I don't know about you, but I have always enjoyed a warm cup of coffee in the morning while reading, getting ready for work, or watching my favorite show. The taste is bittersweet as well as the memories. I never could have imagined how much work went into that delightful cup of coffee. My name is Jessica, I am from Michigan, and I am a volunteer at De La Gente.
I have learned so much while volunteering at De La Gente. A lot of times, we think that volunteering means that we are helping someone who is in need. What I have been learning is that we are all in need of something. One person may need money, another person may need friendship, and another may need a taste of reality. I have put a lot of hours into helping small-scale farmers here in San Miguel Escobar, and I feel like they have helped me more than I have helped them. I may have helped them attain more money, but the things that they have taught me and the relationships I have made are priceless. I have also had the opportunity to meet various other volunteers and people from around the world.
Volunteering has shaped my sense of the world and myself. It was an opportunity that I was blessed to have and I will always rejoice in. I have been working with De La Gente for the past five weeks. In the first week, I got to pick coffee with the local farmers and sort the green coffee. In weeks after, I sorted and picked coffee as well but each experience was unique. One time, a farmer named Lesbia showed me how to roast coffee over the fire and then sort it by hand. Another time, I got to ride in the back of a pick-up truck on Volcano Agua to pick coffee. I was also able to help lay bricks to build additional walls in the house of one of the farmers. Each project I was able to work on is unforgettable.
I am a Biology major and I learned a lot of interesting things about the coffee plants and how to care for them from the farmers. It was so cool to learn about the things that make the coffee a higher quality as well. In my freetime, I have been researching about a coffee fungus called roya. It has had a major impact on coffee plantations all around the world. It is very rare that a coffee plantation in Central America has not been impacted by this fungus. Roya infects the leaves of the coffee plant when wind or water carry its spores from plant to plant. The biggest outbreak is seen during the wet season, because the fungus needs constant moisture to spread through the leaf. It enters through the stomata on the underside of the leaf and then spreads throughout the leaf causing the leaf to fall and die prematurely. The resulting lack of leaves creates a lower level of photosynthesis for the plant which in turn causes less fruit(coffee) to be produced. This is a major problem on all of the farms here in Guatemala, and it is expensive to treat. There is an effort being made to produce fungus resistant breeds of coffee plants, but in the meantime expensive fungicides are being used for treatment. Coffee is already a tricky thing to produce, and the roya fungus is not making it any easier.
It is amazing how much work and skill goes into making a delicious cup of coffee. The coffee trees need shade and altitude, you have to pick the berries when they are red, they need to be dried for the proper amount of time, and then they must be sorted and roasted properly. Nothing makes me appreciate a cup of coffee more than this, especially after meeting the generous, friendly farmers and their families who do this work! I have heard from the farmers how much the organization De La Gente has increased the value of their coffee. Now they can sell it green or roasted instead of in berry form. It changes their work load and standard of living dramatically! I could not have had a better experience here in Guatemala!