Boris Wullner Garces Of The Green Coffee Company On How Farmers And Agricultural Workers Diversify Their Income Streams

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Martita Mestey
Authority Magazine
12 min readAug 14, 2023


Selling solar energy back to the grid: Most farms are run on the sun, but warm locations where you need covered areas for handling crops, are great locations for solar panels. Any solar energy you don’t use, sell back to the grid for additional income.

In today’s rapidly changing world, economic resilience is crucial. For farmers and agricultural workers, diversifying their income sources can be a key strategy in achieving financial stability and success. By exploring alternative and supplementary revenue streams, these individuals can better adapt to market fluctuations, climate change, and other challenges. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Boris Wullner Garces.

Boris Wullner Garces is the CEO and President of The Green Coffee Company, Colombia’s largest and most innovative coffee company, where he is responsible for the development of its roasting, milling, byproduct and harvesting processes. Boris is a biological systems engineer by training, focused on finding ways to better innovate agricultural processes. He started this work in flower production in Colombia, as Colombia is the second largest exporter of flowers globally and was eventually tapped by government officials to lead Invest in Bogota, a startup incubator focused on bringing international businesses to Colombia before joining The Green Coffee Company in 2020.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My entire life I’ve been involved in agriculture in some form.

My father was an agronomist, in charge of the largest chemical company from Germany in Colombia. He came to Colombia in 1962. He was living in Cali and my mothers family

lived in Cali, where they grew sugar cane. I grew up on a 70-hectare apple orchard.

My father was also an orchid grower, and was a member of the American Orchid Society, and the president of the Bogota Orchid Society.

I wanted to study food engineering at a German university but before I went, I stepped into the one university that had bioengineering in Colombia and I realized that Colombia’s agricultural opportunity was key to my learning. In 5 years, I graduated Suma cuda laude in biological systems engineering and started the first research team at the university.

After university, I worked at multiple flower exporters and wholesalers selling to global markets around the world. I worked in flowers for 15 years, where I learned how to produce all types of flowers and how to build a bouquet operation. I worked my way up to be a sales manager for Germany and Europe, and eventually, added the Japanese market as well.

After many years there, I got an offer from the largest flower trading company in the world to work with the American market, managing the sell operations from Colombia and Ecuador

. I thought, why not learn about American flower appetite? I scaled the sales from 5 million to 55 million dollars per year in my tenure there. I also worked with “Invest in Bogota” to develop interest in manufacturing and received a call from an NGO, “How can we create income opportunities for people with disabilities in rural areas?” I’ve always been eager to make change and watch businesses grow.

I got involved with Green Coffee Company when the founders, Cole and Adam, reached out to me and asked me to join the team in 2019. Back then, they only had 160 hectares and when I went to see the farm it was totally, totally old fashioned. Like the Industrial Revolution farms, when you look at windmills and that kind of thing. They were like crappy, old wetmills. And I told him, “Hey, guys, if you want to do this, we have to reorganize everything, we have to use technology to change the way that we’re doing this, we have to work with the community, we have to develop in a different way.” And they said, “Let’s do it. And that has been the last three years.

Can you share an interesting story from earlier in your career that helped shape your current perspective?

When I was in the flower business, we wanted to sell directly to consumers. We wanted to cut out the middleman to share more of the profits with growers. As you probably know, traditionally growers can be very low income. We found a solution for flower farmers to work directly with resellers in the US through a no-leak packaging.

