He is a high school teacher, a coffee roaster and a … fig grower.
Steven Colangeli manages to combine three very distinct careers into one. He and his girlfriend Dovie Bailey own Paradiso Farm in Charlotte, which provides two of the sources of income.
Colangeli was teaching at U-32 Middle and High School and doing winter green production when he attended a Northeast Organic Farming Association winter conference on northern fig growing – which rekindled his interest in the fruit.
His Italian great-grandparents had grown figs in New Rochelle, NY. Colangeli bought his first four fig trees from an Italian florist in Boston in 2015 and, after buying a few more, he began propagating them. He is now up to 60 trees.
Initially, he sold trees at the Richmond Farmer’s Market and then added sales of the figs, themselves, at the Shelburne Farmers’ Market. For some time he also sold figs to local restaurants, but he has cut back on that.
Colangeli admits the figs are more of a passion than a money-maker, saying “figs don’t really want to grow in Vermont.” He has a regular following of fig lovers who visit him at the Shelburne Farmer’s Market, many of whom also have childhood memories of the fruit.
It was also in 2015 that Colangeli bought a home coffee roaster, in part because of boyhood memories of drinking coffee with his father after he came home from work.
Colangeli started with home brews, at one point combining the coffee with some ginger he was growing. He sold the coffee locally and after a year he bought a larger roaster and began to sell bagged coffee and maple nitro cold brew at farmer’s markets, aided by Bailey who has a background as a barista.
Coffee has given Colangeli the opportunity to collaborate with other local entrepreneurs including Frost Beer in Hinesburg and Long Trail. With the latter he has created a fig beer and he is currently working on a coffee beer using beans that are aged in bourbon barrels.
Colangeli’s other career as a science teacher, now at Middlebury Union High School, allows him to share his passions with his students. He developed a STEM class called Design, Build, Grow, which includes a unit on the engineering of coffee and features lessons on sourcing, roasting, brewing and cupping. He hopes to involve students at the Hannaford Career Center in a competition to design coffee bags.
Colangeli was a bicycle racer in college and continued racing through his 20s and 30s. These days, the 50-year-old enjoys bringing his coffee to cycling events and does some deliveries by bike. He is considering purchasing a cargo bike that will allow him to carry his coffees to locations like the Charlotte beach.
Colangeli said the coffee industry has become extremely competitive, much like the micro beer industry. He believes that what separates Paradiso Farm Coffee from his competitors is his customer service which, at times, has included door-to-door delivery.
He is also very deliberate in how he sources his coffee and is willing to pay more if he knows the farmers are receiving a livable wage.
“We’re very aware of the environmental and social impact of coffee,” he said. “We work with a farm in Nicaragua that has health care, day care and a school system for their over 200 employees.”
Colangeli hopes to continue combining his various passions. “There is some cross-over at school,” he said. “There are a lot of good careers in coffee. It’s my passion and the kids pick up on that.”