Tuesday, May 31, 2011

School, Coffee, Alegría

Tuesday, 5-31-11

Today was a really fun day. In the morning we walked to the boy’s school where I teach English classes. We left a little after 7:15 so we’d be to school by 7:30 when classes started. I have 9 different classes with kids and one with teachers so we needed time to visit everyone. There are five class periods so we decided to visit two classes per period. I had brought some gifts for the students and teachers that had been donated from someone at my church.

The first class we visited was my first grade class. I have a lot of problems with my first grade class not paying attention but they did really well today. I began by introducing my family to the teacher and the class. The kids all said hello to Matt and my parents. My mom presented the teacher with a gift of school supplies for the classroom and some pictures I’d taken earlier this year. Then we taught the class the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” We started slow and taught them to pronounce the words and repeated the song several times getting faster each time. The kids got a kick out of it and we all got a lot of exercise.

After the song I told the kids that they were doing a good job learning English and they were great singers so we’d brought presents for them. Matt and my parents went around to each kid and gave them a pencil and a sticker. They chatted a little bit with everyone. I walked around taking pictures and talking to the students. It was a lot of fun having them meet my family. When the little gifts had been passed out we taught them how to sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” This was also a lot of fun and gave us a good work out.

A little more than 20 minutes later it was time to head to the next classroom. I got a picture of all my students and we moved on. We did the same thing with all of my classes. It was a lot of singing and a lot of moving around. In some of the classes when we had more time we also did the Hokey Pokey. Matt and my parents had a lot of fun talking to the kids and looking at their English notebooks. It was really nice to be able to introduce my family to all my students. And I was happy my family finally got to meet all the kids.

When we’d finished in one of the classes some of the kids and teachers escorted us into a room. They had us sit down and revealed some food they had made for us. It was a vegetable mix that we put on bread and ate like sandwiches. It was delicious! Then they bought coffee for my parents and Coke for Matt and me. I knew at some point during the day someone was going to be feeding us.

During the last class we visited my mom commented on how beautiful the student’s handwriting was. The teacher had them write out a little thank you note to us in their notebooks for us to read. It was very sweet. Young people here do have nice handwriting and know how to write very poetically. It’s much different than the States. Sometime I’m going to post some letters we’ve received from students in the canton of San Francisco.

Soon it was time to say goodbye. We waved to all the kids as we walked back to the house. Overall, I think the time at my school went really well. All of the kids were very well-behaved and much quieter than usual. They were clearly all on their best behavior and many greeting my family when we went into the room. I’m glad we made time to visit them.

Walking up the hill to school

Hola Mateo!

Talking to one of the kids

Looking at their stickers

My 1st grade class

Moving on to 2nd grade

Handing out goodies

Posing for the camera

Pencils up!

My 2nd grade class

Food for my family

Making up sandwiches

My 5th grade section A class

My dad chatting with the kids

If you're happy and you know it shout "Hooray!"

My 3rd grade secion A class

Looking in his notebook

She loved talking to the kids

Lots of fun handing out things

Talking to Marvin, Cecilia's son

Pencils please!


My 4th grade class

The whole family

Matt playing with a kid's capirucho

What's my name?

My 3rd grade secion B class

In one of my 5th grade classes

Head, shoulders, knees, toes

Too cute!

My 5th grade section B class

Bunny ears

With his pencil

Show me your notebook

So many kids to talk to

Taking a picture of each other

Photo time

Clap your hands


My 6th grade section A class

I love my kids

Message from my 6th grade section B class

Message from one of my kids

My 6th grade section B class

With my favorite little girl

Walking home

My parents made one request before they came here and that was to visit a coffee finca sometime when they were here. So that’s what we did after lunch today. They are die hard coffee fanatics so this was kind of like visiting Mecca for them. The coffee finca where the Don Justo coffee is grown is about 30 minutes away in Santiago de María. We rode there in the pickup. It was my family’s first time in the back of the truck so that was a lot of fun. There were some good photo ops along the way.

