TELEPORTACION! Nicaragua Source Trip (2016)

by Albert Draper

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NICARAGUA SOURCE TRIP
by Albert Draper

I am back from the most incredible trip I have ever been on. I had the distinct honour and privilege of being able to go on a Keurig Green Mountain source trip to Nicaragua. It is surely impossible to encapsulate the journey with words, such was the level of immersion, emotion and intensity I felt. Every square inch of the country, and every moment of the trip exuded knowledge, beauty and perspective. Furthermore, the experience was amplified by our amazing group of employees, each of them bringing their own insight and personalities into a team that gelled from day one.

I will firstly discuss the impact of the trip. As each day passes since arriving back home, the trip replays in vivid detail, and a feeling continues to build in intensity. There are countless thousands of people at the source, each of them working extremely hard every day, across many different facets of the business. They are the pillars upon which our beverage experience is built upon. They are people with hopes, dreams and love, just like you and I. The economic disparity that farmers face, despite holding up these pillars, breaks my heart. And yet, with a humble smile, they would grant us the same generosity and hospitality as our own families would. Being able to learn about the people, and the profound complexity of how much work goes into the whole process has made me feel very inspired to spread the word, and educate others about what I experienced. The growing feeling I mentioned has to do with the profound emotions experienced in Nicaragua. The emotions arose throughout the journey, and continue to grow stronger; they come from the perspective I attained there. The terms “have” and “have-not” have real meaning to me now, as opposed to some two dimensional descriptor. My eyes were opened not only on a human level, but also on an industry level. The staggeringly complex process of farming, quality control, and sorting can scarcely be conveyed in a short paragraph. It was truly humbling. I must therefore make it my personal mission to relay what I learned to as many people as possible in my life. As an account representative at Van Houtte Coffee Service, I am front facing with customers. It is imperative that I inform and educate customers on the entirety of the scope that allows for their delicious cup of coffee. Keurig Green Mountain’s purpose statement: We create the ultimate beverage experience in every life we touch from source to cup – transforming the way the world understands business. I have embraced this statement, and the words resonate very powerfully with me. I will work hard to transform the way the world understands business, by communicating an understanding of all of the lives we touch from source to cup.

I will now talk at length about what we did on the trip. Nicaragua is a beautiful, beautiful country. I have discussed the impact of the trip that continues to build for me after the fact; now we must rewind to the very beginning of the experience to paint an idea of what was done throughout the trip. We arrived from our respective places in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. We were met by our team leader, Livia Martini, and our driver Kelvin. A warm, fragrant breeze washed over us as we emerged out of the airport doors. We introduced ourselves at our hotel, and already I could sense that this was a special group. There was a shared awe and enthusiasm for the trip, and a bright energy connecting everyone there. On our first day we set out to Selva Negra, a coffee plantation and ecotourism destination set high in gorgeous rainforest mountains. Calling it a coffee plantation is an understatement, as not one square inch of the land is wasted there. There are all manners of fruits and vegetables and herbs everywhere- all of them dispersed in a kaleidoscope fractal pattern of beautiful complexity. The coffee is all ecologically sustainable, and shade grown. There are no vast fields of sun grown coffee fuelled by chemicals and fertilizers. The farm is run entirely by the owner Mousy, a whip-smart businesswoman with an astounding wealth of farming and coffee knowledge. She is passionate about sustainability, and wants Selva Negra to flourish on for centuries to come. Even though she will make less profit in doing so, it is her real care and vision for the land that drives her mission. She carries a walky-talky on her hip and is in constant communication with her workers in every facet of the farm. She is completely in charge of everything at all times. We spent the afternoon touring the farm, and were shown farmers lodging, a school and health centre. This was the first instance where I witnessed wealth disparity and the spartan living conditions of farmers. This in turn was contrasted by the amazing food we were treated to for our meals, hence that dawning of perspective that I mentioned earlier. The food was mind blowing. So delicious. Farm to table. The coffee was incredible. We were all very appreciative of this as we we enjoyed our food and lodging.

For our second day we went to UCA San Ramon. We did a comprehensive tour of the farm, wet mill, and bio digester there. It was here that we were first exposed in earnest to the devastation of La Roya. This is a disease that has plagued coffee plantations in Nicaragua. Once a plant has La Roya, it can not produce coffee cherries any longer. This UCA represents 12 different co-ops, and about 400 farming families. As our guide spoke of the devastation from La Roya, he revealed that their harvest this year was only about 1/10th of what the usual yield is. This paired with the low price of coffee presented a grim image of their socio-economic reality. They are trying to branch out with eco-tourism to diversify and find new ways of obtaining revenue for all of the members of the co-op. Some beautiful bracelets were brought out for us to purchase, and I couldn’t help notice the ladies counting the cash with a cherished look. This small bit of income was so important. When you realize that the UCA represents 400 families, all in the same position of vulnerability from La Roya and the price of coffee, it is heartbreaking. Again, we were served delicious mouth-watering food merely moments after hearing of their economic plight. After lunch we went to a Café run entirely by women. The café is part of an initiative to give more independence and financial stream to women who are part of the co-op. Their society is very patriarchal so this café allows for more financial proliferation for the women. The coffee was so delicious! I had an amazing caramel latte that puts all other lattes I’ve had to shame. After our refreshments we went to visit ‘Bibliotecha las Chispas’. This would be our first exposure to the Planting Hope organization, a crucial cornerstone of our source trip.

