Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Grace in Nicaragua ... "Into the Mountains"

This past month, members of Grace Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas, were part of a mission team in Nicaragua, partnering with the the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Equal Exchange, getting a first-hand look at the coffee farming business in Nicaragua. The trip will provide Presbyterians who are involved or interested in fair trade to see how it works and meet face-to-face with those who grow the coffee.

Grace in Nicaragua ... "Into the Mountains"

The next day, we departed for the village of San Jeronimo. San Jeronimo is one of two villages near the top of Cantagallo, a mountain just east of Condega, and north of Managua. The region was often referred to as Canta Gallo. We were warmly greeted at the community center, by the coffee producer leaders of the San Jeronimo Cooperative. We were introduced to our host families, and also met Kimberlea Easson, a representative from Prodecoop, the secondary coop to whom the villagers deliver and sell their coffee. The adventure had begun—that night and the following 1 ½ days, we were absorbed into this community, and learned what coffee cultivating meant to these farmers and their families. We learned about dedication, perseverance, hospitality, and making do without everyday conveniences to which we are accustomed.

The families own their land and cultivate their crops together. The coffee grown here is “shade-grown”, thus the plants are interspersed with taller trees (saw many banana and plantain trees), and are organically grown, with no pesticides or herbicides. A sustainable income is earned, because the coffee is of very high quality. Erosion is prevented, due to the terracing of the plants and the lack of fields, and the water supply remains unpolluted by chemicals—and the farming families enjoy the satisfaction and independence that comes from working their own land.

Picking coffee cherries requires a hike to a mountainside, in lieu of a walk to a field. The cherries are handpicked, collected in baskets made by a local artisan from wild, bamboo-type cane, then dumped into bags for the trip back home. Once back to the village, the coffee cherries are “de-pulped” by a hand-operated grinder. The disposed of pulp is then used for compost; the coffee beans, similar to peanuts in color and size, are spread out onto screens/cloths to dry. Once dry, they are bagged and eventually sent to the secondary cooperative, where the beans will be further dried and packaged for distribution.

In the village, we saw occasional pigs, and chickens a-plenty. We later learned that some of the livestock were provided via the Heifer Project—and that CEPAD provides women with financing to purchase pigs and chickens to raise and reproduce, through their Patio Project. The women can use these animals to raise and sell, for added income—and to eat, to provide needed animal protein. The homes were very modest. Some had flooring, some did not. The kitchens had dirt floors and tended to be accessible by an outside door only. The stoves consisted of stacked cement blocks/adobe and grates, and wood is the fuel source. However crude, delicious meals came out of those kitchens—and we were reminded that hospitality is all about sharing what you do have to offer. Baths were taken outside, some more privately taken than others, and always with cold water. We gladly noted that handwashing was frequent, at our host home, even by the children.

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