August 17th, 2015
by Christine Goffredo
Last week, I exchanged my New York summer garb for a light jacket and a pair of hiking boots and headed down south to Nicaragua to explore fair trade. I know. A jacket in Nicaragua? For those of you that have been with Bridges with Community on a trip to Jinotega, you know that the northern, mountainous region of Nicaragua has cool, crisp air in the mornings and evenings, and that’s where the best fair trade coffee is grown. So that’s where I went. I was preparing for one of our upcoming Fair Trade Trips. Here’s a quick run down of the places, and where you can go, too, in November, on our Nicaragua Fair Trade Trip!
Day 1: The first day was a smooth highway ride up, up and up, to the coffee growing region of Jinotega, a very rural area with a dynamic history. Once in the mountains, I left the paved road behind as I weaved through small communities, (two that Bridges to Community works with!) on my way up to a cloud forest reserve, 5000 feet above sea level. There I was greeted by Moises, who has worked at the reserve for most of his life, as his family lives in a nearby village.
Moises briefed me on the philosophy of the El Jaguar Reserve, which combines conservation efforts with shade-grown, fairly traded coffee production, to create a habitat that encourages hundreds of migratory bird species to pass through each year, rainfall that helps not only the reserve but also nearby potato and other vegetable growers, and reforestation efforts to revitalize forests that have been all but destroyed to make room for cattle grazing land or to sell wood.
Day 2: Woken up by the harmonious songs of the birds and the invigorating smell of freshly brewed coffee, I embarked with Moises on a tour through the forests, moving from one ecosystem to another as we headed down to the forest floor and then up again to clearings where only the tallest trees were visible. Moises explained how their coffee is grown and taken care of, the impacts they have seen from various fungi, like roya or rust, that has plagued many coffee farms in the region, and how their coffee is grown in harmony with the surrounding forest environment. Of course, we also stopped often along the way to snap photos of birds who Moises quickly identified, and even mimicked some of their calls.
After a delicious lunch, I was back on my way along the coffee supply chain, heading toward a large organization that works with over 650 small coffee producers, both men and women, that form 18 medium sized cooperatives. The organization assists these farmers with workshops on farming practices, quality control, and also gender equality, among other topics, and provides them with a facility where their coffee can be dried, roasted, and shipped after harvest.
Day 3: As I continued along the coffee supply chain, now headed for another coffee producing department right next to Jinotega–Matagalpa–I started to feel that I could use some relaxation time. Fortunately, the area is replete with natural beauty and a plethora of waterfalls and other impressive wonders abound. Stopping at one, I was treated to a hike that included a look at petroglyphs, or little drawings etched into stone, left by some of the original inhabitants of the area. After another freshly brewed, not-at-all-bitter cup of the region’s coffee, I took one last glance at the large cascade of water thundering down from a mountain cliff, and hopped back in the car to continue on my fair trade trek.
Day 4: Now at the final step of the Nicaraguan coffee supply chain, I took my time listening to the cooperative’s representatives discuss the final steps of coffee production, even taking part in a quality control cupping exercise in the cooperative’s coffee lab. In the evening, I sat outside of the Matagalpan hotel, looking down at a still bustling street, reflecting on every conversation I had had throughout the process, and the amount I had learned, not only about the process, but about the impact of the different types of fair and fairly traded coffee on the lives of farmers and small cooperatives. I thought about the connection all of this had to the environment in general, but also to my life back home. Then, I stepped back inside because it was getting pretty chilly, and my jacket was rather light.
Returning to Managua, I updated the fair trade trip itinerary, excited about the prospect of having other people be able to experience first hand all that I had just seen. I was able to add in a couple of other important visits to the itinerary, based on people I had met and places I had gone during my five years living in Nicaragua, that were very connected to the topic of fair trade.
Here is the final itinerary, and I hope that you will look it over and talk to others about this incredible opportunity to experience Nicaragua–and coffee–in a new way. Please contact me about any questions you may have. I look forward to sharing this great journey with you in November.
Upcoming Fair Trade Trips
Photos in this post courtesy of Danilo Castaneda