Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Schools & Finca

Monday, 2-14-11

Feliz Día de Amistad y Amor! Happy Day of Friendship and Love! We had a special present today when we got to the breakfast table for dinner. Betty had put little cards and stuffed green turtles with hearts on them at each of our chairs! It was a pleasant surprise. The ladies made us beans, eggs, and plantains for breakfast. I used a special Valentine’s Day napkin that my mom gave me to use. I have special napkins for several holidays throughout the year. After breakfast the ladies presented each of us with a gift. The tag on the gift read: Feliz Día de La Amistad. Que Dios le bendiga siempre. Son los deseos del Equipo Pastoral Comunitaria. Which means: Happy Day of Friendship. May God bless you always. These are the wishes of the Pastoral Team. Inside was a little coin purse, two kinds of cookies, and 2 suckers.

After breakfast we took off to see a couple marginalized schools on the outskirts of Berlín. The first school we went to visit is called Centro Escolar El Coyolar Concepción. As soon as we walked through the gate a little girl instantly ran up to me and wanted me to pick her up. As I did she clung to me and gave me a huge hug. She did not want to let me go so I just held on to her for a while. That really made my day. I carried her inside the classroom and after a while she climbed back into her chair.

In the mornings are the younger kids and in the afternoons the older kids go to school. There are 90 kids in total at the school. We introduced ourselves to the kids and sang them “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. One of the kids I saw today I had seen when I was here in September of 2009. His name is Juan Jose and he has a TON of energy. When the kids all sang us a song he was definitely the loudest and kept singing after the song was over. He was bouncing off the walls the whole time we were in the classroom. But he has the biggest, brightest eyes. It was fun to see him again.

After visiting that classroom we went to the other classroom; there are only two rooms at the school. We all went outside the classroom to introduce ourselves and sing them a song. When we’d finished we went out to the soccer field to look around. Some of the kids followed us out and ran around on the field for a while. Several of them were climbing a tree nearby. Maurice climbed partway up the tree with them and acted like a monkey. The kids all began to imitate him. Betty made sure to get a picture.

We said goodbye to the kids and drove on to the second school named Centro Escolar Caserío La Chicharra. This school building was a little bit smaller than the first though not by much. They have morning and afternoon groups from Kindergarten to 6th grade and 125 students total. However, many of the kids at this school have special needs. Many live in extreme poverty, reside in single-mother household, suffer from abuse and violence, and have other problems. There is a problem with delinquency in the area where the school is. One of the teachers (there are two plus one assistant) has taught there for 15 years and against the wishes of her family. There are concerned for her safety because it is a more dangerous area of Berlín.

We finished visiting with the teacher and went to visit the two classrooms. We introduced ourselves and sang to each group and they both sang to us. One class sang the song “De Colores” which I know so I was able to sing with them. All the kids were absolutely adorable. It’s so wonderful to see young people in school, especially because many kids aren’t able to go to school. Hopefully we were able to encourage them and reinforce the idea that going to school is important.

We arrived back at the Pastoral House at 11:15. Since it was too early for lunch we walked up the road to the artisan shops here in Berlín that support a women’s artisan group. They have so many beautiful things there – earring, necklaces, bracelets, key chains, pottery, lamps made from natural plants, and other fun things. I ended up buying a bracelet with saints on it, some more cool earrings, and a basket that I can put things in to help organize my room.

As we were walking inside the Pastoral House I heard Betty say something and then she lightly whapped me on the head three times. I had a pretty startled expression on my face and we all started laughing after it happened. She was trying to get a mosquito off my head before it bit me. I appreciate that because right now I am covered in mosquito bites and some other kind of bites. I have twelve really small ones on my left arm, at least 20 on my stomach, five on my left hip, and several on my legs. For some reason the insects here really like to feast on Alisha blood. I have three different kinds of insect repellent and five kinds of itch relief with me but few seem to offer much help. Thankfully, Denise gave me a lot of essential oils to put on the bites which really seem to help. Plus they smell great. I just need to not scratch them. And I really hope that I don’t get bites like this the whole time I’m here. That would really make me miserable. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Okay, I’m done complaining.

