by Mischa Hedges, Communications Director
Meet Jacob Long, Thanksgiving Coffee Company’s Roastmaster & Director of Quality Control.
“Growing up, my dad was a commercial salmon fishermen in the Noyo Harbor. Roasted coffee was a familiar smell, as Thanksgiving Coffee’s roastery was just up the street from where my dad worked on the boat. Becoming a coffee roaster isn’t something I thought about as a kid. But, now that I’ve been doing it for 6 years, I think it’s an incredible opportunity to work in a small Northern California town and interact with people all over the world…for instance, today I might cup coffees from Sulawesi, Indonesia, or be in contact with our partners in Nicaragua.” – Jacob Long
Jacob Long began working with us in 2007, packaging coffees for restaurants and retail stores. He took an immediate liking to the cupping and roasting process, and began hanging out with our roasting team. Three months later, he became a cupper’s assistant and began his work in the roasting room. Today, he’s our Roastmaster & Director of Quality Control – overseeing the roasting and production team, cupping each roast to ensure it’s consistent, and selecting the very best coffees from farmers and cooperatives. His palate is exceptional – he has the ability to identify nuances in the cup that are undetectable by many.
Jacob checks on a roast on our 50-year-old Barth Menado coffee roaster
“What I really love about roasting coffee is that there’s always something to look forward to. There’s new crop on its way, there’s the next roast profile to perfect…it’s an art and a science – just 1 degree of roasting, or 15-20 seconds can have a huge impact on the flavor. In order to get the best out of each coffee you’re constantly striving for perfection – it never gets boring,” says Jacob.
Last February, Jacob took his first trip to origin to meet the farmers and cooperatives we work with in Nicaragua and shared these thoughts:
“I felt like I knew the flavor of Nicaraguan coffees, but to see the faces behind those coffees created a deeper connection with the farmers. When I get samples in the mail now I think about all of the people I know that touched this coffee. I’d only seen photos of coffee processing and of the dry mills, but to see it in person it was larger than life – just miles and miles of coffee. I got to see how big a part coffee plays in the economy of a place like Nicaragua.
When cupping coffees at origin, I was able to calibrate my palate with the cooperative cuppers. It was great to find that, even though we were thousands of miles apart, we shared an appreciation and love of coffee.”
– Jacob Long
Read Jacob’s blog series about popular brewing methods:
1. Brewing 101: The French Press
2. Brewing 101: The Hario Dripper
3. Brewing 101: The Aeropress
We happy to announce that our partners at the Peace Kawomera Cooperative have just received notice that their climate change adaptation project has been approved for funding by the Dutch NGO Progreso! This exciting news comes on the heels of three years of hard work developing a community-based plan to protect coffee production, and ensure sustainable livelihoods through the diversification of income, restoration of the local ecosystem, and increasing levels of food security. With deep gratitude for the support of Progreso, the leadership of Peace Kawomera, and the support from our loyal customers, Thanksgiving Coffee would like to raise a toast to what it means to live in a world where we are all connected, and where we invest in and enjoy the rewards of shared responsibility and mutual benefit.
Please read below for a description of the project, written by Peace Kawomera’s Chief Agronomist John Bosco Birenge.
Peace Kawomera is a coffee farmer cooperative located on one of the slopes of Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda, near the city of Mbale. It is farmer owned and run by the management staff and Board of Directors. It started in 2004 dealing mainly in coffee production while selling it to their sole buyer in the USA Thanksgiving Coffee Company.
Since then, coffee production has been increasing alongside farmgate prices to cooperative members. The cooperative has begun to diversify to other cash crops like vanilla and cocoa, all of which grow as intercrops within the main coffee plantings. The farmers are now grouped into 25-member Farmer Field Groups, totaling 63 farmer groups in all.
“We thank you for purchasing our coffee. The price you pay enables us to send our children to school.” — Mrs. Florence Namaja Wabire.
