Adolfo Talavera is a tall man with a scraggly beard and a deep, raspy voice. Listening to him talk about his gracefully choreographed organic coffee farm—the way he turns left-over coffee cherry pulp into rich organic fertilizer, sequences the planting of shade and coffee trees, or protects the source of a mountainside spring—you marvel at the joy he takes from his work, and the twinkle that it sparks in his eyes. You might also think that this joy is his dream, or the purpose of his work. But it’s not—in fact it’s just the beginning.
Talavera is the proud father of a new school in Los Alpes, Nicaragua. This school, overlooking a grassy meadow, the town, and ridge after ridge of mountainous coffee farms, is the reason Talavera does what he does. For him, and the other farmers of Cooperativa 16 de Julio, growing organic coffee is a means to an end: the health and happiness of their community.At times the dream of the new school in Los Alpes must have seemed distant, if not almost impossible. The members of 16 de Julio farm land that was redistributed in the Sandanista revolution of 1979. Through their struggle to defend themselves and their land against Contra raids, the community of Los Alpes was able to maintain their new land, and to coalesce as a cooperative.
United by this struggle, the cooperative soon faced new challenges. Formed in the early 90’s HYPROCOOP was a second-level cooperative in the department of Jinotega. HYPROCOOP coordinated the marketing and selling of its members coffee to the Fair Trade market in Europe, guaranteeing stable earnings in a time of widely fluctuating prices. But in 1995, the executive director fled the country with the cooperative’s savings, leaving the individual cooperatives and their members responsible for $720,000 in debt. “We were devastated and shamed.” remembers Talavera.The farmers regrouped and formed SOPPEXXCA in 1997. SOPPEXXCA is a second-level cooperative with over 450 members. It was created to maintain HYPROCOOP’s links to the Fair Trade market, to repay the farmer’s debt, and to facilitate the transition to organic farming. Since then, the 450 families that comprise SOPPEXCA have paid off $400,000 of their debt. But while this has meant foregoing individual earnings for the sake of financing the cooperative, it hasn’t meant foregoing Talavera’s dream of a school in Los Alpes.With SOPPEXXCA’s help, 16 de Julio coordinated grants from international donors, and with this financing, plus contributions from the cooperative, the community built a school.
Back on his farm, Talavera stands proudly in the dirt floored kitchen of his two room house. For eight years, this is where the children came to school. “Now do you want to see my farm?” he asks. Yes. To see Adolfo Talavera’s farm is to see the life’s work of a gifted farmer. It’s a chance to see how organic coffee farmers and their cooperatives are caring for the future health of their land, their communities, and their children. These are the people and places that we – AND YOU – support when we buy and sell Fair Trade and Organic coffee.
Los Alpes is one of six primary communities who together form the SOPPEXCCA Cooperative. You can taste their coffee in our Flor de Jinotega, Nicaragua coffee line.
This story was written in 2004.