Seven years ago, a Booth alumni couple left the corporate world to wake up and smell the coffee.
- October 10, 2017
- Career Change
When Armelin’s father bought a farm in São Paulo, the two learned about planting. At the same time, Siqueira was researching investments in coffee for his firm. The more they looked at the numbers, the more they realized they could make a go of it as coffee farmers, and maybe achieve that elusive work-life balance. They quit their jobs in 2010, and with help from Armelin’s father, who cosigned some of their first loans, the couple bought a 518-acre plot. In day-to-day operations, Armelin concentrates on finances and sales, while Siqueira spends time out in the field, focusing on growing techniques and production.
Most coffee farms focus on quantity, while possibly producing a few microlots of high-quality crop. At Fazenda Terra Alta, the couple committed themselves to quality across the board. They installed drip irrigation that could deliver a constant supply of fertilizer—leading to production almost twice the national average—rather than the normal practice of applying it in bulk a few times a year.
Their greatest innovation so far has been employing raised beds to dry all of the coffee beans—the massive wooden tables ensure more even drying than the concrete patios normally used in Brazil. Recently, they’ve been working to increase their profit margins by going directly to small roasters, which sell to niche markets of aficionados.
The business has posed some unexpected challenges. “We did underestimate the risks involved—but we also found more opportunities and rewards than we expected,” Siqueira said. Unlike in finance, it’s not possible to hedge against unforeseen changes, such as the weather, including the dreaded early frost that happened last year. “We did a lot of computations, finally realizing we would be OK,” he added.
Even in a bad year, the time spent together is its own reward. “We have more time for family, so if a year isn’t as good as we planned, we don’t have the same feeling of loss,” said Siqueira. The couple has no plans to return to the corporate world. “Here we can look over what we built on the farm,” Armelin said. “And it’s kind of amazing.”
—By Michael Blanding