Though farmers have been growing these crops, they seemed not to realize the negative effects of their other activities on the environment. In 2010 coffee production plummeted, as did food production. There is also growing awareness of the negative impacts of climate change which include increasingly unpredictable differentiation between wet and dry season, increasingly intense rains and flooding, longer and prolonged dry periods, as well as subsequent changes in the local ecosystem. Additionally, the is a growing awareness of the more localized negative impacts caused by farmers’ activities such as:
Deforestation for cooking/charcoal production
Brick making and firing
Poor disposal of wastes i.e. in water streams and bodies.
The above few mentioned activities have affected not only cash crop production but also have a huge and significant negative impact on food crops. Specifically these activities have lead to deterioration in soil fertility, and have affected water quality in the area’s watershed.
It is expected that the impacts of climate change will continue to disrupt local weather patterns, both extending dry periods and intensifying wet periods. The impact of these erratic changes in weather will make it difficult for farmers to plan and manage their farms, and it will increase the likelihood of losses due to drought, flooding and landslides, and disruptions in the normal crop cycle of coffee.
Farmers Eias Hasalube and Hakim Aziz beneath the canopy of Mr. Aziz's restored coffee farm.
Given the above, the farmers are searching for strategies they can employ to adapt to these changes without sacrificing their livelihoods. This is happening at the time when farmers are anxious to reap a lot out of their coffee due to its regaining reputation on the international scene, increasing market price and increasing differential and quality premium through the specialty coffee market and the good price from US-based Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a buyer since 2004.
The above-mentioned activities of environmental degradation are mainly driven by economic need arising from high rates of unemployment locally. Therefore, this project seeks a two-pronged strategy to increase the value and production of shade grown coffee, and interventions to fortify the ecosystem against the impacts of shifting weather by planting valuable grasses in swale formation, increasing the intercropping of strategically important shade trees in coffee plantations, and reforestation of hill tops and ridges to create a conducive micro climate for coffee. This fortified ecosystem will be better able to protect coffee from severe rains because of increased canopy cover, and will be able to reduce erosion by controlling runoff. Additionally, through the selection of appropriate shade trees, the project will increase the production of high-mulching organic matter which will improve soil quality, a critical step towards improved coffee quality and production, as well creating habitat for the biological control agents here referred to as natural enemies of the pests.
Agro forestry provides additional sources of income especially from sales of fruits from the planted trees, sale of harvested grasses from swales, sale of firewood and of seedlings from the nurseries to other communities.
Agronomist and project leader JB Birenge demonstrates simple construction of living barriers used to control erosion.
This will also reduce the gap of unemployment and improve on food security for the area’s farmers by increasing the diversity of foods immediately available to farming families. Protecting and restoring the environment will reduce the impacts of climate change, enhance biodiversity, and improve on ecological systems which are all aimed at improving coffee production and food security.
The project will be built around a package of incentives designed to facilitate and inspire quick uptake in action by individual farmers. The methodology will be driven by the established network and practice of the Farmer Field Schools. Led by the project manager, a team will create local seedling nurseries and begin the process of educating individual farmers through the FFS groups. After an 6 month period, the leading farmer in each FFS group (determined by objective pre-established criteria around tree planting, swale construction, soil and water conservation) will be given a female goat. These goats produce manure which is high in nitrogen which can be incorporated back into the fields for improved soil fertility. After an additional 6 months the next leading farmer in each FFS Group will be rewarded a goat based upon the established criteria. These goats will be expected to reproduce so as time goes on, the kids will be given out to other members who come second, i.e. responsibility will be upon farmers to know that if such a farmer`s goat kids, the offspring will be expected to be designated by the project to the next recipient farmer. This process of review and award will be conducted 4 times (6, 12, 18, and 24 months. It is estimated that the project will need to purchase 252 female goats (63 FFS Groupsx4 cycles) to get the inventive program off the ground and to a point of self-sustainability.
Nathan Watadena points to land that is targeted for reforestation and restoration.