Planting Hope

First organized in 2001, Planting Hope began when our founder Beth Ann Merrill, who had served as a teaching intern years earlier in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, surveyed the children there about their community’s needs. Responding to what she learned, Beth raised funds in Vermont to build a library and community center, the “Biblioteca La Chispa,” in a poor area of Matagalpa city. Initially built as a one-story building, by 2004, the demand for services from the library began to outgrow its space.

In 2002 Beth formalized Planting Hope by organizing and recruiting a board of directors, who was charged with caring for the financial and physical assets of the organization. The board also took charge of promoting the organization through various fundraising activities in order support the social, educational and cultural exchange in the U.S. rural areas of Matagalpa.

In 2010 Planting Hope constructed its third preschool adjoining Laguna Seca sector of rural Pueblo Viejo. Also in 2010 Planting Hope began Café Camps, a pilot project for the children of migrant coffee pickers. The programs offer reinforcement for these children might otherwise be left at home during the days. The camps offer classes, food, and medical care, thus contributing to the reduction of child labor, and build community. In 2010 we began a food supplement program to improve the nutrition of children and reduce dropout Ocalca with preschoolers, Laguna Seca, El Chile, La Calera, Finca Los Andes Brotherhood. We currently make grants to teachers of preschool in the communities of Ocalca, El Chile, Laguna Seca and La Calera and we also sponsored students in these communities, which is a monthly financial assistance for their high school studies.

At the Biblioteca La Chispa, we were able to interact with all of the children there, by playing games, drawing, and having fun. Beth talked all about Planting Hope with a passionate lady named Mercedes, who works with Beth. They thanked Keurig Green Mountain for our funding which has allowed for the continuation and growth of the library, as well as many other initiatives that we would be introduced to over the coming days. After this visit we headed back to Selva Negra for our final evening after a wonderful dinner.

The next morning we headed out to La Corona, a large co-operative. We were given a comprehensive tour of the farm and got escorted through the beautiful jungle. We tasted fresh bananas, learned about “Huevo de Burro”, saw coffee trees, tasted sugar cane and were educated all about the co-op. We were shown the new health centre and informed about the infrastructure growth- how something we take for granted like power was a hard-earned and well-fought-for achievement for their community. We then attended a natural medicinal talk, where one of our hosts mixed different herbs together into a paste that you would hover over to inhale- it clears up your sinuses when you have a cold etc. She talked about various other remedies as well. After this we had fun making tortillas from scratch and then had a delicious lunch together. We then headed back to San Ramon to meet our host families for the first time, at the Planting Hope offices.

It is here that I met my own host family. Karen, Rufino, and their children Marcella and David. Rufino went to school for agricultural engineering, but because of drought and lack of work in the region, he has become a carpenter. He makes hand crafted beautiful pieces of furniture, with orders coming in from all across Nicaragua. Karen’s english is far superior to my spanish; we find a comfortable way of communicating together. It is achieved with some difficulty, but we are able to converse together, and share insights about each of our lives. Her and Rufino lament the loss of rivers and the hot weather and droughts brought on from global warming. They inform us of the economic disparity. One of Rufino’s saws costs $800 US in Nicaragua, versus $200 US in the United States. My trip participants and I roughly worked out that their currency is about 1/3 as valuable as US, so you can see how difficult it is for Nicaraguans to pay for amenities outside of the bounds of everyday food etc. It was a very humbling experience learning about Karen and Rufino’s journey. Their son David was an explosive ball of energy. He would run around screaming Spanish at Brian and I, getting us to make play dough creations and having fun in general. He was extremely bright for his young age. Marcela was very friendly and showed us some cool traditional dances with her friend who was over. Brian and I didn’t realize that this dance would be for a special community event later in the evening. We shared a delicious meal prepared by Karen, and then headed to the community centre nearby for a gathering of all of the host families and a special presentation. It was here that Beth, the founder of Planting Hope, effusively thanked Keurig Green Mountain for their contributions. They have allowed for a sustainable continuation of their legacy; whether it be the library, or school initiatives, scholarships, and all of the other great work Planting Hope has done with help from our company. Marcela then did that aforementioned dance, in traditional ceremonial Nicaraguan dress, and Marvin and Milton brought the whole hall to their feet during an energetic dance a long. It was a really great evening, and it ended with fresh juice and pastries made by my host mother Karen.