We developed packing that was water resilient so that we were able to work with Fedex. Nobody believed we could do it but it took years of research and we figured it out. One of our first partners was the Kabloom florist shop. Our dedication to finding a solution helped us access a key market directly. Today, I still look for solutions to find ways to drive value and increase margins by increasing efficiencies.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Intellectual curiosity: It’s important to always be learning. Never accept things as they are. I’ve always wanted to learn new ways to do things. I’ve been active in the academic community here in Colombia but also I’ve tried a lot of different things. Once I even tried to work at a bakery to understand how to make wheat more productive. No one would hire me because I was overqualified. So I opened a bakery myself and I made $2,000 on the first day. I did very well and learned a lot making breads that weren’t available in Colombia — cinnamon bread, German breads and 7 day fermentation bread — it was a lot of fun.
  2. Think outside of the box. I believe everything has a solution. That’s one part of my engineering brain that is there always. Everything has a solution and you have to get creative to solve problems. Don’t approach the problem thinking you can’t do it. Look for the ‘how’ and solve from there. For example, when FedEx told us they would never transport flowers with water, we could have given up, but instead we did research and looked for partners that we could work with to find solutions. If a problem doesn’t have a solution, it’s not a problem. So forget about it. Go to the next one.
  3. Do not make simple things more complex than they need to be. Remember KISS — Keep it simple stupid. Review what’s already being done and look for ways to innovate from where you already are. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Everything that I do has to be simple. So whatever we do in the company, in general, we are looking forward to past simplicity impedance. So, it’s to do things in a simple way. Do not do things in a complex way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When we were kids, my father was always telling us — and it’s very German — that we could do whatever we wanted, but that we had to be the best in what we do. So if we wanted to be like, the guy that cleans the streets, we have to be the best cleaner that was available in the market. That whatever we did, we had to put forward the passion to do it, and do it right. And right from the first time. So let’s try to focus on how to do it better, good, and be the best person for doing the best in your work. And I have been applying my entire life.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

There have been so many amazing moments. I’ll name a few;

  • Becoming largest coffee company in Colombia.
  • Technology that no one has used.
  • When we won the most “Innovative award” from the Colombian government.
  • The things that are coming are unbelievable.
  • The drying processes and fermentation processes.
  • Getting great feedback from the team.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘How Farmers And Agricultural Workers Diversify Their Income Streams’. This might be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to expressly spell this out. Can you share with our readers why this has become a necessity?

Try to apply circular economy in everything that you do. This means, if you have a cattle farm and your cow shits, we’ll take the shit and use it to produce biogas. So you have to use energy, so you reduce your cost of energy. So you’re increasing your income.

If you have a fishery, you can use the waste water from the facility in agriculture production. Grow lettuce for example, because it has the ammonia and nitrogen that you require to produce life. So you will be able to produce lettuce and produce anything that’s hydroponic.

Think about how you can manage your farm, seaweed harvest or oyster company in a way that everything that’s wasted you convert into a different stage.

So if you have a farm, on which you’re producing corn, you can use the cellulose from the corn to produce paper, or other things. See always what else you can do with a product that is left.

What are the most common barriers that farmers and agricultural workers face when trying to diversify their income streams?

Normally, the major barrier is access to technology and capital. Sometimes, these income streams are hard to develop. It might take 4–5 million. If you don’t have the means to turn manure into biogas, you can use it for cheaper heating for your house. There are always other ways to do things simpler.

Being an engineer is to solve daily problems in an easy, cheap way. You can engineer new solutions and new income streams.

How have government policies and regulations impacted the ability of farmers and agricultural workers to diversify their income? Are there any specific policies or programs that support or hinder this process?

This depends on the country where you are located.

In the different countries, there are different policies that would help you out. In Europe or in the US, you have support from the government to produce biopolymers from cellulosic materials. There are some states that will support you in doing a circular economy, so that you reduce contamination of land and soil or the usage of water by promoting circular economies. So you have to read up on what you have available in your area.

In general, what I have seen is very good support from the authorities in almost all the countries in the world when you are in an agribusiness. Because in the end, we are giving food to the people, and its really about food safety and food supply. Yeah. And in the end, the governments will support you.

How can farmers and agricultural workers access information, resources, and support to help them explore and implement new income streams?

Check government websites, local city offices and work with local administrations to find solutions. At Green Coffee, we have a very robust YouTube page that shows all the ways we’re working to create more income streams. You can check it out here:

How have cooperatives, partnerships, or collaborations played a role in helping farmers and agricultural workers diversify their income? Can you share any examples?

Yes, of course. We have both university partnerships and government partnerships.

In Colombia, we have a partnership with the Ministry of Science, who gives grants to do research on different areas of the circular economy and sustainable technologies.

In the EU, there are many cooperatives and universities that give a lot of money for developing circular economies or sustainable ways of producing additional incomes.

