By Hannah Buoye
As you stand at the coffee cart trying to decide what tropical region of the world is going to sustain you through lecture, you hesitate. Do you want a Brazillian roast? Do you want the bold flavors of Indonesia? Or the slightly more acidic, lighter roast of Costa Rica? These questions seem important in the moment, but have you stopped to consider the origin of the caffeinated bean or put a face to this international commodity?
This week, the Community Agroecology Network (CAN) is sponsoring a visit from two coffee farmers, Roberto and Noemy Jimenez, of the Coopepueblos coffee cooperative in Costa Rica. They visited the Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market yesterday, and will continue at Swanton Berry Farms on Sunday.
On Monday, the pair will be participating in the second annual Intercultural CafÃ© and Fair Trade Market Place, hosted by the Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP) and CAN.
They will be discussing their sustainable farming practices, the political and economic issues surrounding coffee and its production, and their personal experiences working with students who have traveled to Costa Rica through CAN’s internship program. There will also be an interactive panel discussion and a question-and-answer session.
Robbie Jaffe, co-founder of CAN, describes the event as a unique “intercultural exchange” where all participants benefit from the experience of sharing information and ideas. Organizers of the event encourage the entire Santa Cruz community to attend and learn more about the problems and solutions behind coffee and its production.
“It is a space for farmers to share what their lives are like,” said Karen Boone, CAN program coordinator. “It is also an opportunity [for students] to see another perspective and a chance to let people know that their consumer choices do make a difference.”
Roberto and Noemy have been a part of the CAN program since its inception in 2001. They have hosted many interns from Santa Cruz and embraced the fundamental and beneficial changes needed to sustain their livelihood of coffee farming. Jaffe explains that the Jimenez farm is a working model of a sustainable self-sufficient system that incorporates a diversity of crops and utilizes a biodigester, which provides the natural gas that powers their house and farm.
The history of coffee is one of economic and political strife; conventional market prices dropped from $2.30 per pound in 1965 to 55 cents per pound in 2003. Currently, according to the International Coffee Organization, the market price is a little under a dollar per pound.
“The low prices were driving families to leave the farms and migrate to cities and immigrate to the U.S.,” Jaffe explained. “They were also forcing farmers to pull out the protective shade trees and convert the land to pastures and other environmentally devastating practices.”
In addition to low prices, cycles of debt, and environmentally taxing agricultural practices, large companies such as NestlÃ© (which controls 40 percent of the coffee market) have monopolies over the commodity, making it difficult for small-scale farmers, such as Roberto and Noemy, to make a living.
CAN, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 by UC Santa Cruz environmental studies professor Steve Gliessman and associate Jaffe, strives to link farming communities directly with consumers, creating a producer-controlled market for coffee. CAN has set up a “fair-trade direct” system with co-ops in five Central American countries to grow, roast, package and export their coffee directly to the United States. Available through mail order and at local farmers’ markets, with the UCSC dining halls as the largest customer, the coffee CAN sells provides a return of at least $3 per pound to the farmers.
Nick Babin, who spent his CAN internship with Roberto and Noemy in Costa Rica, hopes students will see firsthand, “how markets tangibly affect farmers and how their livelihood is precariously balanced around this export commodity.”
_Roberto and Noemy will be at the Swanton Berry Farms on Sunday, May 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Intercultural CafÃ© will be held in Classroom Unit 2 on Monday, May 14, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. with the presentation starting at 7 p.m. For more information about CAN and its activites, consult CAN’s website, www.communityagroecology.net._