In Conversation with De Dios Coffee Producer Ashley Prentice:
Down in Fraijanes, Guatemala is a coffee farm that goes by the name of Finca De Dios – meaning “God’s Farm”.
It’s run by the coffee producing dream-team – Ellen and Stuart Prentice with their daughter Ashley. Finca De Dios really is a family production, each member contributing their part to make sure the coffee they grow is as unique as their methodology. Together, they use their own expertise—both from the coffee industry and beyond—to make this farm one of the best in the country.
Ellen is an agronomic engineer and manages the farm and harvest. Agronomy, as a science focuses on crops, the soil, and how plants grow—in other words, the terroir that makes a plant unique. Her interest in agricultural science and engineering is what helped get the farm started in the first place. Stuart is an electrical engineer by trade, and works on the farm on the weekend by helping out with projects such as building the coffee mill or the drying beds. A true workaholic, Stuart devotes countless hours into modernizing the farm, including a new pump that acts as a “heartbeat” in the water mill. Ashley is in charge of quality control; she has a Master’ degree in coffee science and economics and has completed her Q-Grader and Q-Processing courses. Ashley’s side of the job really focuses on creating the lots, cupping, and customer relationships. This is the first year that Ashley is full-on doing the quality control for the farm.
During cultivation, all of the workers at De Dios join the family. The part-time pickers join the year-round team during harvest, and everyone comes together. Ashley and her family treat the seasonal workers like one of their own—there’s no doubt they want to come back year after year to harvest with them. Engaging the farm workers is something Ashley and her family take a lot of pride in.
“The activities that we do are really important for us to be able to make a good environment while they’re here—whether it’s full time or temporary workers. To create that environment where they can leave feeling like they really made an impact, which makes them want to come back to this farm year after year,” Ashley explained.
Before the pickers head out, they always remind them to look for the “pura uva”, which is the color the cherry should look like when it’s ripe — when the cherries are very bright red - and when it's ready to be picked. It’s also the name of a popular grape drink in Gautemala, making the association an easy one to remember. Communication is key and exceptionally important for them to ensure their quality is top notch year in and year out.
“Innovation is really important and I think quality is always a moving target. There's always improvements that we can do at the farm for efficiency or to improve quality,” Ashley explains.
“For us, the project of the dried beds was a big one. It took me a few years to convince my parents that we needed to do these raised beds and so it was really funny because the first year that we did it we had these crazy, like really strong winds. The roof blew away! My dad was so mad. He was like ‘Why did we do this? You see, this is like a waste!’” she told with a chuckle.
“Then, this last year was the first year that we were able to use it to the full capacity. 100% of our coffees were dried in the raised beds. We really saw the improvement… It really encouraged all of us that this was like the right move. Especially my Dad, because it was like a sensitive subject for a while,” laughed Prentice.
Finca De Dios wasn’t always the well-oiled machine that it has become today. Ellen’s father, Don Stuart Brixius, purchased the land in 1972 with the innocuous reason of needing a place to keep his horses. Ellen, being an agronomy student, noticed the coffee plants on the farm and dove head first into the idea coffee production.
Initially, they planted mixed varieties which differs from how the organization of the farm works today. Now, many parts of the farm are organized by single varieties, but they also offer a very unique ability create custom lots depending on what the roaster, who would be buying their coffee, is looking for.
These custom lots are sorted by flavor profile rather than a specific area of the farm or a specific varietal. This helps roasters find something specific they’re looking for, and also helps them market their final product. An exceptionally unique offering – something they can do because of the cupping and tasting skills that Ashley possesses.
“When they started they were selling to whoever would buy it. But then her [Ellen] and my grandfather went to a Specialty Coffee Association of America expo years and years and years ago. I think somebody tried their coffee and said, ‘You know, you have really good coffee, it's specialty coffee!’”
“A few years later, she decided to participate in the Cup of Excellence—and that first year she won! That really opened doors for De Dios, including relationships we’ve still maintained to this day” she continues on the exclusive award given to the farm that producing the best coffee within a region.