Cafe Campesino Guatemala Tour 2013
Photos, video and article by Scott Umstattd
In January of 2013, I had the opportunity to go with Cafe Campesino on a cooperative tour of Guatemala. Sure, we all know Cafe Campesino makes great coffee and that this great coffee is traded in a way the best serves the farmers who nurture and grow the beans, but to actually go out and meet the people in this supply chain made a tremendous difference in how I view an already superior product and business model.
The group, about ten of us depending on which day we’re talking about, arrived in Antigua, Guatemala, and soon after we began to learn more about this entire fair-trade process. We met with members of the Manos Campesinos Cooperative in Guatemala City to see how coffee beans are sorted and stored in their gigantic warehouse. An interesting note here- security at the warehouse was very tight, as there was literally millions of dollars of green coffee beans being stored. Not sure if you heard about this, but up in Canada a few months back millions of dollars of maple syrup was stolen from a warehouse. There is value in these raw commodities, so securing the beans is actually a very important thing to consider. We also learned that there is often armed security riding alongside and on the large commercial trucks that transport tons of coffee beans across Guatemala. The thought of bean security had never entered my mind prior to taking this trip. Already on day one, I was learning what it takes to make my daily cups of coffee possible. Also on day one, we had a chance to cup Guatemalan coffee. If you don’t know what cupping is all you need to do is think about how wine aficionados taste, swirl and then spit out wine into a cup to make comments like “It tastes woody with hints on berry and smoke.” or whatever wine tasters say after they spit out their wine. Cupping coffee is pretty much the same thing. People with sophisticated pallets taste the coffee and say things like, “It tastes woody with a hint of berry and smokiness.” If you’ve never cupped or seen coffee being cupped, it makes for quite a sight (and sound). You have to forcibly suck in the coffee from a spoon and this sucking sound, that allows just the right amount of air to come in with the coffee, when repeated over and over again, can be quite funny. Already, just on day one, I had learned two things.
Our group on their first day in Guatemala. Included in this picture are Faith Fuller of Desktop Documentaries; Ronnie from the Sentient Bean; Richard Haas from Earth Natural Foods in Norman, OK; Bill Harris of Cafe Campesino, Sweetwater Organic Coffee and Cooperative Coffees; David Minich and Sissy Ledbetter of Americus, Georgia; Miguel Mateo of Manos Campesinas; Mike Weaver of Sweetwater Organic Coffee and Dave Campbell of Cafe Campesino. More to come!
Our guys are off to Guatemala this week. Geoffrey, Bill, Dave, David Minich and Mike of the Sweetwater and Cafe Campesino crew are headed out, as well as our customers Ronnie from the Sentient Bean in Savannah and Richard from Earth Natural Foods in Norman, Oklahoma. Plus, a few folks from Americus- Sissy Dudley Ledbetter will be there exploring the coffeelands and hanging out a little longer to visit yoga retreats along Lake Atitlan (hopefully she’ll be rallying the troops state-side to join her on future trips!) and photographer extraordinaire Scott Umstattd and his documentarienne wife Faith Fuller will be rounding out the Americus contingent. FTW looks forward to some fantastic photos, (hopefully some wonderful videos) and some even better stories of this 2013 coffeelands travel trip. Here’s what some of our travelers have to say pre-departure:
FTW: What are you anticipating about this trip?
GH: I’m trying not to have too many anticipations. As this is my second coffee trip, I especially look forward to meeting farmers and their families and learning more about the entire process, so I can share it with my customers at music festivals and events.
FTW: How might you share your story at music festivals, and where is your next one, by the way?
GH: Stories, specifics, pictures, so I can help my customers understand what goes into growing a fine coffee. We’ll be at Aura Music Festival at the Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park in February.
Dave Campbell, customer service, order processing & purchasing, Cafe Campesino
FTW: What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming trip to Guatemala?
