Cooperative Coffees Executive Director Janet Utecht joined Matt Early of Just Coffee, Chris Treter of Higher Grounds and Chuck Slaughter of Heine Brothers’ Coffee on a trip to Chiapas, Mexico, to work with members of the Maya Vinic coffee producing cooperative. The trip is a part of a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program to bring technical skills to farmer cooperatives around the world and one of several that Cooperative Coffees will make this year to work with its farmer partners around the world.
During this trip, Cooperative Coffees worked with Maya Vinic members on developing a business plan and strategy for opening a coffee shop in San Cristobal – a project that has received funding from Japan - and also led training sessions in coffee roasting and espresso preparation. The group also looked at Higher Grounds’ Chiapas Water Project that aims to construct sustainable water systems in the area and made tentative plans for the Annual General Meeting of Coop Sol (part of Cooperative Coffees based in Montreal) that will be hosted by Maya Vinic in January. The January conference will attract members of coffee producing cooperatives from neighboring Latin American countries, as well as Cooperative Coffees roaster-members from the U.S and Canada.
Founded in 1999, Maya Vinic is a 500-member farmer cooperative that produces only Fair Trade and organic coffees. It operates with a respect for local language and culture and a reverence for Mother Earth and traditional forms of self government. Maya Vinic was born out of a larger pacifist movement known as “Las Abejas” that supported the Zapatista’s principles and goals but renounced its violence. “Las Abejas” became the target of paramilitary forces in 1997 when 45 members were killed while praying in a local church in what has become known as the Acteal Massacre. Today, Maya Vinic honors its community members lost in the tragedy with a tomb that bears a photograph of each of the fallen members. At the entrance of the Acteal community is also a Pillar of Shame, one of a series of statues of the same name designed by the Danish artist Jans Galschiot that depicts twisted human bodies in a triangular shaped statue. Other Galschiot-designed Pillars of Shame have been erected in Hong Kong to protest China’s 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters and in Brasilia, Brazil, to remember the 19 landless peasants who were killed by military police in the northern state of Para in 1996.