My own appreciation of food and knowledge of the food system is still limited, every day. I am constantly learning more about the full system of where my food comes from and what it is tied to, and with each lesson I realize more fully how disconnected we are today from the roots of our food. My full immersion into this lesson was realized in Guatemala this spring on an educational food justice trip. We visited a coffee farm and co-operative to speak with the farmers, harvest coffee, and watch the entire process. I was baffled learning the steps and intricacies of the fruit and bean which I poured into my cup every day out of a large coffee maker in a cafeteria in Vermont. To me, that was what coffee was. But this experience brought me to realize how intricate a process it was to harvest it and such an appreciation for the farmers who work so tirelessly to produce it. I also had a fascination and respect for the co-operative that the workers formed in order to receive a fair price for their coffee and to work together towards improving their farms and livelihoods.
First, the farmers hike about thirty minutes up into the mountains every morning carrying large baskets under their arms. When they reach the coffee trees, they tie the baskets around their waists and pick the red fruits from the trees, filling the baskets to the brim. It took us students a while to fill the basket about an inch but the farmers’ hands were fast and agile with experience. They then pour the fruit into fifty pound bags, filling them up, and carry the bags on their backs down the mountain, every day, again and again. At their houses, they pour the fruit into a bicycle operated contraption called a pulpador, which removes the pulpy fruit from around the seed, spitting out the sugary-coated white seed. Those seeds are then laid out in mass quantities in the sun in their houses or in specified areas to dry out the wet, sweet coating. The seeds are left in the sun for three or four days and have to been turned over as well. Once the seeds are dry, they are roasted on the stove, and then ground on a grindstone, then filtered over hot water to serve strong, delicious coffee.