Nicaraguan Coffee - Page Two
In the wet hour or so I spend with him, I learn that for many of the cooperatives located in La Carona, growing coffee means time-consuming pruning and weeding with machetes, taking advantage of pulp as a natural fertilizer, ensuring ethical working conditions and practicing agriculture sans chemical inputs.
“This used to be a baseball field,” Alfredo says as he pulls down a branch to show the students a blushed cherry that’s ready to be picked. Such a statement would not arouse such oohs and aahs if not for the fact that we are standing under a grand canopy of native shade-giving trees.
Large-scale coffee farming in Nicaragua is directly tied to German immigration, spurred on by 19th century Nicaraguan governments that offered foreign interests free land in exchange for planting coffee trees.
Today, much of the coffee produced in the fertile mounds of land surrounding the Jinotega and Matagalpa regions is considered some of the big blue marble’s best specialty java.
Employing strict agricultural practices in combination with a damper growing altitude of over 3000 feet, these regions turn out bigger cherries with a more balanced maturation rate. That's the reason CECOCAFEN cooperatives have consistently won finalist places at international brewing events such as the Cup of Excellence.
“Please tell me about your profession.”
“How is the weather now?”
“Why do you not have any children?”
With light coming only from the gleam of a well-worn lantern and a sky set ablaze by an almost preternatural canopy of stars, I find myself answering such particularities of my life in Canada and chatting about the ins and outs of coffee farming with Juan Acuña - my host at La Carona.
As we engage in small talk to the wee hours of the night in his modest abode house as a hard rain turns its external ambit into a sea of mud, it’s clear that the sweat and blood of this 58 year-old congenial man whose red cap casts a half-moon shadow on his life-hardened face has been poured into a 17-acre farm nestled into Nicaragua’s northern hills.
The only thing keeping him busier than producing specialty coffee is his nine children and, as Juan puts forth, “lots of grandkids.”
Beyond Fair Trade
Fair trade does deliver many financial and environmental benefits to Nicaraguan coffee farmers like Juan, but nonetheless it still falls short in helping families meet all their financial commitments, its avowed goal.
With the world fair trade price failing to increase for the last several years and government support gone AWOL, the communities are very much interested in using the extra income from agro eco-tourism and low interest loans provided by CECOCAFEN to maintain and build roads, invest in new environmentally sustainable technologies, to educate their children and invest in health care.
I’m pleased to report that taking part in this positive project is much more than learning about the advantages of fair trade.
Tramping Coffee Style
“I don’t even know all the animals that are up there,” says Sergio Garcia Diaz, the plump and ardent coordinator of the eco-tourism project for the La Pita community speaking to myself and a delegation of students from Kentucky’s Centre University. Sergio’s harmless unfamiliarity is directed towards the fauna in the sylvan slopes towering behind him.
Within moments of tramping up these same inclines to the shade-covered coffee crops, we bear witness to such biodiversity as groups of green parrots and other feathered flyers, multi-coloured like rainbow sherbert, exchange perches overhead and elusive howler monkeys fill the air with haunting vocals.
But today their racket is being drowned out by a man draped in a black rain tarp who is filling his bronzed cheeks with the untarnished air and then setting it free into a conch shell. His purpose is to direct workers towards coffee cherries that deserve picking. I find this simple form of communication to be utterly fantastic.
“Don’t tear off the stem or no bean will grow there next year,” we are told by one of the community guides as she instructs us on the proper way to gather mature cherries from the trees.
And so for the next hour or so as the mercury continually sneaks upwards, a sweaty bunch of gringos proceed to attempt to fill their baskets tied snugly around our bellies with what looks like spilt candy. It’s humbling work. A modicum two buckets of cherries is all a group of 25 manages to collect.
Our payoff? 36 Cordoba’s or about 2 American bucks according to Sergio.
“Geez, I can’t even buy a latte at Starbucks for that,” sighs a female student in the background.
Back at lower altitudes, my host Tomasa, a shy twenty-something farmer with a prominent silver front tooth, rustles up a plate of locally grown organic kidney beans, squash, salty cheese (cuajada), and a hot-off-the-griddle corn tortilla. Perfect comestibles after a big day of muddy hiking, picking coffee and joining the local youths under a roaring sun kicking up tawny dust playing the “beautiful game” between two sets of bamboo nets surrounded by virgin forest.
Joined by her husband Vicente and son Selvin, who can’t be pried away from a handheld video game likely donated by a previous guest, the evening quickly passes as the group of us huddle in a small room chitchatting about the country’s complex political history.
On a television with surprisingly excellent reception, Van Damme is kicking around some poor gent with another Oscar-worthy performance. I am relieved that Tomasa is more interested in the pictures I have brought of loved ones back home than Jean Claude’s ripped mid-section.
In my best broken Spanish, I ask her what she likes most about living in this community. Answering my inquiry in even more fragmented English, she simply states “It happy place.”
If you are interested in visiting Nicaragua’s fair trade coffee cooperatives you can obtain information from fairtradecoffeetour.com or you can contact Felicity Butler (email) who can communicate in English.
To learn more about fair trade and to find a licensee in your neck of the words visit TransFair USA.
Visit our Matthew Kadey Page with links to all his stories
Read more GoNOMAD stories about Nicaragua
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