Interview with Marcos Croce - Founder of the Bob o Link project

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Interview with Marcos Croce - Founder of the Bob o Link project

| 2019-01-03

Marcos came to visit Belco a few months ago. Here is the interview we had together when he was here!
Marcos, first of all, thank you for visiting us here in Bordeaux!
It's a great opportunity for me to finally come to Bordeaux, this city where wine is so  important…. Just like quality coffee!

Can you tell us a little about the Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza ?

The history of FAF began with us in 2001. The farm has always been in my wife's family. It is now the fifth generation. At the time, we were living in Chicago. When my father in-law passed away, all the family were debating about the future of the farm. My father in-law was a great coffee producer and tried to produce quality. But there was just one coffee and at that time prices were very low: the family were going through a very difficult phase. Most farms in the area were going under, and we were living in the USA.

Roots and wings

My wife Sylvia and I then had a discussion as there were two things we wanted to pass on to our children: firstly, roots and secondly, wings. I told her “Let's keep the farm”.

She told me “Only if it is organic”. Sylvia has always been into organic things: when I met her, she was a bee-keeper. She was already organic way before organic was being taught at school. She gave our children lessons in the morning at home and was always looking for good ingredients and good food. She was totally different. So we decided to become farmers, to learn and take on this new challenge.

 “You are worth what you are, not what you own”

This was our life philosophy with Sylvia and I really wanted our children to understand it. I had no farming experience but have always loved nature and along with Sylvia I really started to understand the importance of doing good things. There were many issues we questioned ourselves on, the way the world worked, the place of nature in the world etc...

At the time, we were living on Bob o Link Road

After 8 years living on Bob o Link Road, I had a meeting with the Nature Conservancy of Illinois (USA) and discovered a logo with a bird entitled “Bob o Link”. What a coincidence! I didn't know that Bob o Link was the name of a bird and so asked them what Bob o Link meant. This bird flies from the USA to Brazil every year. But in Brazil, we had more and more single crop farming of beans, maize and sugar cane. If we continued like that, there would soon be no more bees, drinking water or Bob o Link birds.

A farm appropriate for Bob o Link

I loved this image and told myself that we had to create a farm appropriate for Bob o Links. We started to modify the farm. Our dream and mission was to become a model for sustainable farms, from a societal, environmental and economic point of view. Since once we are profitable and sustainable, we can then begin to think of the other details and focus on the birds, trees and soil.

A farm as a place for education

Therefore we continued to use the farm as a place to educate people, where they could learn about themselves as well as about the soil and farming. I wanted people to learn the difference between soil and earth. Because in conventional farming, we change soil into earth. But on an organic farm, it's much more complicated.

Healthy life, healthy food for all Bob-o-Link's farmers

Learning about soil

So, just to give you an idea, it took us 12 years to transform the earth into a real soil. When you set up an organic farm, you look for organic materials, micro-organisms. You have to learn to identify and quantify the different micro-organisms to understand the quality and composition of this soil. This took us 12 years, bringing in different people and professionals to carry out tests.

Knowing your soil

'Active' and “passive” organic farming

We then embarked on a project which we call 'active' and 'passive' organic farming. In active organic farming, we plant coffee in rows; there are perennial plants such as coffee as well as bananas, mangos, avocados. In the middle, we plant annuals such as oats, beans, melons, sunflowers and maize. We rotate, aiming to have an ecological fertilisation with a cocktail of plants for a richer soil.

Active organic farming

Secondly, we talk about  passive organic farming. Each living species - plants, animals or human beings - must find the right home to be happy and in good health. It's a question of finding the right terroir, the ideal place for the living species, which in this case is coffee plants. We started experimenting on the farm in several terroirs in the secondary forest (planted by humans). We have a magnificent natural primary forest which we never touch. In the secondary forest, the trees were planted 3 years ago and we planted coffee here. It took us 5 more years to learn about the different varieties, terroirs, hills, and light levels that we should give to coffees.

Passive organic farming on secondary forest

Transmitting this vision of coffee to roasters

Fortunately roasters started to appreciate what we were doing. Our son, Felipe, went to University in the USA where a professor invited him to go and learn to roast and to cup. This was great for us as we also learnt to cup our coffees. This allowed us to fully know what we were doing and to build relationships with people, as at this time speciality coffee was at its very inception.

Sylvia & Marcos during a cupping session at FAF

At the beginning of 2005, we began speaking to people who knew exactly what coffee is today. Coffee has become a product like wine, olive oil or beer, where everyone is looking for quality and looking for how the product was grown and produced. After all, we talk about quality on the palate, but I think we also must think about “overall” quality, meaning not only the quality on the palate, but also how the people who grow it live, how the animals live there, as well as the approach towards the environment.

A visionary and unifying project

Today we are pleased to have found a way and found partners who have allowed Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza to reach the next level. All on a farm which has taken us 10 years to build. When we arrived with all these projects, the neighbours said “Either this guy is a communist, he is crazy, or he's a visionary!” Well, maybe all three! But today, all these neighbours are part of the Bob-o-link project, everyone works with us and we help them to export their coffees.

Joao Hamilton & Ivan, neighboors and Bob-o-Link's farmers

The Bob o Link project

It is only after all of this that the Bob-o-link project was created.

Bob-o-Link coffees at Belco

The Bob-o-link project is a group of farms in our region that we have also extended across neighbouring regions since the Bob-o-link bird doesn't only live on our farms! The aim is to find a way to grow sustainable coffee today and tomorrow. And so today, the Bob-o-link project is about working in the same eco-friendly system, producing quality coffee. Because we are all responsible for the resources we have at our disposal: having good water, good soil and biodiversity. We are delighted to say that we have found some wonderful partners, and that one of these wonderful partners is Belco.

Discover the Bob-o-Link from Marcos with the Natural Bob o Link, the Yellow Bob o Link, the Organic-certified Bob o Link, as well as 2 FAF microlots: a fully washed and a Sumatra variety!

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