Lunch today was a feast: rice, chicken, corn, broccoli, jocotes, pineapple, papaya, and tortillas. I took a little bit of everything because it all looked so good. It was probably too much but there was no going back. I love fresh fruit.

Valentine's Day goodies

Nice hat!

Waiting in line to fill up cántaros

The sweet little girl who wanted me to hold her

She was adorable!

The class was learning about the letter "O"

The first classroom

The nice yet loud Juan Jose

They wanted to see the gringos

He has beautiful eyes

More cuties


The girl I held

Girls of the second classroom

Introducing ourselves

Monstruo (giant)

Big smiles

On the soccer field

Look at all the little kids

View of the valley below

Kids at the second school

She wanted her picture taken

Singing to us

More singing

If you're happy and you know it clap your hands

If you're happy and you know it say "Hooray"

Clapping games

Beautiful little girls

The second classroom

Fun times



Finca visit
We visited a finca today to learn more about the process of growing coffee. The finca owner wasn’t there to give us a tour and explain everything to us but her head manager was there to visit with us. He is 25 years old and has been working at the finca for 5 years. He has a wife and two daughters that he is supporting. He is excited about taking a class in March that will help him learn even more about coffee that will earn him a certificate.

In order to grow coffee trees (more like bushes) you take seeds from existing trees and put them in a bag with some dirt. There is one seed per bag. It takes about 1–1½ years for the coffee to be ready to plant in the ground. After they are ready you transplant them where there are no trees. It takes 3 years before they begin to produce. Once they start to produce they will continue for 15-20 years. If they are properly pruned, then they can last 30-40 years. Each tree produces about 10 pounds of coffee per year.

Coffee beans are three different colors: green, yellow, and reddish. You don’t pick the green or yellow ones, only the red ones, which are called cherries in English and uvas (grapes) in Spanish. You basically start and one end of the finca and pick off all the reds one in a row and them continue to move forward. You do sweeps of the finca to get the cherries. To do this you have a basket (canasta) in front of you that’s tied to your waste very tight. You pick the cherries and put them in the basket. Once you get about 20 to 25 pounds you put them in a sack you carry with you. Then you drag the sack with you as you collect more cherries. Most people collect 150 to 200 pounds per day. The average wage is $4.50 a day (at least that’s what it is at this finca where the workers are paid a fair amount according to International Fair Trade guidelines). Sometimes they can make as much as $8 a day.

After each person has their sack full of cherries they take it back to the building where coffee is processed. It is weighed and then put into a machine that takes of the peel. The peel is later used for compost. From each cherry we get two coffee beans (pepitas). Those are sent down a chute into a big pila to be washed. A pila is a big cement basin used to hold water. There is a person standing in the big pilas mixing around the water to ensure all the peels and anything else stuck to the coffee cherries is off. The coffee beans stay in there overnight. Thinking about a person standing in a pila to get off the extra shells reminds me of grape stomping. Coffee stomper; that would look good on a resume.

After the coffee beans have been washed they go to a different part of the finca where they are laid outside to dry in the sun. The drying process takes 7 to 15 days. Groupings of coffee beans are set out at different times so they are able to continually dry coffee. There are machines that are used to dry coffee but this finca doesn’t have one. When the beans are dried they are a grayish brown color.

From there they go in a burlap bag and are stored for 6-12 months. This does not negatively affect the quality of the coffee. That’s just how it’s done. It’s not until you roast the coffee that the beans start to diminish in quality.

Second cleaning
The coffee beans then go through a second machine to take off the final husk. The final husk is then used to help grow the baby coffee plants.

Crop maintenance
Major maintenance of crops is done 2 to 3 times a year. They have to trim and prune the trees, prune the weeds, put down fertilizer, and control insects. In order to control the insects, mainly grasshoppers, they use little bamboo traps. Grasshoppers normally sit in bamboo so when they enter the traps they can’t get out and can be disposed of later. The fertilizer they use is organic. It is made of weeds, dried leaves, the leftover shell from the cherries, leftover vegetables, and manure. It is mixed together in a compost area and dried. Then it is ground into a fine powder to put directly on the base of the coffee plants. The coffee grown at the finca is considered organic. There are no harsh chemicals or pesticides used on the plants. In addition to the fertilizer the plants get an organic spray and what are called “injections” into the areas around the plants. How well a crop does depends on the amount of rain, sun, fertilizer, and wind.

