By Jenny DeWitt, Grounds for Change.
An interesting tidbit about coffee in Peru is that despite growing such an amazing product, most of it is exported and Peruvians do not enjoy much of it. Some coffee does stay within the coffee communities and this is often brewed the traditional way, with an esencia pot. The esencia pot creates a concentrate that is then blended with hot water each morning for a cup of coffee. Some restaurants will have small pitchers of concentrate on tables for patrons and then bring a mug and a pot of hot water when coffee is ordered. Our hotel in Bagua Grande offered this concentrated coffee and I was happy to finally try it at our first breakfast there. I enjoyed the concentrate and was glad to find it in some of the coffee communities we were to visit later in the week. Something about drinking coffee the way locals do made me appreciate it even more.
After fueling up with concentrated coffee, we set out to visit the communities of San Antonio and Nueva York. Our journey this day was time-consuming and slow. The roads to these communities were severely impacted by spring flooding. More than once we had to exit the bus while the driver carefully maneuvered our rig over deep, washed out sections of road or around huge holes. At one point, we approached a line of cars. After waiting for a while, our host Victor went to ask what the hold up was. Some time later he came back and explained that the road was simply closed for the day. Everyone on the road was going to have to stay on the road or turn around. Using some quick thinking, he told the construction crew that he had very important American diplomats in our bus and we had to get through that day for an important meeting. Within five minutes, we were on the road again. But the slow going made us late, and time is already a moving target in Peru.
Once we finally made it to San Antonio, we had little time to spend there which was unfortunate as our presence was highly anticipated. Our first stop was the medical center which was quiet and not in use during our visit, but it was good to see the place where families were supported by nurses and to see some of the educational stations set up for teaching hand washing and clean food preparation. Then we walked to the Early Education Center where the teachers and children were patiently waiting for us. Our group passed out candy and t-shirts. The tees were created by Cafe Femenino Foundation to make sure Cafe Femenino children have at least one nice shirt. The children lined up to accept the treats and it was really sweet to help each child into their new shirt and watch them collectively gather to experience the candy. Afterwards, the teachers spoke to us pleading for more grant money to expand the program and help more children. It was explained that the current funding period was coming to an end and they did not want to see the work they were doing vanish for these children. Hearing their message while being so near to the children was difficult.
After our goodbyes and while traveling to our next stop in Nueva York, I spoke with Marilyn Dryke (president of the Cafe Femenino Board) about San Antonio. She explained that the Foundation has been working closely with San Antonio because when the community first appeared on grant request lists, the children in the community were considered extremely malnourished, a dangerous zone for the growth and development of children. The foundation granted money for a medical center to start introducing basic hygiene to the community and to start monitoring the children from month to month. Later an Early Education Center (below) was granted and children were given lunch boxes with examples of healthy food choices for families to consider for their children’s lunches. For children to attend the center, families are required to be at meetings that further educate about healthy nutrition within the home. While great strides have been made in the area, the children in San Antonio are still considered undernourished and are in need of more support.
We arrived in Nueva York after a long, bumpy journey. After stretching our legs, we were treated to a lovely lunch of chicken, rice, beans, yucca, and chicha morada. Next, Erlita Arce, the current president for the Cafe Femenino Foundation in Peru, welcomed us. She pointed out that we were meeting in a brand new community center that was built in honor of Garth Smith, the co-founder of the Cafe Femenino Foundation. A picture of Garth hangs in the center to honor his work and devotion to this cause. The center offers a welcoming space where the community can gather for meetings, or to enjoy celebrations, communal dinners and dancing. Then we each had a chance to introduce ourselves to the group and explain our roles in promoting the work of the Peruvian coffee farmers. The farmers in attendance, both women and men, were so appreciative of our support of their work and delicious product.
Erlita then asked several women in the community to come forward with examples of handcrafts they had created. Several women from young to old stood up to proudly display their work of embroidery and crocheted items. The supplies for the crafts were purchased with a grant through the Foundation and women were taking the items to market to sell for more income. The work was lovely and their sense of accomplishment shined on their faces.
With introductions and good news shared, it was time to visit Erlita’s farm. On the way, we walked over a culvert that was a grant proposal funded by Grounds for Change in 2013. Without the culvert, the road up to the coffee fields would become impassable during heavy rain, leaving those up the hill unable to reach school or town. Erlita was very grateful to meet me as a representative from the company that had funded this project.
As we began the climb up to Erlita’s coffee fields, she stopped us along the border of her property and pointed out a large soccer field where buildings were being erected. The community was converting the soccer fields to a school complex for the children. The complex was big and impressive and still had space for outdoor play. It was nice to see more evidence of the community being lifted by the work of the cooperative system.
After walking uphill a little further, we arrived at the area where Erlita had been harvesting and we got the opportunity to walk through her coffee plants and learn more about her farm. Erlita’s coffee plants grow very tall (over 10 feet), at which time the plant would not produce as well so it was bent and tied to the ground and a new tree would grow from the base. She showed us areas where she had replanted coffee plants, and we saw plants at various stages of growth. We also learned about the trees she grew for shading the coffee which provided food for her family, like bananas. Her pride and poise made it easy to see why her community put so much faith in her as their leader.
After touring the fields, Erlita took us to her house to show us how her family dries their coffee. We climbed a set of stairs to the second floor of the house and then a narrow ladder into her attic. Once there, we were surrounded by green coffee on all sides. A single layer of coffee covered almost the entire area, aside from paths for Erlita to walk around the drying beans. Air flow was maintained because there were no walls around the attic, instead, the roof protecting the coffee was simply supported by beams. Erlita’s coffee covered the majority of the space, but her husband’s coffee did have it’s own raised platform so that it was kept separate from the Cafe Femenino coffee.
It is important to note that Cafe Femenino has increased domestic equity, even though that might not be obvious. First of all, the husbands of these women producers are very proud of their wives and often stand behind them and do not take part in conversations as the women explain their role or work. Because the women get a better price for their coffee, men are often signing the deeds of their land over to their wives so the product is eligible for Cafe Femenino designation. In addition, women are required to travel to Cafe Femenino meetings in Chiclayo while their husbands stay at home doing work traditionally done by women. The men value the womens’ work and their support is creating healthier communities.
After our tour, we were escorted back to the community center for dancing – of course! The townspeople had music playing and we were all invited to the dance floor. Erlita also demonstrated how she makes her esencia coffee and we were invited to have cold coffee which was refreshing after our walk. We were sad to leave Nueva York but the journey back to Bagua Grande would be long and we would get there very late.
Next: Day 3 >>