PROBLEM STATEMENT AND GOALS
Peace Kawomera’s livelihood is coffee produced on the slopes of Mt. Elgon between 1300 – 1700 meters above sea level. They are farmers whose staple foods are cereal crops but also keep some livestock they have diversified to vanilla and of recent though faint cocoa plants. But in amidst all these, farmers have realized the effects of climate change and how it is affecting their first crop which is coffee.
A survey conducted with 12 farmer groups noted that rains come late, and are now more erratic where by the rainy and dry seasons are harsher than ever, this has made it difficult for them to cope with the increased un employment rate which has led to youths making mud bricks for money, stone quarrying, cutting trees for timber and firewood to burn bricks all these leaving coffee plants in the bare environment. Therefore, this project must protect the farmer’s livelihood. This will ensure sustainability of coffee production, food security and better understanding of the ecosystems that work hand in hand.
1 Ensure long term sustainability of coffee farming with focus on quality production.
2 Improve biodiversity
3 Improve on food security.
4 Improve on water quality (water sheds).
5 Improve on soil quality.
6 To create a sense of responsibility towards environment.
7 Educate farmers on positive and negative impact of various economic activities
Diversify economic activity and income generation through promotion of environmentally preferable activities
This article is written by Alexandra Katona-Carrol and appears in the April issue of Chronicle, the SCAA’s monthly magazine.
This year, the SCAA’s Sustainability Council is proud to showcase the 2012 Sustainability Award project winner, Responding to Climate Change: Building Community-Based Reliance. The project focuses on sustaining the production of high quality coffee in the face of climate change. It pilots a set of proactive interventions that faces the reality that some degree of climate change is inevitable, disruption of supply is likely, decreases in quality are expected and on-the-ground defenses need to be built to protect specialty coffee production.
The project is unique in that it was developed in a collaborative effort between Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a U.S.-based roaster, and the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, a long-time supplier, with the specific goal of ensuring the future viability of this successful trading relationship. The project is funded by PROGRESO, a Dutch NGO, and administered by Rwandan Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a Rwandan NGO. The collective goal is to establish a pilot project that would allow for refinement of methodology, metrics and funding strategies, which will then be replicated throughout our supply chain, and beyond.
The introduction of practices that increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of the 1,818 farms of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are a central goal. Specifically, the actions of the project create targeted defenses against projected increases in temperature, pests, irregularity in rain and drought, shortened ripening and quality loss, and the resulting loss of specialty coffee. As such, the project deploys a set of widely recognized best practices around shade intercropping, erosion control, and watershed conservation, in response to site-specific climate change risk assessments, thereby creating targeted defenses against these new threats to production.
The project’s strategy revolves around the goal of enhancing resilience: the ability of an ecosystem to withstand extremes in weather without diminishing its productive capacity. To develop this resilience, the project targets a set of interventions designed to protect topsoil by preventing erosion, decrease farm temperature by developing shade canopy, increase soil fertility by introducing nutrient-fixing trees and leaf litter, and reduce the risk of drought by increasing aquifer absorption. Broadly put, it seeks to increase the value of ecosystem services by increasing the quantity, quality, diversity, and distribution of beneficial components of the ecosystem.
To date, the project has achieved a return of one tree for every 13 cents ($23,220 / 175,542 trees). This is a high return on investment in reforestation projects and is made possible by the demand-driven methodology of the project. This return is also exceptionally secure: many reforestation efforts are successful at planting trees, but because they have been subsidized, most trees end up as firewood or fences long before they begin to offer ecosystem services. Because of the project’s focus on education, tree planting and ecological restoration in this project is driven by farmer demand for the long-term services provided by trees. The project was developed in response to concerns from the Cooperative’s members around the impact of climate change. Similar concerns are shared by farmers around the world and can serve as the starting point for replication of this project, in particular, its methodology.