Seasonal responsibilities
° February, March, April, May- the flowers on the coffee plant bloom. Some maintenance is done on the plants and weeds trimmed.
° June, July, August, September- the beans begin to form and some pruning is done.
° October, November, December, January- the cherries turn red and are picked, cleaned, and dried.

Taste differences
One of the differences in the taste of coffee is a result of toasting it. But the elevation at which coffee is grown also makes a difference. There is Bajo (lowland) which are usually small beans, Medio (midland) which are a little bigger, and Alto (highland) which produce the biggest cherries and are considered to be the best. Minimal elevation for growing coffee is 1500 feet above sea level. Several other things can affect the taste of the coffee including soil, when the coffee cherries are picked, type of tree, climate, processing, roasting, etc. For example, the coffee cherries picked for large corporate companies (pick your company) may be green, yellow, or red, thus resulting in a poorer quality than places like the finca we visited today.

The Finca
The finca we visited has 100 manzanas in total; 170 acres (1 manzana = 1.7 acres). However, at this point, only 28 manzanas are being used for coffee. The owner does have plans to plant more coffee trees every year to utilize the full 100 manzanas. The finca is in the highlands so the coffee has a better taste. The three main types of coffee beans grown on this finca are Paca, Cuscatleco, and Bourbon. El Salvador is known for its Bourbon coffee plants. There are 3000-5000 trees per manzana depending on the kind of tree. Paca trees are smaller so there can be about 5000 per manzana but Cuscatleco trees are bigger so there are only 3000 per manzana. 2009 was a poor year for coffee all around the country. 2010 was a great year so they harvested three times the amount they got the year before. Growing on 6 manzanas of the farm are cacao plants, which are used to make chocolate. Seeing them gave me a craving for chocolate but they didn’t have anything available for sale. Bummer.

More info
500 lbs. of whole cherries = 100 lbs. of processed coffee
100 lbs. of processed coffee = 80 to 90 lbs. of roasted coffee
So...500 lbs. of red coffee cherries = 80 to 90 lbs. of coffee that is ready to sell.

Toasting the coffee
When the coffee arrives at the toastery from the finca it is put into an electric de-pulper machine which removes the final layer of peel on the coffee bean. From there someone moves the beans to the sorting table where they pick out the bad ones. Then the beans go into the toaster. How long the beans are in there and what the temperature is what produces different tastes and the strength of the coffee. On average, it takes about 35 minutes to roast 35 pounds of coffee. If the coffee is flavored with any oil it is done at this time. After it is roasted the coffee is weighed, put into bags, and sealed.

Don Justo – Coffee with Dignity has 5 different kinds of coffee: Regular, Dark, French, Vanilla, and Snickeroo. If I am remembering correctly, the flavored coffees are the lightest, followed by regular, dark, and French being the darkest/strongest. The French is roasted for the longest period of time and at the highest temperature. It is all considered gourmet coffee because of the quality of the coffee beans themselves and also because all the “bad” beans are picked out.

About Don Justo – Coffee With Dignity from the Our Sister Parish website: http://www.oursisterparish.org/

El Salvador is a small mountainous country in Central America with rich volcanic soil and a reputation for hard working citizens. By combining a strong work ethic with near perfect coffee growing conditions, El Salvador’s farms have supported their communities while growing excellent coffee.

But current coffee trading practices can come between farmers and you. Each year exporters, brokers, creditors and processors take a larger share of coffee proceeds, leaving farmers and El Salvador’s communities with less than 10¢ of every dollar. But there is an alternative.

Fair Trade
Coffee sold through this project meets and exceeds internationally recognized fair trade standards, standards that balance inequities found in the conventional coffee trade. Fair trade standards more than triple the income of Salvadoran farmers who grow, harvest and process this exceptional coffee. This additional income provides access to a host of social services such as education, medical care, public transportation and recreation facilities. Farm families are also guaranteed adequate housing and access to clean water.

