Field Report from a student

Mikaila Way poses with Elvira.

Mikaila Way poses with Elvira.

Mikaila Way, a senior environmental studies major from Pacific University, joined us as a volunteer in January of 2012 on a harvest workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico.  In these excerpts, she describes a typical evening with our friends and host famers after a day of coffee picking, and talks abut how her time with Thomas and Elvira influenced how she views coffee. 

Under the moonlit sky, we’d return to the roof to sweep up the drying beans we’d spread in the morning and cover them for the night. As we brought in the berries we’d picked that day, Thomas taught us how to wash them in large concrete basin of water and then run them through the pulp mill. Overnight the pulped beans fermented in their sweet, slimy layer to break down that outer coating. While some of the group tended to the pulping, some of us would work with Elvira to prepare the evening meal with beans, that morning’s left over tortillas and warm cups of atole. Despite tiredness, we shared laughter and stories over our third warm meal of the day.

After we cleared dinner from the table, we sat back down to sort the dry beans in preparation for roasting. Now all that was left of the berries were hard, dry, greenish halves of the coffee beans. This is the final stage before the beans are roasted for market. Pounds upon pounds, bags upon bags of dry, hulled, green beans are sorted by hand to separate the sound whole beans from debris and abnormally formed beans. Just as picking berries in the sun had a sort of meditative rhythm, so did the sorting of the beans in the quiet evenings. It was a good time for talking, and it was while sorting beans that that Thomas and Elvira told us how they had come to coffee farming.  They met in their mid-twenties, some 30 years ago. When they were younger, they worked in Mexico City for over ten years in order to earn enough money to buy land back in the mountains where they grew up and start their farm.  In all of their stories, I heard such intention and a strong belief in the work they’ve dedicated themselves to.

Elvira and Tomas cultivate their coffee organically and on the shady slopes of the intact mountain forests. As they explained to us, they know they must care for the health of land just like they do for themselves and each other.  Not all coffee growers in grow coffee with such ecologically sound practices. By learning some of the process, and making it more personal by meeting this farm and its owners I have a new appreciation of a globally important product.  Now when I see people drinking coffee, I wonder where it came from, how it was grown, who picked it? Who pulped, dried, husked, sorted and roasted it? What are the conditions of work, of land, of the trees, those workers and t heir communities? Not only have I gained a heightened awareness of one way to cultivate and produce organic coffee, but I have also built relations to the process. I have personal connections and care for the well being of Elvira , Tomas, and their family and neighbors in Tanetze de Zaragoza.