Thanksgiving Coffee Company is also in the process of developing a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, The Resilience Fund, to finance similar projects throughout our supply chain. The recognition garnered by this award will strengthen the fundraising efforts of the new organization and create up to eleven additional climate change adaptation projects throughout our supply chain. Though this project will focus directly on Thanksgiving Coffee’s supply chain, the goal is to help articulate strategies that can be employed by other companies in their own supply chains. It is important to note that the trading relationships typically require less than 20% of a Cooperative’s production, so there is a large quantity of coffee available to other industry partners that will benefit from these works.
The project’s strategy integrates a demand-driven methodology that creates a set of incentives to catalyze a “race to the top” whereby farmers are seeking to implement the identified best practices. The ultimate goal is to secure the supply of great coffee for years to come, and to prove that though climate change threatens to destroy the supply of our industry’s coffee, we can invest in long-term solutions that defend farmers, their farms, and their production for years to come.
Alexandra Katona-Carroll has been in the specialty coffee industry for over five years. She has worked for SCAA and works part-time as the programs manager at CQI. She is the founder of a new company, Sensaay, which is dedicated to the promotion of specialty coffee, craft beer and fine tea.
While coffee sales tend to sag slightly in summertime, socializing increases exponentially. We love giving tours of our space, offering up great coffees to taste, walking the path that coffee takes in our warehouse from the loading dock through the roasting room and production floor, outside to the community garden planted on land we donated. Last week we had a number of visitors (some planned, some drop-ins) that represented the total spectrum of our business.
One was a longstanding customer from neighboring Lake County (he and his wife came to the coast to escape the blistering heat inland) that wanted an exact recipe for brewing coffee into his 2 cup French Press. We shared ours with him and gave him a sneak peak at our forthcoming brewing guide. Be sure to get in touch if you would like a copy of it when it’s available.
Another was from Sadao, the manager at the acclaimed San Francisco restaurant Coco500 and his partner Katie. They were excited to do side-by-side tastings of our seasonal single origin coffees. Coco500 is a great partner to us, as inspired as we are about identifying and showcasing unique characteristics in coffees and thinking about flavor profiles and pairings with seasonal food.
Kieran Smith, an engineer who was volunteering with Fair Trade Vancouver got inspired to bike from his home city in British Columbia to Santiago, Chile (he stopped and saw us along the way, three and a half weeks into a journey he expected to take 9 months in total). He was inspired to lift the veil off of Fair Trade as most consumers know it and talk about ethics in trade and sustainability along the supply chain. We drank espresso, walked around, and he took still photos and shot video of our operations. He asked questions about the cooperatives we work with around the world and how we think about and define “community empowerment”. If we ever get our hands on that video, I’ll be sure to share. In the meantime you can follow along on his blog.
Finally, we were visited by the team from Fundacion MangoMundo a new foundation committed to raising awareness about Nicaragua and connecting more folks to the beautiful arts, crafts, and agricultural products (like coffee) that Nicaragua boasts. They invited Paul to speak to a group of high school students in San Francisco about his work in Nicaragua that began in the mid-1980’s. We drank Byron’s Maracaturra, a coffee that we look forward to year after year that had just arrived from the Matagalpa region grown by an amazing farmer that we have been buying from for two decades.
Each of these visitors came with a unique interest and appreciation for our work. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the technical side – trying to help the home brewer achieve a more perfect cup. Sometimes we get wholly focused on seasonality and educating our customers about what’s fresh and where it’s coming from. Othertimes we are storytellers, focused on being a bridge between our customers and the communities where our coffee grows – talking about exciting projects on the ground and the farmers we know around the world– and some people connect with how we began, as a company committed to using coffee as a medium to get out a message about important issues by partnering with organizations doing meaningful work. We are all of these things, a relationship-focused company that for nearly 40 years has been trying to do better business.
Thank you for helping us grow and evolve and challenge ourselves. We can’t wait to celebrate 40 years with you next year!!
Adolfo Talavera, 2004.
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.
Students at the Los Alpes School, 2004.
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.
