A Few Questions With... Katia Duke

“A Few Questions With…” is a series featuring some of Ally’s partners across the globe. Our goal is to get to know the people who make coffee happen a little better, to talk about their work, and to look forward toward their vision of where coffee is headed. We’re thankful for these relationships that we get to be a part of, and excited to have the opportunity to let these folks tell you about themselves in their own words.
The following responses have been edited for clarity.

Katia Duke owns and operates Finca San Isidro in Honduras’ Copán Department, just 8 kilometers from the town of Ruinas de Copán. Katia grew up in a coffee producing family, and as she explains it, “Coffee has been part of my life since I have a memory. I grew up being part of the system, starting my own coffee plantation back in 2012.” Since establishing herself and Finca San Isidro, Katia has earned a reputation as not only a producer of quality coffee but also as a leader in her community. She ensures the growth of San Isidro and the surrounding area develop hand-in-hand through flagship projects like building a school and creating and supplying a local nutritional program. We began our partnership with Katia in 2019, and we’re proud to continue working together to connect her and her coffee to roasters around the world.

Katia at the drying beds of her Finca San IsidroKatia at the drying beds of her Finca San Isidro

Ally: Where does your farm name come from?
Katia: The name hails from a Spaniard origin, as an homage to the Patron Saint San Isidro. In the Catholic faith he is worshiped and asks for the fertility of the soil so we can have good harvests. As farmers, he is the Saint who represents us all.

A: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
K: I am a multifaceted woman. I love reading, drawing, working puzzles, and learning about early toddler stimulation topics to guide my infant daughter. I deeply love healthy living but I never deny myself a guilty pleasure or two. Getting to know new places, in particular museums, fascinates me because it's almost a portal for me in which I can see how human beings have evolved over time and as a race can be so diverse.

I also dedicate time to direct projects that have an impact with underprivileged groups, trying to address issues regarding education, women's empowerment, and my latest project that has an environmental focus. That has become a newfound priority due to two hurricanes that impacted us in 2020, Eta and Iota, making us reflect on the minute passage of humans on this earth.

A: What’s your favorite food to have with coffee?
K: Platanos en gloria with cardamom, fried beans and cheese.

Obviously the best coffee is prepared by my dad. He's the first to make coffee every day, refusing to use any type of measuring, [so] each cup he prepares [has] a new flavor, making it more personal and loving, functioning always as a conversation starter on how our coffee tastes that day.

Katia with her father at Finca San IsidroKatia with her father, Adan Duke, at Finca San Isidro

A: What does coffee mean to you?
K: I believe that coffee is a noble pursuit; despite the difficulties of climate change, a stingy market, and the lack of information in order for us to improve our practices as producers, I can still say that countryside coffee production is the best laboratory that we could have. It motivates me voraciously when the results of a cup confirm to me my strengths—innovation, intuition—but above all the good energy of my collaborators that gives me the profile of an exceptional cup.

Coffee is an entire universe, there is so much science behind a cup of coffee which is marvelous, allowing people to specialize in different areas, like cupping, roasting, exportation, etc. It’s definitely a job that even though it’s part of the tropics and seems static in its development, it isn’t. It prompts you to investigate, it’s extremely challenging and, finally, it’s a beautiful community of coffee on a global scale.

A: How has your work changed as a result of your relationship with importers and roasters?
K: When you produce exceptional coffee you need to have someone to sell it to, simple as [that]. As conventional coffee producers, [there are instances where] we don't know where the final destination of our product lies. We depend on a petty market price and we become invisible to the industry; paying back loans to the bank so we don't lose our lands and ensuring the daily nourishment of our families is the greatest motivator.

The relationship between coffee producers and coffee buyers becomes very important to have an additional income that can be reinvested to improve processes, facilities, and equipment. I sincerely believe that the fundamental role of the importer is to lay the foundations for a solid friendship between the producer and the roaster that becomes the value proposition for all parties.

Rows of coffee at Finca San IsidroRows of coffee at Finca San Isidro

A: What has changed in your perspective as a coffee grower over the past five or ten years?
K: As coffee growers it is very important to understand the anatomy, physiology, chemistry, that the right conditions of the soil are available as well as its microclimate and threats from climate change. All of the aforementioned are essential for coffee production, but they only represent a small portion of the variables to consider. Understanding that great care is required throughout the production cycle, innovation as a requirement, a high degree of commitment on the part of our collaborators so that our product is exceptional. Great cohesion from a group that seems indistinct at a glance is fundamental for a solid relationship with our commercial allies so that their own sales strategy is beneficial for all stakeholders. To fully understand what happens in coffee you have to go deeper, meet the people at the back and front of the chain. In a few words coffee is not just coffee, it's human history.

A: What is one message you’d like to share with the coffee community?
K: Us coffee producers see our future as uncertain. At the level of the production strip we share common characteristics such as accentuated poverty, food insecurity, child labor, and the strong impacts of climate change that threaten the future of agricultural communities and the livelihoods of the small-scale food producing families.

The formation of true coffee communities at a global scale is necessary, not only for marketing strategies for some companies, considerably closing the gap in regards to the access of markets, information, technology, and resources that could be transformed into sustainable production systems. The co-creation of these conditions and focused efforts could be transformed into actions at the source where most inequality and poverty is found. We need fair and sustainable business practices in which everyone along the chain is prosperous and our dignity as human beings is respected, as everything we are doing at this moment is our inheritance for future generations.

Katia carefully examining a coffee tree at Finca San IsidroKatia carefully examining a coffee tree at Finca San Isidro

A: What do you hope to see for the future of your farm?
K: Finca San Isidro as a source of employment and income throughout the year for the people of our community, a true agent of change for the current and future generation, to continue our history in coffee, and above all to remain motivated to innovate despite weather conditions [and] unfavorable government policies among many other variables.

In short, a high-impact San Isidro farm, sustainable from three points of view: socially, environmentally, and economically.

A: What do you hope to see for the future of coffee more broadly?
K: Thriving communities, thriving businesses that don't compromise future generations.

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