A Country of Contrasts

Today we were back in the big green van for another “2.5 hour” (read: 5+ hour) drive on roads destroyed by landslides to the Western side of Guatemala. It’s quite a bit different from Zacapa, it feels much more like the jungle we were expecting coming into the trip.

The road into the plantation.

We are visiting a banana/coffee multicropping plantation called Finca Santa Elena, which has been family owned since 1936. The plantation consists of 74 hectares of fertile land, which reminds Chris of the Garden of Eden. We met Abel, who happens to know a lot about growing bananas in Guatemala (a first in our interviews, and much appreciated).

This plantation uses some of its banana crop to produce dehydrated bananas (which Holly thinks taste like Fig Newtons). We are investigating the market opportunity for such a project and it might be a little dicey…

Bananas in the solar dehydrater. Anton: "It's like a banana sauna..."

We’ve had two great meals courtesy of the co-owner/manager of the plantation, Rene, and are getting as much information from Emilio as possible before we leave. Today we got his perspective on the violence in the region, and we were inspired by his commitment to the co-op’s future.

Tomorrow it’s back to Guatemala City for our final meeting before we present to CRS on Thursday!

Faces From Other Places

“Faces from other places are the most beautiful thing. We might not be able to travel to you, but you have come to us and we are grateful. We are always expecting your visit.” – Member of the Cooperativa Todos Hermanos

From left: Luis, our CRS contact, Marco, the best driver ever, and Emilio.

Holly: "I trust Marco (driver, middle) with my life."

We walked up a mountain today.

Jay: "I ran out of hair product this morning."

And then we met with a co-op member family.

Chris: "That's some good coffee. Where did you get it? Oh right over there OK."

They demonstrated their coffee mill – removing the pulp from the beans…

Eddie: "How does this work again?"

And showed us how to sort the beans by quality and size.

Dave: "Emilio. Are you trying to tell me that if I eat raw coffee cherries, my tongue will go numb?"

Group photo with El Jefe and his wife.

Kathleen: "Thank you for all the coffee! And the tortillas. and eggs. and beans. and bread. and sugar cane. and flowers. Oh, and of course 50 pounds of bananas."

Anton with half of our parting gift.

Anton: "Oh BOY this is heavy..."

Our hosts gave some of us a lift back.

Karla: "Yeah I see you Kathleen. Good Job."

Day 3 of Adventures in Zacapa – check plus.

Buenas Noches.


Wait…. coffee now?

Hola Amigos.

We began this trip focused entirely on the cultivation and sale of bananas. Our assignment is to work with the farmers of the Cooperativa Todos Hermanos in Zacapa, Guatemala, who are successfully exporting coffee, but are looking for ways to diversify their family income and provide additional food security throughout the year. Some have begun to grow bananas, but without expertise or training, they are producing less than they might. Our hope is to discover ways in which organizational management, cultivation practices, and the marketing of their products can strengthen the existing co-operative.

Though up to this point, our project has seemed well defined, by the end of the afternoon we had discovered some complicating factors. We spent the day in the office of the Bishop of Zacapa y Chiquimula speaking with various members of the co-op administration including the founder, Monsenor Bofelli, his right-hand-woman, Blanca, and the manager and agricultural specialist, Emilio. Since the co-op’s primary crop is coffee, we spent a lot of time today learning about that part.

Emilio holding a coffee bag from the co-op's first export last year.

Some new terms:

Gold coffee: dried out beans with the husk still on. Smells like hay.

Dry-mill: State of the art German machine used to clean and sort the coffee.

“Unfaithful” competition: The members of the coffee-producing economy that have some illegal side-businesses.

After a long day of interviews and a dinner debrief, we ate some mangoes. The result was… sticky….

"This... is very beautiful." -Anton