On Monday, July 5th at 9:15 pm we received a call about a fire at our building. Fire fighters were on the scene shortly after containing the blaze. It was not a small fire; the crews worked diligently until 3:00 am trying to put it out and used nearly one million gallons of water.
The Thanksgiving team arrived at the building on Tuesday morning to find it still smoldering. The smell of propane, and burnt plastic and charred wood filled the damp coastal air. It was a heartbreaking scene. But the calls were flooding in; our community extended every manner of support from office space to radio time to baked goods and lots of kind words and condolences. The question for us as we surveyed the scene was not whether this was the end of the business but rather, what would our next chapter of business look like?
After assessing the damage, our spirits were lifted when we realized that the core assets were in tact. Our warehouse that stored all of our green coffee had not been damaged and our antique roaster was also spared. We set to work to salvage all existing inventory and resurrect operations out of our warehouse next door to the burned area. By Wednesday afternoon we were getting our first orders out the door, thanks to the very accommodating folks at UPS. And by Friday we received two truckloads of fresh roasted coffee that we had contracted out to three Bay Area roasters who had extended offers of support.
The media was quick to note that the cause of the fire was declared arson. The investigators have been doing a phenomenal job and the case is still under investigation. We are asking that anyone with any information about the cause of the fire call the Mendocino County Sheriff’s tip line at 707-467-9159. We are leaving this in their very capable hands and focusing our energy on moving the business forward.
We have been truly overwhelmed by the community’s response to this event. We cannot begin to give enough thanks to the fire crews, investigators, local businesses and community members who reached out to us and made us feel loved and supported.
While it feels strange to work in the shadow of our burned out former home, there is much to be thankful for. There were a few moments last week when I stopped and took a step back to look around. Our team was working so hard to keep things moving forward, with their sights set on making this business stronger than ever. People were doing things they’d never done before, taking on roles that were new to them, and we were all working together to develop impromptu systems that would keep us afloat. We weren’t talking about it, but our hearts were in the same place and you could feel it.
We’ve been around for nearly 40 years. The road has been long and winding and not always smooth. This was certainly a sobering experience but it showed us how much we are loved and what a strong place we hold in both our local community as well the specialty coffee community.
The rebuilding process is already underway and many of us are excited about new possibilities in a new space. We are filling orders more or less on schedule, though or product offerings at this time are limited. We continue to get asked what people can do to help and at this time there is really only one thing, keep buying our coffee. And be patient with us. If a coffee you know and love isn’t available right now, try something else. You may discover a new coffee to love. Our online retail business has been delayed but this week we will begin to fill orders. In some cases you may get the exact coffee you ordered in a package that looks familiar. In other cases, we may fill your order with a similar coffee in a logoed but unlabeled bag. Again, we really appreciate your patience.
Thank you for your continued support. If you don’t already follow us on Facebook, please become a fan so we can keep you in the loop about rebuilding (and I’ll post an album with recent pictures of our first week post-fire). Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/90pIjv
It’s been a long week and it’s a long road ahead but we know this too shall pass…
As the ashes settle and the dust clears, we remain Thanksgiving Coffee Company “Not Just a Cup, But a Just Cup.”
When our party of seven arrived at the restaurant in Matagalpa for lunch on our first day in Nicaragua two weeks ago, there was Ernesto, sitting under a tree, waiting for us. He was about 30 pounds heavier then the young man I had last seen nine years ago. He is married now to his college sweetheart; they have a 10 month old baby girl, Katlynn. Ernesto traveled with us for two days, ending up on Wednesday night in Jinotega where the group was bedding down. Our hotel was just one block from where his wife was living with her parents and the baby. His job in Chinandega allowed him to see them only once every 15 days, being a three hour bus ride away and earning a salary too meagre for them to live together. Holy cow! What a painful way to be in love. But as fate would have it, I was looking for a Nicaraguan Blogger to send us reports on life in Nicaragua as seen from a Nicaraguan’s perspective. Ernesto and I struck up a deal that enabled his wife and baby to move to Chinandega to live together for the first time under the same roof. At breakfast the following morning, we all met his wife and baby. So beautiful! When I asked him what he was going to do with the rest of his day, he said, “We are packing. The bus leaves in two hours, and we will be on it together.”