DC: “Volcanoes & tequila.” [insert a good laugh and a pause that involved DC shuttling orders to our production crew.] “I’m looking forward to seeing Miguel [Mateo] and Miguel [Tzoy] again- folks that I’ve met here in Americus that I’m going to get to see again at their homes. I remember Miguel Tzoy [commercial coordinator at the Chajul cooperative in El Quiche] inviting me to have a meal with his family (after he had a meal with mine in Americus when he visited in 2009). I didn’t expect necessarily for that to come true, but now I’m thinking it might. Also Miguel Mateo [of Manos Campesinas]- I went with he and Tripp to Gainesville to see Sweetwater and University of Florida, and we were roomies along the trip! It will be fun to see him again.
FTW: You’ve been eating a plant-based diet for about a year now. (and lost nearly 40lbs doing it!) Are you going to eat meat on this trip?
DC: If they’re willing to kill a chicken for me while I’m there, I’m willing to eat a little sopa de pollo.
Mike Weaver, Production Manager, Sweetwater Organic Coffee
FTW: Mike… tell us a little bit about yourself.
MW: I’m a Sagittarius…I like long walks on the beach and cold nights by the fire with a nice pinot noir. Last book read, The Godfather…
FTW: What are you looking forward to about this trip?
MW: I’m looking forward to learning the ins and outs of the production of our wonderful product and to establish long-term bonds to help tell the story of our crop-to-cup family we call our co-op.
FTW: What are you most excited about?
BH: Traveling with such a great group of Cafe Campesino and Sweetwater Organic Coffees friends and supporters. Everyone is obviously eager to learn more about the people and coffee of Guatemala.
FTW: What are you most nervous about?
BH: Nervous? Why worry? Does no good 🙂
La Fundacion Entre Mujeres is a well organized all-women’s NGO in northern Nicaragua that is committed to selling quality, Fair Trade coffee while simultaneously supporting the ideological, economic, and political empowerment of rural women. La FEM supports female empowerment through a variety of projects that include an education program that promotes literacy; a gender equality-focus in primary and secondary schools; education in alternative careers (such as sustainable development); the promotion of sexual and reproductive rights; access to health services for women; a community network of rural defenders that help stop violence; diversified and organic food production and a strategy for the economic empowerment of women. All projects are carried out under a focus of sustainable economic development for the adults and youth that these programs reach. Through such programs, women from the rural communities are able to participate and be real actors in transforming their own realities, making decisions in the development politics carried out by la FEM.
La FEM and COFFEE PRODUCTION
La FEM began in 1995 when director Diana Martinez began to organize women from rural communities in the north of Nicaragua. The initial focus of the organization was to create an autonomous space for rural women that would challenge the traditional, male-dominated model of rural development and to promote women’s rights. Access to land has always been a key aspect of FEM’s proposal, allowing women to be autonomous and individual subjects of their own development. With that, comes the need to provide adequate access to development resources such as credit, seeds, alternative technologies, infrastructure, and markets. With an overarching feminist vision, FEM participates actively in the larger Feminist Movement of Nicaragua and promotes raising consciousness on the rights of women.
Under the larger umbrella organization of La FEM are six smaller cooperatives scattered throughout the northern region of Nicaragua, which groups together around 150 women coffee farmers. These women are cultivating a total of 164 manzanas of land (about 284 acres) that focus on organic coffee production. Through their connection with La FEM, women farmers have access to trainings that will help them improve their coffee production. At a centralized location, women also have access to a large nursery full of 80,000 healthy, new, organic plants as well as organic fertilizers made with recycled materials from the nearby farms, as well as a coffee roaster and cupping lab. Each of the cooperatives contains a wet mill, where coffee is depulped before it is sent to a nearby processing facility to be dried on patios, milled, and exported. Focusing on alternative markets and being educated on the entire production chain, FEM sells their products both locally in Esteli as well as internationally. All local products are marketed under the label “Las Diosas” (goddess in English), with a symbol that represents the moon and the rain together with the women’s symbol.
