If you’ve spent time in Guatemala, you may know that the people have an amazing way of telling stories that can bring tears of happiness from the thoughtful words they choose. This is something I’ve always admired about Guatemalans – whether they are rich, poor, young, old, business executives, or farmers – that they speak with such passion and beauty. I find this ability especially poignant as I think about us millennials and our 140 character limitations, and culture of texting as opposed to talking (who talks on the phone anymore?!). It all makes me appreciate the stories that I hear, and truly cherish these moments with my Guatemalan friends.
Last month Monique, our Director of Sales, and I were hosting Tyler Liedman from True Stone Coffee Roasters in Minnesota here in San Miguel Escobar. We typically try to engage roasters with farmers by visiting individual plots of land where they can better explain the varieties, environment, and growing process. We asked Froilan Minas, a farmer from the cooperative in San Miguel Escobar, to take us out that day, which was a very kind offer given it’s the middle of harvest season and everyone is overwhelmed with work.
[Side note: my first coffee tour with De la Gente, before I even started working here, was with Froilan! So I know he is a great guide and excellent speaker. Dare I say I have a soft spot in my heart for him? ……Yeah. I digress.]
On our way up the faldas del Volcán de Agua (slopes of the Agua volcano), we passed through many areas where coffee was devastated by the roya (coffee leaf rust). To the left and right stretched plots where corn or sweet potatoes had been recently harvested, next to avocado trees, loquat trees, and more coffee fruit than the eye can relay to the brain. Along the dirt paths walked farmers heading up into the fields to start their work for the day, and others coming down, having already put in a solid 4 hours by 10:00 am.
About half way up the path, a young man passed by with around 3-dozen long-stem purple flowers on his back. “Buenos dias,” he said from under his pile of flowers. Then Froilan stopped. Looking thoughtfully he asked us, “Do you know this flower?” We recognized it from around Antigua, but didn’t know the name. “This flower is the flower that comes every year for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Because it is purple, it is the primary flower they use.”
“Is it for export?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “It’s just for here. Did you know, I tell people that because of this flower, I am where I am, working with coffee today?”
Monique and I looked at each other, translating for Tyler, but we could tell by the look on Froilan’s face that this was going to be a beautiful story.
“I used to grow this flower,” Froilan said to us. “This flower, we used to grow and harvest, and my wife, every day, would go to the capital to sell them. I was working in the capital, too, at the time, and so before work, I would come up into the campo (field) and harvest the flowers, and she would take them to the capital to sell. It’s very hard work. The stems have spines, and they hurt to handle, but we did it. And because of this flower, I was able to buy my first piece of property and grow coffee.”
Monique and I again looked at each other, probably trying to decide who would translate for Tyler best, without crying.
Froilan’s eyes were watery as he stood there proudly recounting his history in farming, with an obvious appreciation for the small flower in front of him - the very one that allowed him to invest in a more sustainable agriculture for him and his children, and went on to be replaced by coffee plants completely.
And then we realized, with Holy Week, the biggest celebration in Guatemala, on the horizon, that these flowers will be everywhere. They are an opportunity. They certainly were a means to develop a more sustainable livelihood in the case of Froilan. There are many means, from small purple flowers, to meticulously farmed coffee, that can allow people to break the cycle of poverty, to grow, to build, to sustain, to provide, and accomplish their dreams.
It was beautiful day, and Froilan's story truly touched our hearts. At DLG we have so much respect for the difficult work these farmers endure every day to provide for their families as well as accomplishments they have made in the face of inopportune circumstances. One of greatest things about this job is hearing about these hurdles and successes in the form of moving stories straight from the farmers that grow the coffee that I drink every day.
Beth Johnson is De la Gente's development director.