So here is Ernesto’s first Blog entry. We can expect many more.
– Paul Katzeff
Hello everybody, my name is Ernesto Somarriba, I’m 34 years old, I’m Nicaraguan and of course I do live here in Nicaragua in a place named Chinandega.
Now I want to tell you my experience with the cupping labs for small coffee farmer. In 1998, I was in my third year of agriculture engineering at UNA (Universidad Nacional Agraria) in Managua. I was young at that moment without experience, at the same time I was working for a lodging house in Managua, because I have to eat and to have a place to sleep during the time I was studying engineering. This house was visited by pleople from The United States and Canada, and of course they spoke English, so I decided to learn English, I said, if I have some problems with the language, I can ask the visitors for help. I was studying English very hard, I spent about 3 or 4 hours a day.
In 2000, I received a phone call from UNAG (Union Nacinal de Agricultores y Ganaderos). The caller was Byron Corrales. He said, “there is a delegation from the United States coming this evening and we need a translator for tomorrow.” I told him that I never did that job before, but he said, “Do you want to come or not? ” I said, “Yes, I will do it, give me the address of the hotel that I have to be at and the hour.”
The next morning I went to the hotel, and then arrived Byron Corrales. I met him personally and he said, “there is one person that needs someone to help with the translation. He is a coffee buyer, his name is Paul Katzeff, and you have to do the best you can.” And I guess I did, well I think so, because they looked for me again the next time Paul came to Nicaragua, but this time I was with Paul, Byron, and the technicians. We went to Palacaguina,Yali, Jinotega, Esteli, Matagalpa, and Arajuez, where they were planning the best way to build the cupping labs. I was translating for them. They got agreement from the coffee farmers and cooperative leaders about the best construction styles for the cupping labs, and they started building them. While they were building (2000-2001) I finished my engineering degree, I got off of the project and I stated working in other things.
Nine years later I got an invitation from Paul Katzeff, to go back to see the cupping labs, and now you can see that it is a job well done. These labs work very well and the farmers take advantage of it. They are able to assess how good their coffee is, and because of that, they can improve the quality and get better prices. This means that they have better life conditions for their families because the cupping labs are useful. Now I feel proud of it because I helped in some way.
For some reason in this moment I’m working as an English teacher in a high school here in Chinandega, I have been doing this for 5 years, but in the future I have a good story to tell to my grandchildren.
More next week….
San Juan La Laguna is a Mayan village on the shores of Lake Atitlan. It was a peaceful place when I was there in 1990 but it had been a place of oppression by Guatemalan military for over a decade and you could still feel the tension. I was there looking for organic coffee, traveling with Karen Cebreros, one of the first lady green coffee importers in what was, until then, a man’s world. We visited the coffee cooperative La Voz que Calma de Desierto, meaning, the voice that cries out from the desert. Odd name for a tropics based community but later I found out that the Patron Saint of the village was Saint Juan, who came from the desert.
These two woman were just walking down the road in their special clothing woven on hand looms for thousands of years. The patterns indicate status and family identities. I returned with a contract to purchase their coffee and it was the beginning of a decade long relationship with the cooperative. We sold their coffee under the title, Mayan Harvest Coffee and rebated to them .25 cents for each pound sold. Over the decade the coop received rebates well in excess of $50,000 which was used to build their first coffee drying patio. Today La Voz is one of the sought after Guatemalan Organic Coffees and Karen Cebreros is still a green coffee buyer and importer. I took this picture after we had passed each other on the path and I realized that I had a camera and they didn’t. On my next trip to La Voz I found them and gave them each this picture.
