Coffee & More
- Check out my latest publication: An Expat Rite of Passage in Guatemala
If you, like me, wake up and immediately seek the caffeinated bliss of a cup of coffee, then you are probably aware of Guatemala’s prowess as the cream of the crop, so to speak. It’s hard not to notice the posters in latte emporiums like Starbucks and Costa Coffee, but what we often miss in those feel-good “fair trade” campaigns is that working farmers in coffee-growing countries are more often underpaid and exploited.
Suffice to say, small farmers everywhere have been struggling for what seems to be my entire lifetime. It isn’t just coffee, but corn and soy and any plethora of monopolizing agricultural empires that have undercut, patented, and lobbied the little man out of business. It’s a familiar soapbox these days, with droves and clones of films and books, an on-the-up local farmer’s market movement, and a scramble by big business to jump on the new marketing bandwagon.
In reality, despite all those posters and PR material strategically placed next to the sugar, sweeteners, and variety of cream/milk choices, to get a fair trade cup of coffee at Starbucks, a customer must specifically request it and often wait for it to be brewed (Talk about Coffee). In actuality, Starbucks has only recently increased to 10% of its coffee being fair trade, which does make it the world’s largest buyer of fair trade coffee but hardly supports the face it puts on.
For a moment, however, I’m going to climb down from the soapbox and talk about As Green As It Gets:
The inclination for those of us this kind of stuff bothers is usually to shout, maybe carry a picket sign or two, boycott like mad, and buy things that seem horribly overpriced to people who aren’t that bothered. Truthfully, this has less direct impact than what organizations like As Green As It Gets does, which is to actually provide direct assistance to farmers, artisans, and other small entrepreneurs to get their business going, sustainable, and (most importantly) profitable.
The NGO, as its name suggests, also heads up an educationally “green” and environmentally conscientious mission. As Green As It Gets provides information and classes on intercropping, organic agriculture, and forestry management to the farmers and communities it works with. It supports the production of healthy, natural cosmetics and introduces fiscally and globally useful technologies to its participants. Simply, a real hands-on effort is being made to keep the environment clean and growing while still providing us (and hard-working growers) bounties of fruit and lip balm.
As a result of the effort this NGO puts forth, many local farmers here in Guatemala (less than half-an-hour from my house), with little more than a couple of acres to cultivate, have kicked up a business, joined a cooperative, and are moving forward together. Artisans are producing their goods and have a market to sell them, including an online store hosted by As Green As It Gets. Hundreds of trees have been planted by local communities, not just volunteers from abroad, and over 20,000 seeds have been donated. It’s nice to know improvements are being made at the source.
For me, all those personal boycotts and product protests are for the greater global good, the slow ooze into the big changes. As a result, the markets have changed massively in the last three decades: I never saw organic anything as a child, wouldn’t have known the difference between fair trade and free trade in high school, and have seen recycling move from driving across town to special dumpsters to now being mandatory curbside service in some places (and ridiculously absent in others). All this stuff came about because people who cared enough persisted until more and more joined them and created a windfall.
What NGOs like As Green As It Gets do, which is so important, is include the relevant people in this fight, empowering them to make a stand themselves, giving them the tools to press on if and when their battle is won. It gives those of us bothered by this kind of stuff a chance to help build up the antithesis of that which we are trying to destroy, to make a direct positive impact rather than only combating a negative one from some unknown supermarket. As Green As It Gets is preparing all of these farmers, producers, and dreamers for the long haul and the change, an effort that I often forget when waxing political about this stuff.
I invite you all to check out the As Green As It Gets website. There are opportunities to donate towards the work, to buy products from real people (including Guatemalan coffee), and to participate in the positive, even if you don’t necessarily agree with boycotts and protests. One of the coolest things the NGO has going is sponsoring a coffee field for a motivated farmer, or if you are actually here in Antigua, there are also tours to coffee fincas and artisan workshops (profits going to help the project) for those already in the fold.
- If you haven't yet, it is time to subscribe to this blog. I'll love you even more for it.