EMPOWERING WOMEN FOR LOCAL SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
FEM has operated for over 15 years as an NGO, but has strives to make the cooperatives more independent from their organization, empowering women farmers so they manage not only production, but also the commercialization of their products. After years in the making, the dream of a secondary-level cooperative or a central location to organize the cooperatives and offer services is finally coming through. This effort is more important than ever now that NGOs in Central America are being hit hard by the economic crisis in Europe, which had been a resource for many NGO-led projects in the country. Especially here in Nicaragua, many NGO’s were formed in the ’90s as a response to the new neoliberal government’s defeat over the Sandinistas. Services were quickly privatized during that time, causing a surge in NGOs that came about to offer basic services to Nicaraguans. Since then, Nicaragua has counted on a steady income of financing or cooperation for development projects from Europe. These days, NGOs are seeing their support dwindling from European organizations, as their economics continue to go downhill. Many NGO’s are feeling the hit and are being forced to close down or are looking for alternatives to continue to support the communities they have been working with.
FEM’s response is to organize a secondary-level cooperative with the idea of improving facilities that already exist nearby, housing a coffee plant nursery, organic fertilizer facility, and cupping lab. The women are working to invest their social premiums from coffee sales into the development of this larger cooperative and continue to use the skills they have acquired through la FEM to work even more directly with their buyers as well as to improve production levels. The cooperatives will continue to diversify both their incomes and their food supply, not only focusing on coffee, but also the production of hibiscus flower (for wine, jams, and tea), basic grains, vegetables, and milk production. A small group of women have also been working on constructing sustainable ovens so that women can bake whole grain bread for their families and to sell at local markets.
CHANGING MALE-DOMINATED CULTURES
By having access to their own parcels of land while also participating in the Fair Trade market, women organized under La FEM have seen dramatic changes in their lives. This organization not only helps women to increase their household incomes, but it is also changes the culture of each of the communities that it reaches. By allowing women to be subjects rather than objects of their own development, they feel more empowered economically and thus are able to have more ownership over their work. Women are no longer solely dependent on partners who may not treat them well, and with their economic independence, are more likely to leave an unhealthy relationship. With their own incomes they can be more autonomous in their decision-making and benefit from an improved self-esteem. Women who have been active with la FEM have said that they have had increased confidence-levels, because they have had a comfortable space to share their opinions and ideas. This confidence has translated also into areas outside of la FEM, into public spaces such as town hall meetings or inside their homes. Daughters of these women are also beginning to think differently. They are the fruits of all of their mothers’ efforts and have learned to be more confident in their opinions and more aware of their rights as women. There’s no doubt that this work is changing the culture in which they live.
As long as consumers in the United States continue to consume their coffee, women will feel motivated to continue to move forward with better prices to invest more in their farms. Their hope is to receive higher prices to improve not only the quality of our product, but the quality of their lives as women. Connections with buyers in the US have helped farmers gain access to new information through farmer exchanges and encounters with consumers to better understand Fair Trade from both sides of the market, and also to feel that they are not alone in their struggle.
Article written for Cafe Campesino by Julia Baumgartner, who is living and working with LA FEM .
Join Cafe Campesino in supporting La FEM by purchasing their coffee online at:
Berhanu Legesse Hailemariam, deputy general manager of the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, will be at Cafe Campesino Coffee House in Americus on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 6:30 p.m. He will be joining staff members of Cooperative Coffees, North America’s only green bean importing cooperative of roasters, to discuss the coffee supply chain. The general public is encouraged to attend.
The Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union is based in Southern Ethiopia. It began representing small-scale farmers in 2001 and has grown to become the second largest coffee producing cooperative union in Ethiopia. Today, SCFCU represents 46 cooperatives and more than 80,000 people.
Cafe Campesino Coffee House and Roastery
725 Spring Street
Americus, Georgia 31709
Another busy summer is allowing me little time to write, but I wanted to make sure I shared some of the great experiences we had during Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) and the Georgia River Network’s annual river trip, Paddle Georgia.
Held June 2-9 in North Georgia, BRAG was a tough one this year for the under-trained rider. We heard many “that was a tough day” and “that last hill was killer” (Remember Dalton). I suppose that is why we made more iced mochas than ever before. Smoothies were also a big hit and a healthy way to end the ride. We couldn’t have done it without the help of Kristin who added the “Fair Trade Friend” to our week-long bracelet wearers and Samson, a professional musician who adds a classy touch to any coffeehouse.