There was a time in the history of America when a roadside café was the place to get a cup of coffee. It was a time when the taste of coffee was not judged good or bad. It was a time when coffee was just “a cup of Joe” to wash down that American breakfast of eggs scrambled, toast and home fries and three strips of bacon. Cream and sugar filled half the cup so what was there to complain about?
I plied the highway between Ft. Bragg and San Francisco every week from 1974 to 1985, first in a 1963 Chevy Panel Truck that could carry 15 sacks of coffee, and as the company grew, in a rented U Haul trucks of various sizes. I believe I made 400 round trips during that period of time. Often stopping at the Wheel Café in Cloverdale, just off Hwy 101.
It was your basic Truck Stop with local nighthawks and 18 wheel long haul truckers side by side talking about hunting, guns, government socialism, and all sorts of interesting but bizarre conspiracies. And this was in a pre 9/11 era.
One night I decided it was worth a photo. I had my tripod and Minolta camera with me so before I popped in for my 2AM “American Breakfast”, I set up my camera and took this 2 minute exposure. Nobody moved!
The photo reminds me of an Edward Hopper painting called Night Hawks and of the 70’s posters which used his painting as a concept to highlight Marlan Brando, James Dean and Maralyn Monroe. This photo reminds me of the many nights I spent on the foggy night roads with oversize loads of green coffee and a kind of fear that only overloaded night trips on country roads could bring.
The Wheel Café is no more, gone the way of the new highway that skirts the town to the east. I don’t stop there anymore!
Aranjuez, Nicaragua 1992
There were five of us under the forest canopy and each of us knew our search was over. Let me explain. Jan Eno (blue shirt on left), and I (behind the camera), were looking for the fabled great Nicaraguan coffee that had been denied U.S. coffee roasters due to the Reagan Embargo (1985-1991). Jan was Thanksgiving Coffee’s Roastmaster at the time. On the far right in the black T shirt was Roberto Vargas, a Nicaraguan who had fought in the Sandinista Revolution, came to the United States and lived in the Mission District of San Francisco, and was the creative force behind the creation of The Mission Cultural Center. I don’t exactly remember how we met, but it was he who brought me and Jan face to face with Byron Corrales and his father Arnolfo. This photo was taken on their farm. We had just completed an agreement. Byron and family would sell Thanksgiving Coffee 37,500 lbs of their family’s certified organic coffee and a similar amount of the Cooperative’s non-organic coffee. Thanksgiving Coffee would pay 50 cents over the then current world price. It was a historic moment. It would be the first Nicaraguan coffee directly imported into the United States since 1979 when the Sandinistas gained control from the Dictator Somoza. This was the picture I wanted to mark the moment.
The picture has many details that I would like to point out; we are kneeling in filtered sunlight, under coffee trees shaded by an over story of banana trees (the broad, bright green leaves behind Byron). The coffee cherries are full size but still green. It is still two months to harvest so this is September. Some of the coffee tree leaves have white spots on them, an indication of a kind of rust or mold that will need attention. Byron’s hat clearly shows the icon of the cooperative movement and in fact, at the time this photo was taken, Byron was Vice President of his cooperative, Solidaridad.
Where are these people now? Jan works as Roastmaster for the Urth Cafes of Southern California of which there are four. They are our largest “account”. Jan still lives on the Mendocino Coast and operates out of our cupping lab here in Ft Bragg. We see him every day and he is an integral part of our quality mission. Byron is a full time coffee farmer on his family farm but has become Nicaragua’s premier biodynamic and organic coffee farmer and now also heads up the Nicaraguan Government’s Organic Farming Extension Service for small and medium size farms. His father Arnolfo is still on the family farm, working as he has done for 8 decades. Roberto Vargas lives in San Antonio, Texas and is The Director of Venezuela President Hugo Chaves’ ” Heating Oil for the Poor” project. He is also one of Nicaragua’s honored poets, and I? , Well, I’m a historian waiting for the next great moment in coffee to be a part of.
(Side note: Byron grows one of the best coffees in the world. Try his exceptional Maracaturra varietal for yourself)