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This report about our 2009 Just Coffee Delegation to Santa Anita was written by Matt Earley:
Just got back from visiting Santa Anita in Guatemala and there is so much to tell I don't know if I can coherently fit it into one story. I will try...
Colleen and our pal Mark beat Mike Miller and I down to the community by a day. I had planned on traveling with the first-arrivers, but my daughter's kindergarten graduation entailed a later arrival. Sr. Miller was kind enough to travel with me. After the marathon flights and a night at the fabulous Hotel Dos Lunas we hopped on a bus to Xela. In Xela we headed for a "chicken bus" to Colomba and then climbed into the back of a truck and rolled to Santa Anita.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with SA, please check out the stories about them on the site, they are one of our closest partners in this crazy coffee business. We met them in our second year when one of the community leaders walked unannounced into our tiny little office and told us the community's story. They are families of former guerrillas and veterans of the 36 year civil war that was started by the US's United Fruit Company and the CIA. They acquired an old coffee plantation, at high interest rates, from the Guatemalan government as part of the peace accords signed in 1996. They quickly learned production and moved toward the organic and fair trade markets. After a year of selling to Germany, they started working with JC. At this moment we are the only people in the world who sell their coffee.
When Mike and I walked in to the community we saw a new blue building ahead of us and made a bee line for it. Inside we were greeted by the Tufts students who make up the student group BUILD. BUILD's mission is to work with communities in other countries in order to help them reach their community development goals and to learn from them in that process. I will follow this up with another story on BUILD, but they are an extremely impressive group of young people. In the new building we found five new computers and a host of kids from the community getting one on one training on how to use them. We were greeted warmly the the BUILD students and got the low down on their project. The internet will be installed in the new computer lab any day giving the kids of SA much needed access to the You Tubes and the Facebooks. Seriously though, the ability and technology to go online will allow the people of SA to more easily communicate with others (like JC) and this will help them tremendously.
After leaving the new computer center we hooked up with Colleen and toured the new plant nursery with Rigoberto-- one of the leaders of the community. Santa Anita has received a grant from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and have technical and financial support to put in 60,000 plants in the next 3 years. The are currently grafting a very old and flavorful strain of coffee called Bourbon with a local hardy strain called Maya Robusta (not to be confused with plain old Robusta-- another type of coffee that does not taste so good) and are producing some really nice plants. We then went to see their compost project. They are currently able to produce all of the organic "abono" that they need to fertilize their plants.
The following day we met with BUILD students to discuss future collaborations. We were all very excited to think about ways that we can work together in the future. More on this in an upcoming separate article on the BUILD program.
After our platica we went with some of the BUILD students on a long hike around the ground of SA. The "farm" is basically rain forest and the community has carved a few trails for people to enjoy. We hiked to the mirador that overlooks the impressive Lacondon volcano and then down a steep path to a gorgeous waterfall where we cooled off.
Later that day we met with the directiva of the SA cooperative. We discussed price and agreed that we should raise the price this year and develop a mechanism to adjust up every year. We have been paying at least $2.00 per pound since 2005-- which the growers maintain is among the highest prices being paid in Guatemala. However, we also know that even at $2.00 per pound-- for this particular co-op-- we have not been keeping up with SA's expenses. We decided on a price of $2.10 to $2.15 per pound this year. We also confirmed that we would study the concept of a "fair price" together and see what we could figure out. The rest of our conversation focused on working even closer together to help the community reach its goals in the immediate and far out future.
The night was spent with many of us gathered in the guest house listening to one of the BUILD students read Harry Potter aloud-- a very fun activity that puts the TV to shame.
Finally, on Sunday we all awoke early to travel with the Santa Anita soccer team to another co-op 4 hours away. JC donated funds for the team uniforms and to equip the team, so we were psyched to see them play. We hopped into the back of the community pick up truck and saw the country in best possible way-- in the open air. The SA team, which included one of the BUILD students, struggled valiantly, but fell a bit short losing 4-2.
We returned to Guatemala City-- which is way underrated, by the way. The next day we visited the San Sebastian Cathedral where Bishop Gerardi was murdered by the military 2 days after the REHMI truth commission report was published. There is now a large monument in his honor.
The whole trip was incredibly fulfilling and I am very impressed with Santa Anita's level of organization and energy right now. To me, they are a true success story of real fair trade. The prices we have paid them have helped them for sure, but the solidarity network that we have built together has had a bigger impact than a decent price. The children there are being educated, they have a great communications system up and running, they have other projects to diversify away from a strict dependence on coffee, and they are improving their yield to maximize what coffee can do for the community.
Do yourself a huge favor and go with Colleen and our next delegation to Santa Anita. And of course, check out their coffee because it is most excellent.