The Chochajau Collective includes around 80 individual farmers who live and farm in the highlands to the west of the beautiful Lake Atitlán, about an hour's drive up the mountain from San Juan la Laguna. The farmers are of the indigenous group Quiché, and speak quiche as their first language.
(L to R): Dario Mendez (Olam), Casey (Canyon), Leonel, & Pedro
The collective has been producing exclusively organic coffees since its formation in 2001. Today, they are supported by Leonel Soto (second from right), who supplies advances for harvest, operates the beneficios where the coffee is processed, and orchestrates sales of the coffee to buyers. Leonel studied agronomy in Mexico and has helped to start several organic coffee farms. Pedro (on the right) is the leader of the collective, and Dario, on the left, is a representative of Olam, our importing partner.
When I arrived to Pasajquim, the village at the heart of the Chochajau farms, we came to the center of town where about 30 of the farmers of the collective had gathered. With the local quiché dialect, it was difficult for me to follow the Spanish (I spent four months learning Spanish in Quetzaltenango, or Xela, the second-largest city in Guatemala, back in 2010). Before I knew it, I had been introduced and was asked to speak to the crowd.
I thanked the farmers for their time, and told the story of Canyon Coffee and how we began our company using the coffee they grew. I talked about how much respect we hold for the coffee, how special it is to us and our lives, and how our goal is to share that sentiment with more people. I talked about how we communicate through story, and how it's our wish to visit farmers more regularly, to find ways to tell their stories directly to the people who are enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Afterwards, I was able to take a tour of several different plots where the coffee was in varying stages of harvest. I was shown plants that had been affected by la roya, or coffee rust, as well as new seedlings of coffee plants less susceptible to the rust.
I'm excited to continue returning to Chochajau, and hopeful for this to turn into a long-term relationship wherein we continue purchasing coffee from Chochajau on an annual basis. As we grow, I hope that we reach a volume of coffee that enables us to help remove some of the stressors and insecurities that come with the farming livelihood, and enable higher quality of life for the farmers and their families.
Photos from Guatemala on the left, from top to bottom: (1) Lake Atitlán, (2) sisters Juana and Victoria Menchu Zaballa, both farmers in the Chochajau Collective, and their friend, and (3) farmers and Dario Mendez (Olam) inspecting leaves with coffee rust.