We slept the night at each of our host families houses, and had breakfast with them the next morning. I have never in my life had fruit as flavourful, fresh and delicious as I had in her house. And she made us crepes! We then went to an elders circle meeting at the community hall. We shared songs and dance with each other (our group sang an impromptu Old MacDonald and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star), and learned about the program in place to make their seniors feel like a valued part of the community. They get a meal each month and meet together regularly to promote wellness and share in the purpose of their initiative. Later that morning we headed to a school. In Nicaragua, the meal children get each day is only rice and black beans. Black beans are seen as a lower caste food and are looked down upon in society. Through Planting Hope, a large garden was founded and grown. A farmer’s salary is funded by the organization, so that he can tend to and grow the garden. This in turn allows for far more nutritious meals for the children. They sampled us a mouthwatering soup, and it was eye opening to see the difference that this garden and proper nutrition can make. After the school visit we headed back to San Ramon for an emotional farewell to each of our host families. All in all, the entirety of the stay in San Ramon was a very intense experience. A trial by fire as we delved in head first into the social impact of Planting Hope. It was a very visceral learning experience, and something for I will be forever grateful for.

That afternoon, he headed towards our next destination, historical Granada. First- we stopped at CECOCAFEN. They are the pinnacle organization that is at the very top of the co-op pyramid. They represent all of the UCAs, who represent all of the respective co-ops. We learned all about their operating structure, and this was very interesting and eye-opening. I urge you to research the structure of how CECOCACEN operates, as it will reveal the scale of how many people and co-ops are involved. We then were given an absolutely mind blowing tour of SOLACE, a dry mill. The degree of quality assurance, with dozens of massive machines progressively sorting the beans- finally until they reach a laser scanner that checks each been individually for defects practically at the speed of sound. We then did a cupping and tasting of coffee, and were educated by their resident experts. The workers on the drying patios had shirts wrapped around their heads to protect them from the 8 hours of heat. They each continually would lift 120 pound bags of coffee and methodically dump them on to the drying patios. Very humbling.

After this we set out to finish the drive to Granada, firstly stopping at a watermelon farm. We arrived in Granada to a gorgeous hotel and checked in. Here would commence more specifically sight seeing and tourist activities that we had the great privilege of doing. We toured the beautiful city of Granada, and once again were treated to delicious dinner. The food on this trip was incredible! Every meal we had was so fresh, so flavourful, so delicious. We really were treated like royalty. The next morning we set out to a volcanic crater lake. We swam in that beautiful water and relaxed in the sun. We then drove to a stunning beach and took some amazing photos of the ocean. We also did a time-lapse of the word Keurig being written in the sand, and did an awesome human pyramid. The next day we once again walked around beautiful Granada, and then did a tour of the “Isletas”, natural islands that fell from a huge volcanic explosion thousands of years ago into the lake at the doorstep of Granada. We boated by a monkey sanctuary and took in the awe of the surrounding beauty. After this we drove up to the top of a nearby volcano, and went on a stunning walk with the most incredible view the surrounding lands. We all were pinching ourselves at having the privilege to be there. I was pinching myself the entire time that I was able to experience this beautiful country, learning about the industry and be given key insight into the people who make up our coffee sourcing network in Nicaragua.


And so it was that this incredible week came to an end. As mentioned earlier, the entirety of the trip can not be conveyed with mere words. There was so much that we learned, so much we experienced, and the impact of the trip will continue to be felt for the rest of our lives. If you haven’t applied to a source trip yet, you simply must! By not applying, you leave the chance of going off of the table. I was blessed and lucky to have been able to go, and I had the trip of a lifetime, and an experience that I will never forget. This trip was stratospherically above what I ever could have possibly imagined. It was a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and knowledge, in the very best way possible. I hope that these words give you some idea of how amazing and insightful these source trip journeys are. We all took lots of photos and videos. I will be putting together a video documentary, through which I will attempt to convey the experience in a meaningful way. We’ll have a link up on the intranet some time soon.

Thank you Keurig Green Mountain for granting me the privilege of going on this trip. Thank you to Livia Martini and Sarah Sudden, our team lead and co-lead respectively. The organization and timeline of the journey was expertly planned and executed. I am honoured to have been part of this experience.

Keurig Green Mountain’s purpose statement: We create the ultimate beverage experience in every life we touch from source to cup – transforming the way the world understands business. I have embraced this statement, and the words resonate very powerfully with me. I will work hard to transform the way the world understands business, by communicating an understanding of all of the lives we touch from source to cup.

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released March 25, 2016

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