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Presbyterian fair-trade delegation in Nicaragua

Group learns the coffee growing business from local farmers

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Fair trade delegation

Luis, a small farmer benefitting from CEPAD’s water irrigation project, funded in part by a grant from PHP, shares how the water project and training from CEPAD has allowed him to use the yard around his house to grow small gardens that produce food for him and his family. Delegation participants Tom Harton and Pat Hunter listen carefully as CEPAD staff member David Sanchez translates. Photo by Jessica Maudlin.

A group of Presbyterians got some hands on experience in coffee farming during a recent trip to Nicaragua. The eleven-member delegation, which included staff from the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP), World Mission and Equal Exchange, spent a week learning about fair trade and how the coffee is grown, processed and shipped to other countries.

“We spent three days and two nights in the mountains of Canto Gallo with the coffee farmers,” said Jessica Maudlin, associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns in PHP. “A few members of the delegation had never been to Nicaragua and weren’t familiar with Equal Exchange.”

Equal Exchange is one of the largest worker cooperatives in the United States, and the world’s largest worker-owned coffee roaster. Through its partnership with PHP, Equal Exchange is able to connect products like fair trade coffee with U.S. markets.

Among those making the trip for the first time was Craig Brown, a veterinarian from Midland, Texas, and elder at Grace Presbyterian Church.

“The reason I went was to see what fair trade coffee really means because you hear about how great it is, but I wanted to see it,” he said. “I was able to see the whole process, the benefits of extra money the farmers receive and how it goes to the community to build schools as well as social and community centers. We learned about the fair trade process of growing, making, tasting and testing as well as how they prepare to sell it.”

After traveling dirt roads to the remote farms, the delegation stayed with farmers and their families in their homes. Brown says they harvested coffee cherries and observed as the cherries went from bush to basket to co-op and then were prepared for shipment.

The Rev. José Luis Casal, who was named the new director of World Mission after the trip, also traveled with the delegation.

“The most fascinating part of this experience was the conversation after breakfast with my host, Geronimo. He and his father became Sandinista guerillas, and when the revolution triumphed, they stepped aside and returned to work in the coffee fields,” he said. “In the coffee garden, I observed Geronimo’s tough and strong hands. This time those hands were not holding a weapon or a plow, but a small plant with incredible care and love. That small plant was treated like a vulnerable and innocent child, and that’s when I discovered the real reason God took me to the mountains. I discovered in Geronimo’s hands the heart of a coffee bean.”

“We were received warmly into the community. My host is a farmer as well as a local school teacher and is always excited to have groups visit,” said Maudlin. “Most groups that come to this region are from Europe and the families are very open to sharing what they do and offering that piece of their lives to us.”

Following the on-site visits with farming families, the delegation spent the remainder of the visit learning about the history of Nicaragua and trade in the country.

Brown said he wasted little time upon his return, sharing his experiences with his congregation and selling the coffee he brought home.

“I’m a veterinarian and brought some of the coffee to the clinic, and now I have clients that are buying it,” he said. “We have sold about $1,000 worth at our church since our return. It has been a good way to promote the fair-trade coffee experience and help small farmers at the same time.”

Maudlin says that for every pound of coffee purchased through Equal Exchange, there is a 15 cent premium per pound that comes back to the Presbyterian Hunger Program through the Small Farmer Fund.

“Presbyterians have purchased coffee through the partnership with Equal Exchange allowing us to raise more than $25,000 in last the two years to fund projects in places like India, Columbia and Nicaragua,” said Maudlin. “The Presbyterian Hunger Program strongly values all people and strives to stand in solidarity with those who are trying to make ends meet. Fair trade empowers people helping themselves by honoring their effort with a fair wage, in exchange for items we need and want.”

Brown says once people understand the significance behind fair trade, it’s an easy sell.

“Our congregation knows us and knows that we have lived the experience,” he said. “We really didn’t have to do much in the way of selling. We had the coffee there and it all disappeared on the first day at church.”’

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is able to transform lives because of gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing.

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