Sustainable Farming
While coffee farming can be particularly trying to the local environment, it doesn’t have to be. Coffee plants need to be grown in high altitudes with warm days and cool nights. This usually means on steep hillsides where erosion and chemical runoff is likely. By using a combination of traditional and modern farming methods, farmers who sell coffee through this project protect their soil and water.

Forty-two hundred feet above sea level, the traditional shade grown method of coffee farming is practiced. Coffee is planted in the shade of fruit trees and taller trees. These trees prevent erosion while providing protection for coffee plants, food and wood for families, and shelter to birds and wildlife.

Farmers also use organic methods to protect the environment. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, they take advantage of the natural fertility of the coffee cherry. Once the beans are extracted from the fruit of the coffee plant, the remaining pulp is used to fertilize plants the following season. This natural process protects the health of the soil as well as neighboring creeks and rivers, while maintaining balance between soil, plants and animals.

Local Development
Buying coffee through this project also promotes sustainable community and economic development, with a large portion of proceeds going to projects designed and organized by local residents.

Money from Coffee Sales
In 2010 $1,775.23 worth of coffee was sold. The proceeds were used for 26 different projects in the communities of Santa Cruz, Colonia Esmeralda, San Francisco, Delicias, Rio de los Bueyes, San Felipe and Talpetates. Projects included lamina for a church roof, chairs for community meetings, pairs of rubber boots for garbage collectors, and other various small projects.

The place where the baby coffee plants are grown

Baby coffee plants

Paca coffee plants

Our tour guide

The place where coffee is dried

Coffee plants

Baby cacao

Big cacao

Medium cacao
Can you tell I love chocolate?

Walking the finca

Looking at the coffee plants

Learning more about coffee

The sorting table

It's a big table

One of the women who sorts beans

Another girl named Alicia!
(Alicia is my name in Spanish)

Coffee beans before they are roasted

Saying goodbye to Trinity
We got home a little after 4pm and took a break for a while until we all left at 5:15 for a restaurant in Alegría. It was a short 25 minute ride in the pickup. This is what delegations do on the last night of their time in El Salvador, and sadly the Trinity delegation is leaving tomorrow morning. The restaurant we ate at is called La Fonda de Alegría. All of us ordered some tasty drinks with dinner. I ordered a pineapple drink with rum in it. However, I couldn’t taste any rum so either they didn’t put any rum in or it was a very small amount.

For dinner I ordered the taste of La Fonda de Alegría. It came with beans & rice, an avocado, cheese, steak, chorizo, and tortilla. It was all pretty delicious, except for the chorizo of which I’m not a huge fan. It’s not like the chorizo that you’d get in Mexico, it is Argentinean chorizo. Larry must have known this because when I got up to go to the bathroom he swiped a piece of chorizo off my plate. But that was okay because when Denise got up to use the bathroom Larry and I stole a piece of chicken off her plate. I’ve decided that next time I’m definitely going to get the little “snack” plate that many other people ordered. That came with a lot of good food as well.

We finished dinner and got back in the truck about 7:30pm. It was time for our last devotion and reflection. Betty led us in talking about our happiest and saddest times during our time here thus far. Everyone got a bit weepy as we shared our experiences. I’m so excited that I was able to spend time with the delegation from Trinity and the other two pastors. We’ve had great conversations about hard topics (massacres, war, violence, poverty) but we’ve also spent a lot of time laughing. It was a nice balance between the two and I feel very blessed that they invited to share all those moments with them. I’m going to miss everybody!! Thankfully, Maurice and Betty will be here a few more days!

Grocery store we stopped at in Santiago de Maria

Fresh pineapple drink

Mmmmm, delicious

The whole group

He stole my meat!

We stole Denise's chicken!

The lovely ladies


Mom said...

Loved to hear about the finca -- I can almost taste the coffee! Mom

Matt said...

Wow, what a day. It's great that you got to visit a school. I bet you are excited to start teaching soon! I can't believe all that info about coffee. And you don't even drink it.

modern farming methods said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.