Todd Caspersen, Equal Exchange’s Director of Puchasing, travelled to El Salvador last week. The following is a piece he wrote about Las Colinas, a small farmer coffee co-operative that was turned over to the farmers in 1980 as part of El Salvador’s agrarian reform. Through the years, the co-op has faced many organizational, environmental, productive, and financial struggles; but despite the challenges has nevertheless succeeded in making huge advances. Their coffee remains some of our most popular to this day.
Last week I went to El Salvador to visit Las Colinas, a long time Equal Exchange partner; and I am psyched about the different projects they are working on.
I am psyched about the farm plan they have for 2010/11.
I am psyched that the soil analysis is back and informing the soil management plan.
I am psyched that they have gotten in front of the debt they got way back in 1980 as part of the agrarian reform.
I am psyched about a bunch of other stuff too but what I want to share with you today is about water.
The farm that the members of Las Colinas collectively manage contains a significant spring of high quality water, so significant in fact, that it provides water to the entire town of Tacuba and seven surrounding communities. We are easily talking about water for 15,000 people. The spring also provides irrigation water to the members for corn, beans, and vegetables. Most importantly and contentiously, it provides water for processing coffee. In the past, the coffee at Las Colinas was processed using a traditional depulper, fermentation tanks, and channels to transport coffee to the drying terraces; the water then went to sedimentation/evaporation ponds down by a stream. But that wasn’t good enough.
So, this past year they purchased a new depulper that mechanically removes the mucilage from the bean; eliminating the fermentation tanks and the need for loads of water; these are commonly known as eco-pulpers. They bought a Sarti which is made in El Salvador. Water is still part of the process and they needed to improve the treatment of the water and stop using the evaporation ponds by the stream so they installed some motors, pumps and built some new treatment tanks.
This photo shows processing water waiting for treatment in the new tanks.
This new system is impressive; water samples are being sent to a lab for analysis which have demonstrated they are successfully cleaning the water and perhaps more importantly using much less.
All of the processed water is re-circulated and sent to these tanks for treatment in the following sequence:
Step 2: Put in an additive they called polimetro; I am still waiting for the chemical name, but it’s similar to the additive used in wine-making that clarifies the wine. Once added, all of the solids in the water begin to drop to the bottom.
Here you can see the solids, lodo, settled out in a test container.
Here you can see the testing of the pH of the water after the acids have been mixed in.
Step 5: Send the wet solids to an evaporation bed for drying in preparation for composting.
This water processing project was a collaboration between Las Colinas, Apecafe (the Association of Small Coffee Producers of El Salvador), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Setem; each organization contributing in a different way. If you purchased coffee through our partnership with CRS you also have participated in this project.
I hope I didn’t bore you with the water geek-out, but this type of work exemplifies the building blocks we use to build great coffee from great sources.
I am really excited by how our relationship with Las Colinas is evolving, and the work we are doing on farm productivity and quality development. I recommend that you get a big hot cup of Las Colinas coffee and look at the farm on Google Maps or Google Earth: N 13 52.128′ W089.54.756′. Great Coffee Great Source.