This is Tom Hanlon Wilde’s 7th and final post from Cuzco, Peru
“Oh Papi! Where’s Linda, did you bring her?” Emilio said as he greeted me with a big hug. We had dropped 300 meters down the side of the mountain to the home of Emilio and Maria Huillca. The couple had hosted Sparrow Linda Johnson for two nights in June 2001, and over the years both Emilio and Sparrow continually asked me for updates on the other.
The Huillca family has a 7 acre coffee farm just a half kilometer from the banks of the Vilcanota River in the Santa Ana district of Cuzco. When we toured the Huillca’s farm in 2001, Emilio and COCLA Organic Program Director Juan del Mar pointed out 38 different varieties of native trees on their land. We met Emilio and Maria’s son Carlos, who showed us around and pointed out the same towering tropical hardwoods we saw earlier. “That’s called montealgodon because the seed pods, when ripe, shoot out seeds in what looks like cotton. That’s the parahuilca, and there’s a motoy, you know, all the same like the chamba, cedro, matapalo, and ajuhauho. Yep, they’re all here.”
I showed the Huillca’s photos of Sparrow from last November, when she hosted a fair trade event at New Leaf Markets in Santa Cruz, which is the store she manages. And I went on to relate that she had been so sad to not make the trip but with a son starting college, it just wasn’t possible. “Well you give her a strong hug, give her two for one from Maria. And how great her son is doing so well,” Emilio said, and then turning to Eric Stromberg of the Davis Food Co-op, gave him a big hug and the two went on to talk about all that had passed since they had last seen each other ten years ago. “Now who are all our new friends?” Emilio asked, and I then introduced to the family Marie Wallace of Lifesource Natural Foods, Scott Owen of PCC Natural Markets, Kim Love and Francesca Siena of Mothers Markets, and Peter Mark Ingalls of Equal Exchange.
Later we met up with the neighbors working together in ayni, which is a Quechua word used to describe communal work sharing. Six farm families will organize, and then for one day each week, everyone from all six families will work on one farm. The next day, a second family’s farm will benefit from the labor of all, and so on through the week. This system both makes work go faster, shares expertise, and builds community. The folks working today in ayni were working on Vircro Huilarca’s farm, and in addition to the Huillcas and the Huilarcas, the families involved were from the farms of Javier Gavino, Glores Condori, Porfilio Valenzuela, and Carlos Huillca.
Our group delved into the most challenging questions on how co-operatives and fair trade work in times of high market prices. (In contrast, when world prices fall, co-operatives and fair trade preserve the market for small-scale farming families and crowd out large private plantations and corporate traders.)
“Listen, what do you think about how now the private buyers who come by will take lower quality, anything we pick really, at a good price; but the co-op wants us to deliver higher quality and we’re not getting any more?” asked Porfilio.
“Usually the price offered by private buyers might be the same as the co-op, but when you deliver to your co-op you get the reintegro (a second payment at the end of the year based on the actual selling price the co-op got for the coffee), but last year you didn’t get a reintegro, did you?” I asked back.
“No, and the co-op hasn’t even set an advance price for this coffee we’re delivering today,” replied Porfilio.
“And I don’t think they can because the market is so volatile. I haven’t even set the price for two months from now for these guys,” I added, pointing to our delegation. “Usually we give them a price and a schedule of promotions for the whole year, but with this market we don’t know how much we’ll pay you for the coffee, so they don’t know what I’m going to charge them two months from now. Once your co-op has the coffee, then we can set an export price from which you’ll get the advance. Then once I have the coffee, I’ll tell them what they’re going to pay. It’s just where we are.”
“However,” I continued, “as co-op members – you of a farmers co-operative and their shoppers as owners of consumer co-ops – we have to act as both owners and managers. If Scott (from PCC) or Eric (from Davis) buy rice and put the price too high, the members might buy from another store. Then Scott or Eric have to decide to either sell less rice or give a better price to the members. Same for you, if now you can get a better price from private buyers, then as owners you can, there’s nothing wrong with that. And acting as managers, because as members you’re both the beneficiary and the manager of your co-op, you can instruct your staff to either figure out how to survive with less volume of coffee or provide a better price. The co-ops exist to serve the members, not the other way around, right?”
“Prices for lots of the food at our co-op have gone up,” added Eric, “and the co-op does its best for members but they have to make their own choices.”
Nods of agreements and comments of “this is complicated stuff” and “it’s hard to manage, but at least prices are good and the harvest is good” followed for a few minutes until we all decided it was time to get back to work. We tromped down the path, with the Aguilayoc farmers shouting to their colleague to take us to the giant tapahuillca tree growing atop a nautral spring a few hundred meters away.
“It must be a tropical hardwood then,” noted Marie Wallace as Gavino Garces described the many uses for the tapahuillca that soared above us. This majestic tree, likely hundreds of years old, is on the farm of Carlos Huillca. Carlos farms 6 acres of land that his parents Emilio and Maria bequethed to him a few years ago. The land contains over a dozen types of native tropical trees, including tapahuillca tree, that are being preserved on the coffee farm. The older native trees soar to 50-80 feet in high. Below that canopy, the limbs of the nitrogen fixing pakai and chamba trees that had been planted provided a canopy 15-30 feet above the ground. The coffee plants thrive under that perfect balance of shade and ventilation, fertilized by the abundant leaf litter, and stood 6-10 feet high and full of fruit.
Our 10 days in Peru deepened friendships and strengthened partnerships despite the many changes that have occurred since June 2001. We suspect that if we return again 10 years from now, the giant tapahuillca tree will be the only thing unchanged.