Editor’s note: The following is from the newsletter published by the Catholic Mission in San Luis Toliman, Guatemala and it describes the history of communal coffee growing in that part of the world. See images at end of this blog.
Fall is upon us! In San Lucas there is a hum of activity as local farmers prepare for harvest time!! As the people say, the happy season is drawing near!! A time when more work is available and more families can find work! They look forward to having a means to provide for their families. Mr. Edy Morales, our coffee project coordinator, commented, “The coffee program is extremely important to the people of San Lucas.
“The Juan-Ana Café Program started in 1992. [The late] Catholic Priest Fr. Greg [Schaffer] noticed that the street value of coffee was very low. Coffee buyers were paying $8 to $10 for a 100-pounds of ripe coffee,” said Edy.
“JuanAna Café started as an experiment, just buying from 6 families and roasting coffee over an open fire. Fr. Greg’s objective was to help families by purchasing their coffee for a higher price; he started paying $26 per 100-pounds of ripe coffee. This was a huge difference compared to the street price. We continue purchasing ripe coffee above the street value as a way to help small coffee producers.”
Coffee is grown throughout the country, especially in the highlands where the rich volcanic soil and the elevation are ideal. Coffee is one of the primary crops in Guatemala, along with corn and sugarcane. Coffee is extremely important because it provides economic support to families.
One coffee producer and father told Edy that he dedicates himself to working the land and his coffee because he must make the income generated from the coffee harvest cover the expenses of his family over the course of the year. Edy explained, “The biggest difference between our coffee and that of other fincas (farms) is the higher quality of our coffee. First, we do not use chemicals to promote coffee plant growth. Many finca owners use want to produce a product quickly so they use chemicals but as a result the coffee plant suffers greatly in the process,” he said.
Edy continues, “The coffee in the San Lucas area, however, is of better quality because of the perfect elevation of 5,000 – 6,000 feet, its rich volcanic soil, warm sunny days and cool nights, all needed for rich, tasty coffee, compared to most of the plantations that sit at the lower altitude, with warmer temperatures and soil that is less rich.”
“In terms of the income for families, those who go out and pick on a plantation are paid a daily wage of $6 to $10 for 8 hours of picking. They don’t get the profit of selling the ripe coffee; they turn it in and the plantation owners are the ones that make large profits. Where as we buy the ripe coffee directly from the small producers at a higher price,” Edy said.
“Since I started working at the mission, I have enjoyed working with coffee. What I enjoy most is that coffee is not simple; it’s a very delicate process from caring for the plant all the way to exportation. In our coffee program we have a complete chain from plant to export and that is something we are very proud of it. Those who work here are grateful to be a part of this program and continue to learn about coffee and improving our products. We are dedicated to producing a high quality coffee and continuing to support the small producers,” he said.
Edy points out, “The only real requirement to sell coffee to us is that the families are owners of their own land, whether it’s just one cuerda or ten (1 cuerda is an area of about 1/5 of an acre). Of course we also require that they sell us only their highest quality beans. What we’ve found is that those who participate in the program also take great pride in their products, bringing the best of their harvests to us.”
“Since the program began we have bought from hundreds of different families. However the number of families we buy from annually depends on the overall quantity of the harvest and how much each family produces as well as the demand for our coffee in the US. During the 2015 harvest (January to March), we bought coffee from a large number of families,” he said.
According to Edy, “The coffee processing area has improved a lot in the last few years. We increased the area of drying patios and updated the processing equipment. Also, in 2011 we began raising and selling coffee seedlings at a very low price to help the small coffee producers that lost many precious plants during the mudslide and to the fungus. I hope that the program keeps growing so that we can help more families through the purchase of their high quality coffee.”
“The most important way people can help these small farmers is, for example, by buying Juan-Ana coffee,” Edy insists. “By buying a pound of Juan-Ana Café, you are giving value to the product, the work of the families and the work of our mission employees throughout the process. You are also supporting the San Lucas Mission so we can continue helping more people. Without your help in purchasing Juan Ana Coffee, many families would be without the significant income from their coffee harvest that they are so dependent on.”
VISIT WITH THREE FAMILIES.
Edy added, “three families that benefit from our program spoke to us about the value of the program to them. (1.) Nicolas Coroxón, age 62, has a family of eight, with 6 children ranging in ages 20 to 36 years. He lives in San Lucas but originally came from Pampojila, a nearby finca. Nicolas currently supports himself and his family by working his land.
Nicolas shared “I don’t remember exactly how many years I’ve been in the program, maybe 20 years. Being a part of the program has helped me because the Mission pays much more and that helped us to save up money. With this money I was able to buy additional land and plant more coffee plants. I was a good friend of Fr. Greg and worked a lot with him on the Granja, (the mission experimental farm.) I entered the program about 2 or 3 years after it started.”
(2). Daniel Alfonso Jacinto has a family of 10 with 8 children ranging in ages 9 to 18 years old. He and his family currently live in San Lucas. A construction accident a few years ago left Daniel unable to work as hard as he used to, but still gets along with crutches much of the time. “This will be my third year working with the Juan-Ana Café,” Daniel said, “I currently have 9 cuerdas of land where I have coffee planted. It is good to work one’s own land. Since my accident, it has helped so much to be a part of the Mission’s program because they pay much more for my coffee.”
(3.) Margarito López Cuj has a family of 6, with 4 children. Three of his children are married and one is still living at home while finishing up her schooling. He and his family live in the community of Pampojila. Margarito shared, “I started to sell my coffee to the Mission the first year Fr. Greg started the program. Back then everything was done by hand. I currently work on my land. I plant both corn and coffee - the corn for personal consumption (tortillas, etc.) and the coffee to sell. I am thankful to be a part of this program because it helped us pay for the studies of my kids to help them continue on.”
The harvest season is truly a joyful season in San Lucas. Coffee is an extremely valuable asset for those that have it, those that can help others with the harvest and for those of us that like to drink it. The Friends of San Lucas want to spread the joy of this season to all of you by offering a harvest promotion for our coffee buyers. For details contact the growers support group at:
Friends of San Lucas
4679 Cambridge Drive
Eagan, MN 55122
Mission Activities and Communications Coordinator
San Lucas Tolimán
Phone: +(502) 7722 – 0112
IMAGES FROM SAN LUCAS TOLIMAN: