In 2001, Silvia Barretto-Croce inherited her father’s coffee farm in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Coffee has been the main export item in Brazil since the 1800s, and her family founded their farm in 1850. Barretto-Croce grew up on her father’s farm in Brazil, but she had moved to the U.S. in 1991 with her husband to raise her family. She managed the farm from the United States for 9 years, but in 2010, she and her husband moved back to Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza (loosely translated to “Environmental Fortress Farm” in Portuguese) to run the farm full-time.
Barretto-Croce felt strongly that the farm be organic, even though she knew making that transition would be costly. She immediately banished all toxic materials from the farm and integrated the crop land with the surrounding forest and water as an active part of the production system: she was able to harness the energy of the neighboring streams to generate hydropower for the farm, and she incorporated different species into the soil — adding fruit trees to the coffee plantations to prevent monoculture and allowing insects to live in the soil.
Today, FAF is a model of a sustainable organic farm — socially, environmentally, and financially — for other businesses and within their community. Her father’s old coffee farm has grown to become a triple-bottom line organic farm, and she has inspired surrounding farmers: She and her husband established Bob-o-link Farmers, a network of coffee farmers in the region who hold a common goal of producing the best coffee using sustainable methods.
During our Friday Speaker Series in Axinn last Friday, Barretto-Croce shared the moments and events in her life that have led to her vision and success today.
The Bees – “The bees. That’s what woke me up.” Barretto-Croce told the audience. “I started beekeeping after college, and when I worked with the bees I could always tell when someone had been using chemicals nearby. They were being affected by that kind of farming, and they were being killed by the chemicals. That’s when I realized the importance of organic farming, because everything was connected in the ecosystem. With bee keeping, you can’t help it — you know how important organic is, because you can see it in the hive and in the honey, that there is a relationship between everything.”
The Dictatorship: “When I moved to the United States with my husband, I was very curious about the democracy here, because I grew up in a dictatorship. I knew that Brazil was about to change back to democracy, but that the time, Brazil didn’t know what democracy was all about. We were used to the dictator fixing all of the problems. Suddenly, I saw the importance of solving problems from the bottom up.”
“I married an entrepreneur from Italy.” My husband had always worked in exports — so he was constantly analyzing the market, thinking about trade. Coffee has been the main export in Brazil since the 1800s. And then we started a family in the U.S., and our family ate only organic, and we saw the growing organic market. Little by little we started thinking about health, and how to invest in our family’s health.”
“I joined the PTA.” I joined the Parent-Teachers Association at my kids’ school. I became a soccer mom [laughing], but I also learned how to solve problems. We would get together and talk about our community, and our children, and I saw how to make change happen.”