The road wasn’t too bumpy for a while but once we turned off the main road onto the dirt road to the finca it was a lot bumpier. But everyone did well and we all made it to the finca in one piece. At first the person who lives on the property and is the general caretaker wasn’t there. Kathy began giving information to my family about the finca and coffee in general but soon the caretaker, Arquimides, showed up and gave us all the information about how coffee is made from seed to the cup. I remember him from last time and saying that I’d return at some point. Now I just have to make it back to the finca when they start picking the coffee.

Arquimides told my family all about coffee. The coffee grown at the finca, and the kind we sell in our church, is called Don Justo – Coffee with Dignity. It is called that because it is fairly traded coffee. Though we are not officially fair trade (very expensive) we follow internationally recognized fair trade standards to ensure the workers at the finca are paid a just wage. Almost all the money we collect from coffee sales goes back to El Salvador.

Nice hair, Matt!

View of the valley below

Mom and me

Mom and Dad

On the road to the finca

A large puddle

Cultivation: 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 year 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 2 years after that 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.

Harvesting: Coffee beans are three different colors: green, yellow, and reddish purple. When harvesting gourmet coffee (like Don Justo) you don’t pick the green or yellow ones, only the red ones. These are called cherries in English and uvas (grapes) in Spanish. You basically start at one end of the finca and pick off all the red ones in a row and then continue to move forward. You do sweeps of the finca to get the cherries; at our finca they usually do two sweeps. 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 our 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.

Cleaning: 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. First the coffee cherries remain there overnight without any water. The next day there is a person standing in the big pilas that are then filled with water. They mix around the water to ensure all the peels and anything else stuck to the coffee cherries is off. This takes about 2 hours. 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.

Drying: 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 depending on the sun. 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.

Storage: 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. 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 where our coffee is grown is about 30 manzanas; 52 acres (1 manzana = 1.7 acres). There are 5000 to 7000 coffee trees (more like big bushes) in each manzana. It is in the highlands so they taste is better. The two main types of coffee beans grown on this finca are Paca and Bourbon. The husband of the owner of the finca is a coffee connoisseur and knows how to blend varieties of beans to get the best flavor.

More info:
500 lbs. of whole cherries = 100 lbs. of processed coffee
100 lbs. of processed coffee = 80 to 90 lbs. of roasted coffee
Thus.....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 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.

More 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.

In summary, I’m glad my family had the chance to hear about the process and see everything. To see more pictures you can go to the “Coffee” section of my blog.

The house on the finca

Holding up a hibiscus

Talking to Arquimides

Learning about the coffee process

The de-pulping machine

The pilas used to wash the coffee

Mom holding up coffee cherries

Dad demonstrating how to pick coffee cherries

Arquimides showing us how to pick coffee

Trying on the basket

After the finca we drove to the lagoon in Alegría. It was looking a bit stormy and sprinkling a little bit so we weren’t sure if we’d make it there or not. But at the turnoff we began the drive up to the lagoon. We made it all the up to the top and into the lagoon area before it started to rain. Bummer! We didn’t get too far and took a few pictures but then we had to run back to the truck. It wasn’t pouring as we left and as we got further down the mountain it was only sprinkling but I’m sure it was raining hard at the lagoon.

Soon the rain had stopped where we were so we got out to walk around the town of Alegría for a while. We looked at the town center for a while and all the pretty flowers there. There were a few shops set up nearby so we went to go check them out. One place had coffee and hot chocolate. My parents had to have the coffee and, of course, I had the hot chocolate (I do not like coffee). After we finished our drinks we walked to the church in town. I hadn’t been there before so I wanted to see what the inside was like. It was beautiful but I still think Berlín’s church is prettier. Some nearby stores were open and we poked around inside looking for some more trinkets.

We hopped back into the truck about an hour later and headed back to Berlín. It was a much lighter day than the two days we spent learning and discussing Salvadoran Civil War history. I’m glad we can have a mixture of serious days and leisure days together.

Those lines of trees are for erosion

Rain rolling into the lagoon

Mom & Dad in front of the lagoon

At the city center in Alegria

The church in Alegria

Inside the church

The chapel

The town square

Drinking coffee

Saint Lucia painted on the wall

Holding a guanabana

A baby pigeon

Heading back to Berlin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seeing all the kids at the school was really fun. I enjoyed meeting them and singing songs with them. It was also very interesting learning about where coffee comes from.