Archive for June, 2011

The following is the 4th part in Tom Hanlon Wilde’s series of posts from Cuzco, Peru

Scott Owen of PCC at Aguilayoc Co-op

Eric Stromberg, like the rest of our group, was walking the last half-mile of the road to the Aguilayoc Co-operative in Cusco, Peru. During the 32-plus hours it took to travel from his home in Davis, California, to the same farmers’ co-operative he visited in 2001, he told us the story about learning how to make his favorite salsa. The salsa had been such a hit at Eric’s house that he’s made it monthly for over 10 years now. In 1999, Juana Pezo Suero, a farmer member of Aguilayoc, , had visited him and his family in the U.S. and taught him this recipe:

1 cup fresh ground peanuts

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped finely

3 tablespoons water

2 aji (or any small hot pepper)

Remove seeds from hot peppers. Blend peanuts and water in blender until creamy, add cilantro and pepper. Serve as a condiment on boiled potatoes, chicken or salad.

Amazingly, as we’re walking the last steps to the co-op, we hear a motorcycle and turn around to find Juana perched on the back of the motorcycle holding — yep, you guessed it — a container full of the magic peanut-cilantro-hot pepper salsa! What a happy, special delivery.

Scott Owen, Tom Wilde, and Roberto Pezo, son of Juana Pezo Suero depulping coffee cherries

So we all hugged hello, introduced Juana to the other travelers, and caught up on the years gone by. Eric’s girls are greatly grown up — one now 10 years old and the other is fourteen. Juana’s kids are doing great. Her eldest son Roberto, who was hoping to study to be a teacher when we visited 10 years ago, has been an elementary school teacher for the past 4 years. Heleh, her eldest daughter, has a great husband and three beautiful children. Her youngest daughter Vanessa also became a teacher, but is now working at a better paying job as a notary. And the little 7 year old boy Miguel we knew in 2001 was none other than the young man who drove the motorcycle that brought Juana to us.

We were welcomed to lunch at the house of Enrique Mellado, who was Eric’s host ten years ago. “Where are the turkeys?” asked Eric right away, remembering that a decade ago someone had rustled Enrique’s flock a few weeks before our arrival. “Right here,” replied Enrique, throwing open the door of an immense turkey coop. “I keep them locked up at night now!” explained Enrique, stepping back to let out the 8 huge and beautiful birds that proceeded to parade across the patio.

After lunch we continued “Now a wheel barrrow is something I know how to use,” said Scott Owen of PCC, wheeling the de-pulped and washed coffee out onto the drying patio. From there Peter Mark, who works for the co-operative Equal Exchange, and Sergio, who works for the co-operative Aguilayoc, spread the pergamino coffee into a half-inch thick layer of coffee to leave it to dry. “With the weather like this,” continued Sergio, “this coffee will dry in 18-24 hours.” The staff agronomist, Mario Aguirre, chimed in, “The optimum humidity for coffee to ship is 12%, so that’s what we deliver to the warehouse for export. In contrast, those private buyers will take in coffee at up to 20% humidity, which ruins the quality because wet beans are susceptible to mold. These members only deliver quality coffee.”

The quality of the coffee grown by Aguilayoc members was visible. In front of us stretched a soccer-field-sized spread of gold from the color of the husks on the perfectly uniform coffee beans. We were anxious to get into the field to work side-by-side with the farmers. But we had no fear of missing it. “Tomorrow, you’ll harvest at my cousins field,” Paulina Medina said as she handed out glasses of chicha, “and don’t worry because he has LOTS of coffee on the trees and there aren’t enough people to harvest it. You’ll have to pick a full sack (about 200 pounds) of coffee cherries.”

Tom Wilde, Marie Wallace, and Gavino Garces at 1 of 38 native trees on Emilio Huillca's farm

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The following was sent to us from Tom Hanlon Wilde, West Coast Sales Manager, during his visit to Peru and is the third part in the series.

Delegates at COCLA coffeehouse, Malaga Pass

We arrived in Cuzco, known in Inca legends as the Bellybutton of the World and a city which sits at an elevation over two miles high. Suffering from the high altitude and gasping for oxygen in the thin air, we staggered our way to COCLA’s coffeehouse for a great cup of joe.

COCLA’s coffeehouse has become a well-visited place in this town, which receives more visitors each year than any other South American city. In the 1990’s, the tiny storefront south of Plaza San Francisco, about four blocks from Cuzco’s central plaza, offered little more than a few dusty bags of coffee and boxes of tea during the sporadic hours it was open. A decade ago, as COCLA began to win back members due to their strong farming training programs and their efficient operation, the co-op decided to invest in their Cuzco location.

At first, COCLA simply made the hours more regular and began to offer all the farmers’ produce. Later, tables and chairs were set out to welcome guests and coffee and tea was brewed to order. Then, in 2003, a new micro-roasting operation was set up in the corner, and the delicious aroma of fresh-roasted coffee wafted out the door and brought in the visitors. Now on an average day, the storefront that used to sell just a few packages of food each day sells 200 of cups of coffee and dozens of pounds of coffee, tea, and cacao.

We won’t get to savor our drinks too long today, however, because we need to get on the road to drive into the jungle. The road climbs out of the dizzying heights of Cuzco and drops into a valley to follow the mighty Urubamba River. We’ll pass the 20,000-foot high Mount Salkatay and then climb through the super steep Malaga Pass. Last time our group suffered from some serious altitude and motion sickness on the white-knuckle switchbacks at the pass. Wish us luck this time!

Through the Malaga Pass we arrive at what locals call the Eyebrow of the Jungle, that easternmost ridge of the Andes that descends into the Amazon jungle. The town of Quillabamba (Quechua for Plains of the Moon) serves as the agricultural center for the valleys of Vares and La Concepcion, which are two of the most fertile and progressive farming regions in all of Peru.

It was in these valleys that some of the first sharecroppers organized themselves into unions against exploitative plantation owners. Those union activists were leading voices for land reform and became leaders of their co-operatives in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In this area, it is common to meet farmers who are known nationally for fighting for the rights of farm workers or for their work pioneering organic agriculture.

The co-operative movement in Peru dates back to the 1960s when the government passed an agrarian reform program allowing for the creation of co-operatives. Farm worker union members soon found themselves as the owners of coffee growing lands once belonging to their patrons. At the time, middle level traders were taking coffee on consignment, thereby leaving the farmers with no guarantee of receiving a fair price. Looking for a way to sell their crops without being subject to the caprice of these intermediaries, the workers began forming co-operatives.

Seven coffee co-operatives, consisting solely of producers in the two valleys of La Convención and Lares, decided to unite their efforts by establishing a “second level” or marketing cooperative. From this effort, the Agrarian Co-operativs of La Convención and Lares,Ltd. #281, was formed on July 26th, 1967. On September 3, 1991, the by-laws were altered and the name was changed to the Agrarian Coffee Co-operative, Ltd. #281, also known by the acronym COCLA. The new by-laws were established by the seven founding co-operatives, which later integrated other co-operatives.

Initially the co-operative provided warehousing services, processing, insurance, and accounting services. Later, a Coffee Sales and Financing service was added. Other services which followed soon afterward included business management training, agricultural extension services, and co-operative organizational development assistance.

Today, COCLA is an organization on the cutting edge of the national coffee industry and the co-operative movement, and is becoming stronger socially, economically, and technically. In its efforts to achieve social change, COCLA integrates 8000 small scale farming families in the valleys of La Convención and Yanatile. Sister co-operatives in the other areas of Ayacucho, Puno, Huánuco, and Cajamarca also use the services of COCLA.

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