How can sustainable practices and the increasing focus on environmental conservation create new opportunities for farmers and agricultural workers to diversify their income streams?

Everything that’s wasted, we can use it and produce it again, creating it into a different thing. Instead of having one crop, you can have four different income streams. If you have a bad crop, you still have waste that you can harvest and re-purpose. A circular economy is a diverse income ecosystem.

But from coffee waste, for example, you’re producing this fermentation, and you’re disrupting the ethanol, we will also be able to extract other products of the dry material that’s there. So with that, we’re producing material for animal feed and we’re producing some fertilizers out of it. So we will be able to produce more things using the entire waste, we will be using it again on things or production of energy. We are also creating biogas out of it. So we have different things creating a truly circular economy.

We cannot and do not contaminate, and then we still use it on the systems. And we give additional value for investors.

In what ways can farmers and agricultural workers leverage their expertise and experience to offer value-added products or services, such as agritourism, farm-to-table events, or educational workshops?

When you’re a small farmer, you can offer more touristy options. If you have a cattle ranch and you can definitely bring people from the cities, and you can accommodate two or three rooms from New York on your farm, to do these things, it’s amazing, that’s good.

When you’re on the size that we are, as a company, for us it is complex, because if we want to have a farming house or like a hotel type of lodge, in a different area, we will have to have a standard, where we’ll have to take some of the people that are working for us, and have them do it. And, at the beginning, we thought about it. But it was more expensive to use our people to organize lodging for third parties. And we would not be concentrating on what we require to be, which is the production of coffee. So we decided to focus on one thing, and do it in the best way possible.

For some small growers, like in the US, tourism can be something worth doing to spread out income for single crop farmers. But we have a consistent 365-day production in Colombia so we cannot — we didn’t have the time — to work on a different lodging system or to put in an additional possibility of this type of work.

How do you foresee the role of urban farming and vertical farming in the future of agriculture, and what opportunities might these present for farmers and agricultural workers to diversify their income streams?

On the whole, urban farming is interesting. If you can give people that they can do something themselves, like lettuce, if you can do it, you should do

If you can give the people a way to produce themselves, that’s great. They feel that they’re doing something different. In Urban farming, if you can do it, you should try to do it. There definitely are a lot of future opportunities. Obviously the taste of a lettuce, produced in a new urban farm will be completely different from that produced in soils and transported.

Based on your experience and research, can you please share your “5 Ways Farmers And Agricultural Workers Diversify Their Income Streams”?

1 . Fermentation: In most cases, fermentation can create a plethora of products. For us at GCC, we ferment the excess waste from the coffee bean, the coffee cherry and pulp to make spirits and fuel grade ethanol. Start with fermentation and see what you can create, sometimes it will be compost soil, biogas or something you can use to mitigate expenses to start, but with more capital, fermentation can also create additional product lines.

2 . Byproduct development: Do some research. How can you create something from waste? We can extract other products from the other parts of the waste, from dry feed, fertilizers and animal feed. Entire waste we are reusing and getting additional revenue.

3 . Using cascara for flower breads: Using the Cascara for producing flour, for making bread. Flour bread. As a component for normal bakery, extracting protein and extracting soluble fibers out of the customers. Using the wood from the soccer, from the cuttings that we do in the trees, using that wood to generate energy. So we reduce our energy costs and do the farming systems. And we are also producing energy from solar energy, to sell it back to the grid. So we also sell energy back to the grid so that we have that additional income.

4 . Extracting fibers and protein: In coffee, we’re able to use the cascara to produce flour, for making bread. As a component for most bakeries, extracting protein and extracting soluble fibers out of the farm waste you create can diversify incomes as well.

5 . Using wood to generate energy: Using the wood from tree cuttings and tree trimmings, we can use that wood to generate energy. So we reduce our energy costs through our farming systems.

6. Selling solar energy back to the grid: Most farms are run on the sun, but warm locations where you need covered areas for handling crops, are great locations for solar panels. Any solar energy you don’t use, sell back to the grid for additional income.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I’m not sure! I love time with my family.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow us at @gcc.colombia on Instagram to see what’s happening. We’re also on LinkedIn. Follow us there.

Thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.