Monica Borges de Sousa, owner of Fazenda Vila Boa’s, decided to leave her profession as a clinical psychologist to become a coffee producer. Now certified carbon neutral, Monica continues to push Fazenda Vila Boa forward, revolutionising production techniques for the future of coffee.
Vila Boa is located in the region known locally as Vertentes, as it forms a border between two important basins in Brazil: the Grande River Basin (running to the south) and the São Francisco River Basin (running to the northeast).
Founded in 1988, Fazenda Vila Boa began after Monica inherited 90 hectares of farmland from her father. Monica decided to name her estate Vila Boa, or ‘pleasant town’, as the mission was to form an assortment of good, like-minded people. Monica and her husband, who at the time was still an engineer, began by planting the first 7-hectare terroir with coffee: known today as Campos das Vertentes. Since that time, Monica and her husband have developed a deep passion for specialty coffee, producing amazing lots, scoring as high as 89 points. Today, Fazenda Vila Boa encompasses over 1,000 hectares and produces both coffee and cattle for dairy production.
In order to produce such high-quality coffee, Fazenda Vila Boa follows a strict set of standards. The soil and leaves are regularly analysed at the lab for possible deficiencies, with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, carefully applied three times a year in the recommended dosages. The team at Fazenda Vila Boa also make sure to renovate 10% of the estate’s coffee trees each year, helping to keep their crop productive. As well as renovation, Fazenda Vila Boa looks to expand its coffee crop by between 8-10% each year, meaning nearly a fifth of the farm is always under some form of renovation.
Processing typically begins at Fazenda Vila Boa with the coffee cherry being selectively handpicked when the fruit is at its most ripe. Monica stresses the importance of handpicking, opposed to stripping, especially with the Yellow Bourbon crop, as although it produces large quantities of cherry, it also features a fast decline once the cherry is ripe. Handpicking is conducted by seasonal staff, as the estate’s workforce increases from 30 to 80 people during the high season.
Fazenda Vila Boa uses a number of different processing methods, producing natural, honey’d and fully washed coffees, rare for the region. As well as this, the team at Fazenda Vila Boa also experiments with several different fermentations, including both Anaerobic and Aerobic methods. For this particular lot, the team have used the natural method. Once the coffee is picked the cherries are immediately transported to the estate raised beds, where they are dried for two days. Next, the cherry is moved to the patios where they will remain for around 5 days, or until a moisture level of 15.8% is reached. From here, the cherries are moved once again, this time to the estates Penagos Drying Machinery, where the drying process is completed. Once dry, the coffee beans are hulled of their cherry and rested, ready for export.
Although Fazenda Vila Boa continues to thrive, the estate still faces several challenges. Most severe is the impact of the changing climate, with droughts becoming more common in recent years. Monica notes that 2013, 2019 and 2021 have been particularly challenging, with the farm requiring large amounts of nutrients to sustain the crop and soil health.
To help tackle the increasing threats from climate change, Fazenda Vila Boa has recently taken steps to become certified as carbon neutral, something Monica credits by her children. This means that the estate is not only reducing their carbon footprint but also can offset the carbon that they do produce, thanks to their coffee terroirs and forests. For conservation, 30% of the farm remains under protection, with the team also planning to increase this number by planting more than 1000 trees.
As well as their efforts in sustainability, Fazenda Vila Boa also looks to create a positive impact on the local community, sponsoring the NGO ICAFE. ICAFE helps to diversify economic, social and cultural activities in the region. Women are taught to make and sell food and along with the children of the nearby communities, encouraged to further educational and cultural activities.