The following reflection comes from Susan Sklar, Interfaith Program Manager
Picture this: a tree full of a dozen chickens and roosters in branches laden with oranges against a brilliant star lit sky. This tree stood in the barnyard of a farm where a group of five women from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Equal Exchange delegation spent two nights this past January. It was one of our first sights at Luis and Elsa Castillo’s farm in Boaco, Nicaragua; and for me it’s an image that captures the beauty and tranquility that we found there.
The five of us were part of a fifteen member delegation to Nicaragua, visiting a primary co-operative called El Tesoro in Boaco. We had just made our way in the dark up the mountain using flashlights to avoid stumbling over rocks and tree roots. To our intermittent question, “ Donde esta tu casa, senor?” (Where is your house, sir?) Luis Castillo, answered repeatedly, “ Muy muy cerca.” (Very very close) something we soon stopped believing. The trip up the mountain was an adventure that lasted over an hour.
The five delegation members who made the climb: Melanie Hardison, PC(USA), Susan Sklar EE, Cari Senefsky EE, Kate Hopta from OH, and Cindy Shepherd from IL
When we finally reached the top of the mountain– both exhausted and relieved– the farm was inspiring. The excited Castillo family welcomed us with open arms. Elsa fixed us generous plates of tortillas, chicken stew, rice, and cheese which she had cooked over a wood fire stove. There was no running water or refrigeration; the kitchen had a dirt floor; there were only a few electrical lights; but it felt like home. That night the five of us accepted accommodations in the family’s small bedroom while they found spots for themselves in other parts of the house. (more…)
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Get up early in the morning before the family awakens. Collect the firewood. Light the stove. Grind the corn that you prepared the night before and start making the pile of tortillas that will accompany your family’s meals throughout the day. The fire is burning, the beans are cooking… and the smoke is filling the kitchen, as well as your lungs…
Most of us don’t think too much before we light up our stoves in preparation for cooking a meal. Yet, unfortunately, this daily activity which nourishes our bodies and brings families and communities together, can also severely impact the health of rural women in the Global South. The quantity of smoke they’re breathing and the amount of time they spend in their kitchens adds up over the course of a lifetime. In fact, respiratory illnesses are one of the most common maladies that afflict the rural poor in Central America.
It’s not just the health of women that suffers through this manner of cooking, however. As you can see from the photos above, it also takes a lot of firewood to keep temperatures hot. The constant gathering of ever more firewood is not only an exhaustive chore, but is also one of the primary causes of deforestation in the countryside. Ultimately deforestation causes a host of other environmental problems, such as soil erosion, decreased rainfall and water yields, as well as loss of wildlife habitat. We now know that the rapid rate at which we’re destroying our forests is contributing to global climate change and more severe and more frequent natural disasters.
But in Boaco, Nicaragua, the Tierra Nueva Union of Co-operatives is changing all this. “We have to reduce our firewood consumption. The biggest drain on the forest is the need for firewood, so we’re going to help our members acquire new fuel-efficient stoves that will eliminate the need to cut down so much wood,” explains Pedro Rojas, president of Tierra Nueva. (more…)
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Coffee grows best under a canopy of shade. By keeping their coffee farms well-forested, as well as by practicing sustainable farming methods, our producer partners are doing their part for the environment: reducing soil erosion, increasing soil fertility, maintaining habitat for wildlife and migratory songbirds, protecting water sources, and much, much more…
Unfortunately, when visiting our co-operative partners, regardless of which country we’re in, landscapes like the one below are becoming all too common. Here’s a familiar scene from our trip last week to Nicaragua:
But, there’s also a lot being done in farming communities to protect and restore the environment that keeps us hopeful.
Here’s a photo of Marvin Tonico’s farm in the community of Filas Verdes. He is a member of Fuente de Oro (Fountain of Gold), one of eight organic coffee co-operatives that are affiliated through the Tierra Nueva (New Land) Union of Cooperatives located in Boaco and Matagalpa.
You can see the row of coffee in the background, the different species of shade trees above. In the foreground are the “live barriers”, rows of plants used to prevent soil erosion.
Here’s another photo of young coffee bushes planted under the shade canopy:
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“Leading a business with your ideals? You must be crazy.”
That’s what Angela Vendetti and her business partner, Jill Fink, heard when they started dreaming about opening Mugshots Café in Philadelphia. “When we were writing our business plan and trying to get Mugshots open, people told us we were crazy for putting our ideals before business sense,” Vendetti explained to John Steele in the Philadelphia Weekly‘s recent article on Mugshots.
Angela has heard this before. She heard it firsthand when we took her and six other Equal Exchange enthusiasts on a trip to Nicaragua to visit our coffee co-operative partner CECOCAFEN in 2005. Pedro Haslam, the former General Manager who has since been elected to the Nicaraguan Senate (but remains President of the Board of CECOCAFEN) let her know she was not alone. “We are a business with a social mission,” he told us in a meeting in Matagalpa. “Unlike traditional businesses we are not motivated by profit for profit sake, but our goal is to provide the highest quality coffee and the highest quality of relationships with our importer partners so as to provide the highest quality of life for our co-op members. People told us we were crazy when we started, but we’re very proud of our accomplishments.” (more…)
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