I was born in Venezuela. When I say that, many people’s first thoughts are of crude oil, or Chavez or Miss Universe— and while we do have oil, and complicated politics, our rich history with coffee is often forgotten. Having been one of the first coffee growing regions in South America, coffee is deep-rooted into our culture; we wake up con un tinto in the morning, un negrito with lunch, y un café con leche in the afternoon. Venezuelans love coffee.
As a little girl my mother would get up early, quietly, and prepare coffee for my father. The smell of freshly brewed coffee would fill the house and slowly wake us up. From my bed, I’d hear them whisper about the day to come with muffled laughs and quiet charm. A soft kiss goodbye would mean it was time for my mother to start her morning routine to come wake us up – I was always the last one. And even though I was already awake, I’d wait for my Mom to come sit down on my bed, gently run her fingers through my hair, and say: flaca despierta, it meant it was time to get ready for school. I can still feel her touch and the aroma of coffee already impregnated on her hands, the love of a mother. Coffee was as much her ritual as it was mine.
When asked “Why” Sedna Coffee, I re-live warm and happy memories of my childhood. Through these memories and experiences, I started to understand more about myself and my heritage—of what coffee meant to me. I realized that coffee was a symbol of my parent’s love, of my upbringing, and of the sacrifices my parents made to let us live our dreams.
Prior to making coffee a career for myself, I believed, like most of you probably did at some point, that coffee came from farms like Juan Valdez in Colombia, bean by bean, bringing the best coffee to our homes, for us to enjoy. It never crossed my mind to question where the coffee came from, how it was harvested, or who did the work for us to wake up to a fragrant cup of coffee every morning. But here is where my story really begins.
My first trip to a coffee producing country, referred to today as a “trip to origin,” was to Costa Rica in the year 2000. We visited beautiful farms with hectares of trimmed, nicely cared for coffee trees, clean and in some with the latest technology in processing mills. Exactly as I had imagined it. But It was not until I visited Guatemala that I had my “Aha” moment. Witnessing, for the first time, who was really doing the work: woman. They were single-handedly seeding and planting new trees, picking the ripest cherries, carrying 30-50 pounds baskets from their waist, and separating the coffee after being milled. And what struck me the most is that these incredibly hard working women were living in poor conditions, lacking the opportunities and resources that would enable them to grow.
Soon after, I came to the realization that they were not alone, this was true for the women in coffee regardless of origin. That their voices are silenced by a culture where women’s work is exploited, unrecognized and invisible. It was then that I truly understood the meaning of the word; “Privilege” and how “Privileged” I have been to have been supported and educated by a family that respected me and inspired me to grow.
In 2003, the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) was founded by a group of equally inspired women that wanted to bring change to their sisters at Origin. It was not an option for me to join but an obligation. I started working with the IWCA as a volunteer to deliver their mission and work; empowering women in coffee to achieve more meaningful and sustainable life’s, to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the industry.
I joined the IWCA Board in 2009 and in 2015 I was elected for a 2- year term as President. Today (2018), IWCA is represented by 22 chapters and it is recognized as an organization with the platform that promotes women economic empowerment. The work is endless, but the impact is rewarding. After many years of volunteering with the IWCA and being a “corporate” woman, I decided to join the entrepreneurial world and start a business of my own. I decided to go from talking about how we need to bring more access and opportunities to women farmers, to actually providing opportunities for the women at these coffee communities that stole my heart so many years ago.
Sedna Coffee is a mission driven company with the goal of having a significant impact on the lives of women in coffee around the globe one cup at a time. With the guidance of Sedna the Goddess of Abundance and Hope, we want to bring all the women in coffee together to be successful realizing their dreams and aspirations in life.
I am a Latina. I am a mother. A sister. A dreamer. A volunteer. And a business owner. I am a woman in coffee.
Enjoy the coffee, smile, you are making a difference one bean at a time. Thank you for your support.
My name is Mery Santos and this is my story.