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Colombia Conversations

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Melanee Meegan, Peace Coffee Dir. of Marketing

I've been serving up a lot of our Colombian Heavy Pedal coffee at various bike events this summer. Heavy Pedal is a reference to the amount of weight that our bike deliverers pedal across town every day. As far as the delicious taste of the coffee, the credit is all due to the Fondo Paez Cooperative in Colombia. Earlier this year I visited the Páez farmers who grow this coffee in the central Andes region near Popayán. It was full connection, conversation and coffee.

Miguel Martinez, Fondo Paez's Commercialization Coordinator, Wilman Sotelo & Maria Teresa, of the non-profit Our Colombia, met our group at the airport in the northern city of Cali. I traveled with Chris and Jody Treter of Higher Grounds Trading Company, Chris O'Brien, who is most well known for his book about beer titled Fermenting Revolution, and Gary Howe, a photographer and journalist from Michigan. We went to bed early so we could depart in the morning to reach the offices of Fondo Paez. On the first day we met with 30 coop members in Caldono. Heavy rains put a damper on our walk around nearby coffee farms. Instead, we sat together in a local church and introduced ourselves to one another. 99% of the Paez speak their indigenous language, Nasa. They also all speak Spanish, which is taught in schools, except for some of the elders who never learned Spanish.

Here are a few snippets from various discussions amongst different members of the cooperative during my visit:

Auselio, the former Fondo Paez Board President, shared with our group that he is glad that we don't show fear. He is happy that we have come all this way to visit their community. He believes that you cannot put a price on getting to know one another. He also loves hearing that their coffee makes people happy in the U.S. It makes him feel very proud.

Miguel Martinez talked about his greatest hope for the future, which is for his family to be healthy. He'd also like to increase the size of Fondo Paez's membership and the amount of coffee they can produce. He believes this is possible by encouraging more small farms from territories further afield to join the cooperative. And there is a huge need to support and train their children to keep growing coffee. Miguel also has a message for consumers -- he would like us to have trust and confidence that their coffee is both organic and good, because a lot of hard work goes into it. And that we should also trust that the coffee is high quality and that with every cup of their coffee we drink we are helping protect the environment, the water and their families. Lastly, he also asked us to be sure to tell people in the U.S. that there is another face of Colombia that is not narcotrafficers but that of quality coffee producers.

Felicano Troquez expressed his happiness that we were able to see how they live. He takes pride in their organization because they care so much for mother earth in all they do. He says that coffee is just a plant and that as indigenousness people they care for everything, like the water, the land and each coffee plant because it is all part of the earth. They need to care for it because no one else will. He said: "We can only provide for ourselves. If we use chemicals, we won't see any goodness."

During my visit other Paez farmers shared with me their hopes for the future. Most echoed similar aspirations to that of Miguel, Felicano & Auselio's. These farmers' stories and the messages they've asked me to carry back to the U.S to share with you are why I love my job. The trip increased my passion for the work I do everyday and reminded me that generalizations don't take into account individual stories. Miguel said to me that people in the U.S. believe that all Colombians are bad, scary and violent. He said that when we generalize and live in fear, we miss out on so many positive things. Of course he is right -- to see first hand the work and the farmers that grow each coffee bean for a one-pound bag of our Colombian Heavy Pedal is invaluable.



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