Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Stories on a mountaintop

Coffee growers from ANACCAFE cooperative with Little River Roasting
February 2017; photo by Leland Hollowell

Every once in a while, you get to see storylines of hard work converge in a single, energizing experience. Recently for me, that experience was 36 hours in the Peruvian village of Cocochó during a trip I made as interpreter-friend of Little River Roasting, our local coffee company in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Our crew journeyed to meet a cooperative of farmers doing their best to do right by way of environmental, business, and community sustainability: they cultivate shade-grown, organic, fair trade, coffee in high elevation plots that nurture biodiversity, prevent erosion, and protect watersheds.

As the moon rose over the Andes, and our pickups pulled into the deeply rutted main street, people poured around us, welcome banners bobbed, and a band played. Storylines converged. Months before, on one side of the Americas, an entrepreneur (and an alum of Wofford College, where I teach) took a calculated risk that aligned with his values and bought their coffee. His daughter (another alum), who a few years before had shot footage for a documentary during a term abroad as a Spanish major, snapped photos for marketing. On the Andean side of the Americas, coffee growers of Cocochó had worked for decades for a better future. The international cooperative movement gave them means to organize. Education in prestigious Peruvian universities sharpened their agricultural expertise. And finally, consumers who increasingly choose sustainable coffee created a market for the product. Those choices, those stories, came together at 7200 feet on a gorgeous night in a small, resilient, and hopeful community, and the moment was a beautiful one, and I was happy to witness it.

Want some advice drawn from our mountaintop experience? Become part of an awesome story. Buy from or invest in farm-to-consumer enterprises, learn another language (or help someone learn yours), promote access to higher education, advocate for sound environmental practices, and take your love –for the natural spaces we inhabit, the communities we live, and our many, many neighbors– into the world for good!