In January, fellow Equal Exchange co-owner Laurie Foote and I were on a plane bound for Nicaragua. We were part of an Equal Exchange/Presbyterian Hunger Program Delegation, a special immersion experience focused on Fair Trade and the journey of coffee, starting at its origin. Once in Nicaragua, we would meet 11 people from congregations all over the country — some who sell and serve Equal Exchange products after church services, some who work with PCUSA, and some who were just interested in learning more about Fair Trade and coffee.
Equal Exchange and the Presbyterian Hunger Program have led more than 10 educational delegations to Nicaragua over the course of the 16-year partnership with the Presbyterian Church USA. The highlight of this trip was a two-night homestay visit to San Jeronimo, a primary coffee cooperative in Canto Gallo, Nicaragua.
In late January, many of the coffee cherries were ready for harvesting, so we were able to work alongside our farmer hosts, picking the bright red fruit from the trees and learning about planting, composting, and de-pulping. We learned from the cooperative president, Antonia Munzon, that their coffee plants had been severely affected by la roya, the coffee leaf rust fungus, but that they had been busy replanting new trees and nourishing their plants with organic compost that they were proud to show us. She told us, “We’ve been working hard… be ready for our harvest in a few years!”
After visiting the farms we stopped at PRODECOOP, the secondary level cooperative partner of Equal Exchange, where we learned about the next steps of coffee production. Beans are sun-dried on large patios then samples are roasted and cupped by professional tasters. The dried beans are stored in the warehouse in green bags to show they are organic, and some of those very beans would be bound for Equal Exchange’s roastery!
Additional learning opportunities in the realms of economic and social justice included presentations on Fair Trade vs. free trade, witnessing culture and community building programs at Batahola Norte community center in Managua, and a visit to a Fair Trade artisan craft organization, Esperanza en Accion (Hope in Action).
We also visited historical sites and learned about Nicaraguan history and the United States’ role in shaping the political landscape in the 1980’s (which had a direct connection to Equal Exchange’s very first coffee import). We also had the unique chance to visit two farmers whose farms had benefited from the year-round irrigation provided by a water capture system project, funded in part by the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Small Farmer Fund.
It was a powerful delegation that elicited a range of emotions from everyone. The appreciation that I gained for each individual coffee bean and the gratitude I left with for the hands that do the work to bring us a delicious cup of coffee is indescribable, but immense and real.
Some of the delegation participants offer their reflections on the trip below:
by Judy Brown, Grace Presbyterian, Midland, TX
A cup offered to you, to me, to us, and, from us, to others.
A cup of welcome.
A cup of invitation,
An invitation to share, to visit, to stay.
A stepping stone to a friendship, to a support system, to what matters.
A conduit for compassion, for consolation, for voicing concerns, for laughter, for sharing joy
What do you put in your cup?
Coffee, tea, water, milk, sugar, sweetener, honey?
Or sweat, hopes, dreams, determination and frustrations?
So easy for us to fill to overflowing
At the expense of those we do not see.
It can be a cup…of salvation.
Much like what God offers to all, to us, to you, to me.
A cup filled with love, intentionality, respect, conscientiousness, and empowerment.
Filled to the brim with such grace, can make a difference,
To a child, to a family, to a community.
Come join me;
A cup is waiting for you.
Video by Rev. Peggy McDonald, Presbytery of Whitewater Valley, Presbyterian Church USA
Upon returning home, Jenni Heimach, of Irvington Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, IN gave a presentation about her trip to her congregation. Jenni sells Fair Trade products after service using this fantastic home-made cabinet!
For information on similar delegation opportunities, including a trip to Nicaragua May 13-20th with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice visit: http://uucsj.org/journeys/
For information on trips with the Presbyterian Hunger Program contact Jessica.Maudlin@pcusa.org
Photos courtesy of Kimberly Rousseau, Craig Brown and Jillian Robinson.