Last month, I spent a week in Guatemala at the invitation of my farming partners, David and Lillian Rodriguez, of Finca Santa Marta in the highlands of Mataquescuintla, Guatemala. They graciously invited me to be their first roaster to come to visit the farm! It was important to them that I see all the many facets of Guatemala, not just the farm where they grow the coffee. They showed me a well-rounded look into their culture by bringing me to busy cities, lake communities, and small villages, in addition to visiting their beautiful coffee plantations. It was a wonderful experience and I want to share it with you, so that we can all appreciate what a cup of coffee represents and how it gets from their farm to our cups.
Upon arrival at the airport, David and Lillian took me on a driving tour of the capitol, Guatemala City. Much like any other major city, there was some good, some bad, and some not so pretty. The congestion on the roadways was surprisingly terrible and the traffic laws are much different than they are here in the US. In some ways, it was like a flashback to my early childhood when people could ride in the back of pick-up trucks and on motorcycles without helmets.
The next morning we were on our way to Panajachel, a lakeside community along the banks of Lake Atitlan, which is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world. The lake basin is volcanic in origin and has three volcanoes on its southern flank. It is a sight to see! There are several other towns along the banks of the lake, many of which you can only access by boat. After taking a bunch of tourist photos and having some of our coffee on the pier, we hopped on a boat and headed across the lake. We hiked uphill to a vista point and saw a demonstration of how chocolate is made before taking the boat back to Panajachel.
After spending some time in the cities and at the lake, it was finally time to head up to the farm. The drive from the city to the farm is several hours long. Finca Santa Marta is on the top of the mountain, eight miles beyond the small town of Mataquescuintla. It is far from the amenities found in the city and the road to get there is rough. So rough, that the final eight miles took more than an hour to travel by SUV. There were down trees and water flooding the roadways, and when we finally made it to the farmhouse, the power was out. This is a normal occurrence for the farmers; it is their way of life. The farm workers go through all of this, regularly, just so we can enjoy a cup of coffee every morning.
Upon arrival at the farm we were greeted by three of David’s most trusted farmworkers who maintain the plantations throughout the growing season. In the dark of the night, Kennedy, Mojito, and Peter shared a traditional Guatemalan meal with us, which had been cooked on the outdoor fire pit. As we sat around the outdoor kitchen by flashlight, David translated for me. He explained to me how grateful the farmworkers were that I made the trip all the way from the US to come see their operation. They were grateful for the employment that David provides them, and for roasters like me who help make that possible. I, too, was grateful and humbled. Being there, in that moment, made everything real. Real for them – to see an actual person at the end of the direct trade supply chain, not some big exporter who doesn’t give a damn about their lives or wellbeing. Real for me – to know that conducting my business with integrity and a social purpose is actually making a difference in the lives of people, these people that were standing right in front of me, makes small business ownership worth it. Entrepreneurship is not an easy road, but in that moment, it sure felt right.
Early the next morning, my tour of the farm started with a hike through the steep and muddy terrain to the top of the plantation. Once there, Kennedy and Mojito built a campfire for us to make coffee. The views were breathtaking, and not just because of the high altitude and humidity! Traditionally, across the coffee industry, all the best coffee from each harvest gets exported to other countries where the farmers can make the best return on their investment. This means the locals or farmworkers don’t usually get to drink the “good stuff.” I wanted the farmworkers to know how much I appreciate the hard work they do year-round to cultivate such tasty coffee for me and my customers. I wanted them to experience the final product that they had put so much equity into, so I brought a bag of my dark roast, Morando, from home to share. I was so excited to enjoy a cup of coffee together – coffee that they grew and I roasted, right there at the tippy-top of the farm! It was another great moment that I will not forget.
After making coffee for everyone, my tour continued and I was able to see the future site of the guest house, cupping room, and wet mill, in addition to the animals and several different plantations on the farm. It was a steep and muddy hike, and I only managed to slip and fall into the mud once! After hiking through the coffee plants and having lunch at the farmhouse, my tour continued by SUV. David and Lillian took me to see the off-site wet mill facility that they currently use, as well as the town of Mataquescuintla. Since it is not harvest season, I unfortunately did not get to see the mill in action.
This trip was an inspiration to keep going – to keep pushing the mission. Coffee is the nectar of the gods, but it doesn’t just fall from heaven. It is through the hard work of the farmers who work in difficult conditions to cultivate it for us. These farmers and farmworkers deserve a living wage, and I’m going to continue doing my part with Unleashed Coffee to help push the coffee industry in that direction.
Join me and be the change – buy direct trade!