they’re unable to find income, they’ll migrate,” he said.
In five years Diaz hopes to be working on rebuilding another farm in addition to having a small coffee house in Oakland. He recently brought three partners on board, and they’re planning on launching a Kickstarter in April.
Meanwhile, you can find several Proyecto Diaz blends, single-origins and the flan-reminiscent Oaxacan roast at cafes in the Bay Area and online.