Foundation development manager recounts meeting coffee farmers and families in Peru, Part II

Editor’s note: Earlier this month, Arbor Day Foundation development manager Jared Carlson traveled to Peru to meet many of the people who grow the beans that become our award-winning shade-grown coffee. He was in Costa Rica in January to look at the potential for new sources, a trip we described here. Below is part two of Jared’s first-person account about his most recent travels. Part one ran last week here. -SB

Day Four

Did you ever wonder as a child what it would be like to be a famous musician, actor or athlete?  I always thought I would be the same person, real and down to earth, but would I really? I had a small glimpse as I visited the small town of Las Mercedes, altitude 5,400 feet.

Within a few minutes of arrival, the town became alive with activity. School teachers lined up their students in their uniforms and the whole town decided to come out for the program. Along with the people came the paparazzi….or in this case, anyone in the town who had a camera. But I learned that they were there not to take pictures of the program, but to take pictures of me.

I found out later that I was the first North American to ever visit their town. I felt very humbled to be their first real impression of the United States. To say the least, I can think of many other people that would have been a better choice, but I was grateful that I could be there in that moment.

The town of Las Mercedes produces two containers of coffee a year and we were fortunate enough to be able to purchase them this year. I was moved by their charity, friendship and how caring of a people they were. The coffee is amazing and so are the people. I hope you enjoy it.

Day Five and Six

I got up early on my last day and headed to the airport in Chiclayo.

I arrived back in Lima in the morning and made my way to the offices of our exporters. We discussed some of the problems facing farmers and how a recent co-op had been caught paper trading coffee certifications. The co-op had claimed falsely that its coffee was  rain forest certified. Acts like these only taint the name of certifications that are making a real difference for the environment and the lives of farmers.

The Foundation has built several checks and balances – including tracking receipts – into the system to make sure that we don’t run into the same issues. We also put in place a flavor profile matching system to ensure that the coffee that we ultimately receive is from the same farms. Beyond that, every crop is cupped before shipping, upon arrival in the U.S. and then again before it is shipped to the customer.

Following a whirlwind tour of Lima, I headed back to the airport to take my red-eye flight back to the United States.

Meeting these farmers in-person during this trip, I am confident that they are doing the things we want them to do for the right reasons/ I feel the same way about our suppliers and distributors too. Our farmers love their trees and forests and can name you almost every species they have on their farms. They are delighted that they can grow their coffee under the rain forest  and still provide a good living for their families. It was very energizing to think of the impact that Arbor Day Specialty coffee is having on their lives.

All photos courtesy of Jared Carlson. 

Foundation development manager recounts meeting coffee farmers and families in Peru

Editor’s note: Earlier this month, Arbor Day Foundation development manager Jared Carlson traveled to Peru to meet many of the people who grow the beans that become our award-winning shade-grown coffee. He was in Costa Rica in January to look at the potential for new sources, a trip we described here. Below is part one of Jared’s first-person account about his most recent travels. Part two will run later early next week. -SB

Day One and Two

It was still dark outside as I boarded my flight out of Lima, but the horizon was starting to lighten up with the emerging sun.

As we lifted up into the air, I caught some of my first glimpses of Lima and the surrounding area. Due to the colder waters of the Pacific Ocean and the easterly trade winds, the moisture is carried away from the city instead of inwards. The result is a city of 8 million people living in a beautiful desert.

I arrived in Chiclayo to a small regional airport. I had rented a truck with a driver and quickly headed towards the Andes Mountains. Winding our way up through the mountain passes and above the cloud level, I saw surreal views and some interesting local customs. After six hours of traveling, we arrived in the city of Jaen, where I toured a new processing plant in the final weeks of completion and met with our co-op to discuss past performance and future goals. It was uplifting to see the passion that they have as stewards of the land.

Day Three

The day began at 6am with a short trip back towards the town of Chiclayo and then a trek off the paved road to get to the farm of the Vera family.

To reach the farm, we had to hike up the side of the mountain. After 45 minutes and my calves burning, I realized why they had brought the pack animals.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Luis Vera (pictured above) and his family, who were to be our hosts for the day. There were also other farmers from the region that had come in for a committee meeting.

The main part of the harvest had already taken place, but I still had arrived early enough to catch the final harvest. The farmers were so proud of their shade trees and made sure that they pointed out and named all the species.

The farms are a shining example of how to work within the environment to produce crops. Not only were they growing coffee, but they had pineapple, mango, oranges, plantains, bananas and limes to help feed themselves during the months between harvests.

After walking through the farms, we decided to hike to a nearby waterfall. While “nearby” actually constituted an hour of hiking, I was thrilled to get the exercise in such a paradise. We crossed a handful of small streams along the way and saw many different species of birds. Once we arrived, the view was breathtaking. Imagine what a waterfall in the jungles of Peru looks like… and that is exactly how it appeared. Water cascaded down the rocks into a nice shimmering pool below, bringing with it a refreshing mist.

Later in the day, we audited the books to verify where the money had been spent and the money paid to the workers. The numbers vary from farmer to farmer, but we do have several requirements that need to be monitored and verified on multiple levels. We make a lot of claims about what our coffee represents and this is a part that we take very seriously.

One of the requirements is that all of the workers on the farms are required to be paid at least minimum wage, which is 15 soles a day. At the farms I observed, workers were paid 25 soles a day, or roughly 67 percent higher than minimum wage. (This is the worker on the farm, not the farmer himself, who also typically picks and processes the beans). They are also required to pay men and women the same amount for their labor, and all workers have to have access to health care.

Although we think it is a given, they are also required to provide potable drinking water for the workers and cannot require them to work over eight hours a day, which includes at least a 30 minute break.

We also require farmers to protect the surrounding water supplies, as well as to replant in areas that have been cut down or burned. They are prohibited from cutting down or burning any existing forests. Education is critical to these requirements being met.

Overall, the farms I visited hover between 10 to 12 percent of their gross sales going toward education. They also spend another 10 to 12 percent of their gross sales to improve infrastructure and better the living conditions for their workers.

Children greet Jared with signs reading "welcome to the Arbor Day delegation" and "we care for our forests." All photos courtesy of Jared Carlson.