Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Owen Karssiens: Working with Coffee Farmers in Honduras

June 21, 2011

I'm lying in my bed next to my hammock in my two room two floor apartment in San José de Colinas, Santa Bárbara, Honduras and wake up with a yearning to go to the mountains.

As I walk the 30 minutes to the coffee co-operative where I work I take care to say hello to every single person I meet in the dust and sun on the way. I catch my breath in the air-conditioned office and tell my colleagues that I really want to go to the mountains. "Henri is just about to leave and could use your help with the GPS," they say and I run out the door.

On other days I spend the day in my little office surrounded by coffee in all it's stages trying to figure out ways to commercialize the product better - how to make our production traceable so that when you drink our coffee in nice shops or in your home you know where it came from. I have been working on how to craft just the right message for the back of our future U.S.-bound coffee bags, so that when you glance for 4 to 8 seconds on the packaging you get a glimpse of what I see when I go into the coffee mountains. I make piddly little spreadsheets and power points to try to tell my co-op how to best spend the little money they get each harvest. Anytime I come in to the office I am met with big smiles. I am the unpaid figurehead of the co-op. I am very happy here. With time the members and the board have started to trust me and support many of my decisions.

Henri takes me to one of our member's coffee farm and I greet and joke with the field-hands as they pick and separate fruited coffee beans. Henri has taught me a few dirty words so I try them out with the men of the group and I am a big hit. I really like these people. I squat over with the ladies who will not look me in the eyes, but the more brash of them dares to ask me how I survive without a woman. I tell her I cook my own dinners and wash my own clothes and they all laugh heartily.

Turns out I was up there to measure a plot of land with the GPS. So Henri and I walk around in the jungle and I click a few buttons and the deed is done. I go back and joke around a little more with the families organizing coffee. Even though I would gladly spend all my time like this, I have a job to do. I have to figure out how to get the co-op a more fair price for their coffee, so the members can get more money for their only crop, so they can afford to pay these wonderful people up here in the mountains more for their painstaking labor. You know, I didn't even drink coffee back in the states...