Earlier in the year, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime, thanks to Kerri Goodman, to not only see coffee at origin, but to also interact with and care for those who make my morning routine cup of coffee possible. At the time, I was still burying my head in college textbooks and stressing over graduating on time. However, this trip to Costa Rica was my first trip out of the country and made me rethink my entire way of life, from the time I wake up in the morning, to the time I doze off to sleep.
For example, I no longer leave the last sip of coffee resting in the bottom of my hand-thrown mug. Rather, I make sure that I take the time to enjoy every last sip each morning, while sitting on my porch in Pennsylvania. After seeing all of the work that goes into the world’s second most valuable traded commodity (just trailing petroleum) and all of the hands that touch every single bean, I could not imagine wasting the farmer’s precious crop.
Did you know that there are over 25 million coffee farmers and workers that work hard in over 50 countries globally? Now that is a lot of people, but the fact of life is that people come and go. That is just it, there needs to be sustainability in place. I am not talking about sustaining the coffee beans itself, while that is equally important, I am talking about sustaining the farmers and their families that make the whole process possible.
Let’s Sustain the People, Not Just the Beans
While in Costa Rica at the Santa Elena Coffee Farm, I obtained a hands-on experience of what bringing the beans to the table is really all about. The coffee pickers on this farm are absolutely amazing and magically mesmerizing. Their hands touch every single bean that goes into the basket. They make sure that each cherry is at its ripest state and beautifully red in color. One green cherry can make an entire batch sour. I was eager to get my hands dirty—literally—and see what the job entailed.
When I was given my time to shine, I slung the coffee basket around my waste and tied it snuggly. A few of the others on the trip were also next to me picking. Along with us amateurs, experienced pickers helped us get the job done. When I looked down in my basket that me and a fellow teammate picked, I felt accomplished, that is until I looked up and saw that one of the pickers had picked three rows in the time that it took two of us pick two trees. It is hard work, and it is definitely not as easy as it sounds.
These coffee pickers put in hours of labor a day to take care of their families. However, third-world living is at its foremost in many of these coffee-producing countries. Many coffee farmers and coffee pickers lack the proper medical care and basic human needs, like clean water. Lack of clean water can lead to various illnesses. In fact, one out of every five deaths of children under the age of five is due to water-related disease and illnesses. However, let’s take this a step further. Many of the children of these coffee picking families do not even own a matching pair of shoes, which leads to a whole new set of bacteria-related disease.
I cannot stress how important it is that we really take care of the individuals who farm and pick this beloved beverage. These individuals are the beginning of the supply chain, and without a beginning there can be no end, which is the phase of the supply chain that most of us are habitual to—consumption.
At a first glace, they may look like ordinary individuals, but when you take a deeper look there are multiple layers to them. On the outside their fingers and faces are covered in dirt, like many farmers, from working side-by-side next to the coffee trees, often on dangerous, steep mountains. Their clothes resemble stereotypical third-world garb hand-me-downs. Most importantly, their hearts mirror beautiful people.
You see, they deserve the upmost care and attention as the rest of the world. Often, they pray for the things that we as Americans take for granted, like a warm bed at night, free of bugs and spiders. Most coffee consumers look past all of the hard work and dedication that goes into making just one cup of coffee. They do not realize that there is someone somewhere who has shed sweat, cried tears, and picked promptly those beans. They assume that coffee will be around forever, as with many other crops, like corn and wheat. But it is time for a reality check. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee—literally—and taste what it is worth.
Universally Understood Actions- Help and Love
While the 13 volunteers on the medical mission in Costa Rica were only there to help the children and their families, they did not immediately know that. At first, the children were very timid to allow us to help them. However, with a bit of time and word of mouth from the coffee pickers, they warmed up and received the care that they needed. Some of the patients were easy to treat with Pepto-Bismol for an upset stomach, while others were more difficult with ear infections. It was amazing what a little Pepto can do. While they may not have been able to understand exactly what we were saying, help and love are two universal actions that can be comprehended by all. These people, after understanding why we were there, were happy to see us every morning embraced our help. There needs to be more of this at origin.
Each and every single one of these children and their parents has their own special personalities. The way that they walk, the way that they carry themselves, the way that they stand, their personalities stood out. While yes, their clothes may be tattered from hard work; the dirt will never dull the smiles on these kids’ faces.
These children and families lack the knowledge and competence of basic human sanitation. We need to educate them and give them the knowledge that they need to better themselves. They are hard workers, and they are so good at what they do.
Do your Part and Become a Part of the Change
With all of that being said, as the editor of CoffeeTalk Magazine it is not only heartwarming to read about all of the organizations and companies that are striving to make a difference in the coffee industry, but it should also give readers a sense of honor and pride to be a part of an industry that is doing so much to make it better. However, there is always a need for more to be done and more action to be taken.
To all of the readers, I challenge you to make a difference. Pick an organization in this issue to become a part of, choose a project to sponsor, or even donate your time and effort or a monetary value to multiple projects. Stand up, recognize that there is a need for improvement at origin, and be a part of the change you want to see in your industry.