read more posts by

Bethany McGinnis

Love Buzz Starts Here: Reflections on a Trip to Nicaragua

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:

A Cup
by Judy Brown, Grace Presbyterian, Midland, TX

A cup.
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
In community.

What do you put in your cup?
Coffee, tea, water, milk, sugar, sweetener, honey?
Or sweat, hopes, dreams, determination and frustrations?

A cup.
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.

A cup–
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:

For information on trips with the Presbyterian Hunger Program contact


Photos courtesy of Kimberly Rousseau, Craig Brown and Jillian Robinson.

Breaking The Crust

“Breaking the crust” is a term used in coffee cupping to describe the action of using a spoon to release the true aroma and quality of coffee that has been steeping in a glass beneath a layer of frothy grounds. Reflecting back on my experience with an Equal Exchange/Presbyterian Hunger Program delegation trip to a coffee co-op in Nicaragua in early January, “breaking the crust” was exactly what the journey felt like for me. It was my first “real” travel away from my insulated life in the United States and I had the unique opportunity to reveal something that was authentic and powerful regarding the human connection between the work that I do every day at Equal Exchange and the farmers who are growing and harvesting the coffee we sell.

My sensory experiences throughout the trip were intense and meaningful at the small coffee farm we visited for three days in Dipilto, high in the mountains near the northwestern border of Nicaragua, close to Honduras. These experiences will stay with me and have opened my eyes wide to what is really inside a cup of coffee.

Scents linger – like the ever-present and comforting smell of burning wood in kitchen cooking fires, and the warm corn tortillas made by the loving hands of my homestay host mother, Doña Raina, at 4 a.m. I hear the giggles of shy children whispering about the pale strangers who had come to visit them and didn’t know many Spanish words. I hear the sound of heavy rain pelting the house as I sleep nestled in my sleeping bag – rain that doesn’t stop the work of the farmers picking and washing coffee outside all day.

I won’t easily forget the comforting flavor of savory gallo pinto, a traditional rice and beans dish in Nicaragua. the sugary squash dessert served in its hollowed out shell. The sour oranges plucked right from high in the mountains while we filled our baskets with bright red coffee cherries.

I can still see the majestic and lush mountaintops under a blanket of early morning fog. The steep mountainside with tiny coffee plants reaching up tall toward the sunlight. The variety in colors of gorgeous ripening coffee cherries that resembled grapes as I tried to pick them off of the trees the right way, without any stems. I see the expression on Doña Raina’s face while she showed me her bandaged finger, cut while slicing a tomato to make us a fresh salsa. And I see the coffee plant leaves with yellowish-brown, rust-like spots, the roya disease threatening to destroy the livelihood of the co-op farmers across Central America and into South America.

The tactile feelings are still present on my fingertips, too. The texture of the slimy mucus inside coffee cherries. The smooth, warm hands of my travel companions linked in prayer before meals.

And emotions play back in my mind. The feeling of fighting off my quickness to label something as unpleasant just because it wasn’t easy. My challenge to see the dirt under my fingernails as earth and life instead of grime. Feelings of frustration with my lack of ability to communicate with limited Spanish but also pride that I was finally able to struggle through expressing my immense gratitude to my host family.

I am still experiencing the distinct feeling in my heart that tells me I have broken the crust.