Also thanks for John and Nicole’s help in Dalton getting us better organized for the rest of the ride and Stephan’s daily help with smoothies. Thanks to the BRAG crew for helping us with setup and logistics, and to all the riders who joined us each day for the coffee and the fun! Together we again raised funds to support the Dream Team ride, and what a great team they had this year!
After BRAG, we had a layover in Athens, where we prepared for the Georgia River Network’s Paddle Georgia trip, and Kristin put up with sleeping in a truck so she could join me on the next leg of our adventure (thank you, Kristin!). This year’s Paddle Georgia was held June 16-22 on the Altamaha River from Reidsville to Darien, in Southeast Georgia- where the gators are. Though there were few spottings of gators, the stories from the river where rich and interesting. It was great seeing all of our regular friends and meeting some new fair trade friends this year.
The addition of a photo contest near the end of the week led to some fun bantering about who would win. I’ll be glad when the winner is announced in the Fair Grounds newsletter. I know it will be a tough decision! Thanks for all the great assistance from the Paddle Georgia crew, and some great volunteers including Sebastion, our favorite helper for 3 years running.
Thanks to everyone for another great summer across Georgia!
Cozy shaded area, visible from Ga. HWY 17 in Sautee.
Front porch where “Transition Sautee” was born!
Inside the coffeehouse.
Facejugs are a folk art common to the North Georgia Mountains. These were made by artist, Don Wheatley, and are for sale inside Sweetwater Coffeehouse. See more facejugs at the Georgia Folk Pottery Museum, located right down the road from Sweetwater Coffeehouse in Sautee.
Nestled in the soft foothills of Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains sits a 19-year-old coffee house that has been dedicated to Fair Trade since its inception. Sweetwater Coffeehouse, owned and operated by Carolyn Hayes since 2008, serves up coffees, teas, good food and fellowship in Sautee, Ga., where it acts as a “third place” (first being “home” and second being “work”) for many local residents. In fact, conversations held on its front porch gave birth to “Transition Sautee,” a local initiative to make Sautee more sustainable and locally focused. Based on an international movement grounded in the principles of permaculture, “Transition Towns” work to enliven their local economies in an effort to reduce their dependency on oil and bring individuals back into community. Get a sense for how Sweetwater Coffee House faciltated these discussion by visiting in person- 2242 Georgia Hwy 17 Sautee Nacoochee, Ga. Cafe Campesino is happy to supply Sweetwater alongside longtime Fair Trade coffee roaster Thanksgiving Coffee Co., based in Fort Bragg, Ca.
Pick up the below card at one of the three participating locations & get great deals to celebrate World Fair Trade Day in Atlanta on Saturday, May 12.
This little guy is called the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Every spring, he flies 500 or more miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico to spend his summer in the Eastern U.S. & Canada. He is commonly found in Georgia and throughout the Southeast, which serve as his breeding grounds during the summer months. When he leaves in the fall, he travels to ecologically diverse forests in Mexico, Central America and South America where he can find food and habitat to spend the winter. Shade-grown coffee farms provide some of this habitat. Increasingly in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, ecologically diverse forests throughout Central and South America have been clear-cut, often to grow large fields of one crop that is meant to be produced in large volumes. Some coffee is grown this way. This type of farming destroys the ecological diversity of an area, attracts pests and requires high-inputs of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to keep crops alive. Shade-grown coffee is the opposite of that type of agriculture. It preserves ecologically diverse woodlands that provide habitat for hummingbirds (and other neo-tropical migratory birds), keeps chemicals out of coffee fields and away from farmers and local residents. It also allows the farmer to grow other trees & plants that can be revenue-generating, such as lime , cocoa, and avocado trees, or in the case of Guatemala, cardamom plants. All of the coffees used at Sweetwater and Cafe Campesino are shade-grown. Cafe Campesino is proud to have partnered with the Atlanta Audubon Society to help raise awareness about the role that shade grown coffee plays in preserving habitat for neo-tropical migratory birds. Look for the Atlanta Audubon Society‘s special blend of coffee at AAS events, or purchase it online. Cafe Campesino gives 10% off all sales of this coffee to the Atlanta Audubon Society. Join the Atlanta Audubon Society or your local Audubon group on Field Trips to learn more about birds in your area.