Maria Jose Palacio, co-founder of Progeny Coffee, is a fifth-generation coffee farmer who has doubled the income of the 40 farmers and their families that supply her company. Recognized on Inc. 100 Female Founders list and Honoree on the Forbes Next 1000, this jefa is recreating the future of specialty coffee.
Born and raised on a coffee farm in Colombia, Maria Jose Palacio witnessed first-hand the struggles and unreliable profits coffee farmers faced. Determined to tackle the barriers that caused her father to lose his coffee farm years back, she launched Progeny Coffee.
“When I moved to the U.S. looking for brighter opportunities, I realized that the coffee market was growing. People were paying over five dollars for their coffee, and when I traveled back to Colombia, I saw none of that value was arriving to our community,” Palacio said.
After pursuing a career in fashion in New York City and working with designers like Maria Cornejo, Marc Jacobs, and Alexander Wang, Palacio decided to establish Progeny Coffee as CEO and Co-Founder alongside her husband and Co-Founder John J. Trabelsi. Appropriately, the name derives from a botanical term about the next generation or offspring of a plant.
They embarked on a four-year journey to address a significant issue in the coffee industry – most coffee farmers operate at a 20% operating loss making it difficult for farmers to plan their business effectively. By eliminating most of the intermediaries in the supply chain, Progeny’s sustainable model brings high value to their farmers and connects them to the end consumer.
“Coffee is my inheritance,” Palacio said. “Being that I’m a fifth generation coffee farmer, it represents our story. A trade that was passed on for generations from my mom and dad’s side.”
Progeny was born to lift farmers out of poverty and out of the search for better opportunities in Colombia’s farming communities. The company is based in California and distributes its coffee through an Adopt-a-Farmer model. As the consumer, instead of choosing a blend, you have the option to adopt and partner with a farmer.
Progeny Coffee is on the rise as it lifts up an industry with the aspiration of becoming the largest coffee buyer in the country. Plus, they are currently delivering free education and tech support to farming communities.
“Before [my grandfather] died, he made sure I knew that the people I needed to care the most were the people of the land.”
– Maria Jose Palacio
“In the U.S., we are leading the change into the fourth wave of coffee, which is not just about good sourcing but understanding your farmer and partnering with brands that represent your values,” Palacio said.
Palacio’s favorite part of this entrepreneurial pursuit is creating change, seeing Progeny’s impact on farmers, and knowing they built something transforming Colombia’s coffee communities.
“My grandfather was someone that went above and beyond for his community, and when he died, we only received stories from the town on how he helped countless families. Before he died, he made sure I knew that the people I needed to care the most were the people of the land,” Palacio said.