• GrowHer

I trained as a journalist and fell in love with coffee farming

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

A chance discovery of a field of wild coffee beans led to a complete career change for young journalist and marketer Larissa Joson. Now, the agripreneur is a co-founder of Filipino coffee brand The Dream Coffee, and is on a mission to improve the livelihoods of rural farmers and their families.

Larissa Joson, co-founder of The Dream Coffee and supporter of rural Filipino coffee farmers

After graduating with a degree in journalism, Larissa Joson decided to take a leap of faith and start her own agribusiness selling arabica coffee in her hometown Manila, Philippines.

Larissa Joson, co-founder of The Dream Coffee with youths in Philippines
Larissa with youths in the Philippines

It’s quite the change in direction, sparked by an accidental discovery: but you could say nothing is by chance, and now Larissa is part of the strong spectrum of women in agriculture. It all began when Larissa’s father Jojo visited T'Boli, a small town located in the province of South Cotabato in the Philippines for a hiking trip. While trekking though the highlands, he noticed an abundance of wild arabica coffee, a highly sought-after bean popular for its premium quality, and asked the locals what they did with the crop. He was shocked to find out that the locals didn’t harvest them due to the difficult nature of the crop and their lack of understanding of its value.

Back home, he relayed to Larissa what he discovered – leaving them feeling puzzled as they saw great potential for the farmers there. Upon visiting T’Boli, Larissa felt compelled to help the community utilize and benefit from their special crop. This adventure cemented Larissa’s resolve to do her part to help develop the agriculture industry in the Philippines, starting with the farmers and their families in this remote municipality.

Equipping herself with agricultural knowledge

In 2017, Larissa and her father founded The Dream Coffee: the name reflects the history of the T’Boli tribe, whose traditional textile skills made them renowned as ‘dream weavers’. The Dream Coffee launched with a group of 75 partner farmers and their families, growing their single-estate, single origin arabica coffee famous for its flavor profile of chocolate and caramel.

In the early stages of establishing the company, Larissa and Jojo prioritized education, training and teaching the farmers on the proper production and post-production processes. Once the foundation had been established, Larissa and her father began marketing the coffee brand.

Two years after the launch, Larissa enrolled herself in an agribusiness masterclass to expand her knowledge about value chains, climate change and inclusivity, which helped broaden her perspective. “I felt this was necessary to provide me with the knowledge to continue supporting the agriculture sector,” she explains.

A crash course in building a business

After its kick off, Larissa found running the business an extremely demanding and challenging task. Developing new systems and structures from scratch and immersing herself in the farming communities posed many hurdles. When it came to working with the farmers in remote T’boli, opening up their minds to new and improved practices and methods was sometimes difficult; she discovered that cultural disconnects also acted as barriers between her and the farmers. However, Larissa understood where they were coming from, especially since everything being taught to them was new and challenged many of their old and traditional practices. But with a patient and understanding stance, she has been able to bring new possibilities to life.

“As an entrepreneur, there are moments where I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, or where my efforts are going, but I always go back to the farmers and the community,” Larissa shares. Thinking about all the hard and laborious work they go through motivates her to continue and stand firmly rooted in her purpose behind the company, which apart from generating great coffee, is to improve the livelihoods of the farmers and their families. She adds that even as the company grows, she wants to establish the culture and value of putting the interests of the farmers first and would never want to put them in a position where they would be overlooked.

“For me it was my own way of contributing to agriculture as a whole in the country. I am a believer that at its core, the Philippines is an agricultural country, and there are so many ways to be innovative about that,” adds Larissa. “If it's not going to be us individuals playing our part then who else will it be?”

Using storytelling skills to build a brand

Looking back, despite the risk and complete career pivot, it has been a rewarding past four years for Larissa. Though it was not her original plan, she believes that her background in journalism has helped her relay the stories of the farmers that she works with and establishing a strong brand identity. She values innovation and creativity in the agriculture and sustainability world, and believes that the new generation is paving the way for meaningful solutions in agriculture. She is committed to upgrading her skills regularly, and is currently in the process of attaining a coffee grading license to aid in the growth of her business.

In March 2021, The Dream Coffee proudly launched a special release of arabica beans that had been grown and harvested exclusively by their female partner farmers, whose ages ranged from 37 to 71. “This special release reinforces that age and gender provide no limits when it comes to taking part in the coffee value chain,” says Larissa. Larissa has another message to share: “It is important to recognize that we as women play such an important role in the field. Women should help women to take up greater spaces in agriculture. But it is important for us to evaluate their strengths and place them in the value chain accordingly for them to truly thrive as opposed to just placing them in for the sake of having women representation.”

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