Meet Your Honduran Coffee Farmers
Who grows your morning fix? Photos and updates from Comayagua coffee families
You want your food choices to support family farms and not hurt the planet. One way is to buy coffee from Farmer to Farmer. We are a non-profit solidarity organization based in Menomonie, Wisconsin, and we import organic coffee from a women’s cooperative near Huehuetenango, Guatemala and an organic cooperative in Comayagua, Honduras. We know the farmers, and we make sure we pay above fair-trade prices. Also, we use donations to fund scholarships and other work with the farmers and a weavers group in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. We call what we do “direct trade,” and it ensures the most money from your coffee dollar ends up with the farmers.
I recently visited the farmers in Honduras for the first time since the pandemic. The general feeling is that while the pandemic was hard for people, especially in the cities, the rural areas were least affected. They told me stories of traveling to the nearby city and having a checkpoint where people would fumigate the vehicle and everyone in it with a bleach solution. The lockdown was intense and affected commerce, and thousands of people died in the Comayagua, while the rural areas lost one or two per village. Thankfully, none of our farmers or their families have passed from COVID, although many did get it. Everyone I visited had masks and wore them without complaint whenever close contact was warranted.
The farmers were mostly concerned about coffee rust, a disease that has been affecting farms more and more in the last ten years. This is related to climate change, because the disease spreads more in warmer years. This year, the rust is the worst they’ve seen in years, with crop losses of 50% or more. Much of our discussion focused on resistant varieties and organic fungicides and other ways to combat the rust. On the plus side, coffee prices are up worldwide, and the farmers could take some consolation in getting a better price for their work, even as yields are down.
We visited 12 families and at each family, I asked about the school aged children and how they have been through the pandemic. It has been a hard two years, with little in-person schooling happening in Honduras, and online learning not an option for the rural areas. We are all hopeful for the new school year, which just started.
Here are your farmers and some updates on their lives in 2022:
Don Roman and Doña Francesca
The first farm we visited was Don Roman and Doña Francesca in Los Cedros, high above the city of Comayagua. Doña Francesca travels every day to the Comayagua to sell agricultural produce at the town market. While we were on the tour with their son Eduin, we were gifted some of the special anise avocados that Francesca is known for. Farmer to Farmer has been helping their youngest daughter Ada Cristina and their niece Fatima go to a boarding school in the city. The girls missed a year with COVID and then had a hard year in 2021, where they were at school, but taking online classes — the worst situation for them because they were separated from their family but also didn’t get the benefit of in-person teaching. This year promises to be different, with in person teaching, and the young women are committed to returning to school.
Don Marcos Ramirez
Don Marcos is also one of the original members in the co-op. He and his family live in El Matazano, a community lower on the mountain. The lower you go on the mountain, the worse the coffee rust has been (due to warmer temperatures), and Marcos is having a tough year with coffee. He has a little general store at his house and also keeps bees, so he has more than one source of income. When we did a census of school aged children, Marcos did not have any kids in school, but counted an impressive eight grandchildren in school.
Benito and Mancho Perez
In the community of Las Moras, there are two brothers who have gone all-in for organic coffee. The Perez brothers share the work of growing and processing their coffee. Benito is the only bachelor in the co-op, and Mancho (Maximo) and his wife Sandra Fulnes have three children, Jesica, Maximo Junior, and Eliar Benjamin. The rust hit them hard too, but they will have coffee to send. They wanted to express gratitude for Farmer to Farmer aid that was sent after Hurricanes Eta and Iota hit their community. Benito’s house was destroyed, and you can see in the photo them posing in front of the recently rebuilt house.
Patrocinio Sanchez and Osiris Gutierrez
Patrocinio and Osiris also live in Las Moras. They had a scary night during Hurricane Iota, where major landslides came close to their home and they lost one wall of their house. They contemplated leaving, but their whole earning potential is tied up in their farm, so they decided to stay and rebuild their house. Patrocinio got emotional when he expressed gratitude for the support Farmer to Farmer sent immediately after the hurricanes. He said you find out who your friends are in a crisis. The harvest will be less because of the rust and lingering damage from the hurricanes, but there will be some coffee to send.
Adalid Zavala and Suyapa Yanez
Adalid has been the president of the co-op for years. Many years ago, his family moved to the city, so their children could go to middle and high school. Adalid and Suyapa kept the coffee farm in Rio Negro, but now have a firmly planted life in the city. Their two girls, Cindy and Dariela, are both married and live elsewhere, but their grown sons Melvin and Alex live at home, as does their youngest, Hansel, who is entering 2nd grade. Adalid and Melvin have a business building and repairing coffee depulping machines (they can weld and fix anything!), and Alex has a business roasting and selling coffee. The family also has a general store on site, run by Melvin’s wife Keyli. They have a LOT going on! We got to go up the mountain to Rio Negro to visit their coffee farm this year. The old house is a ruin — people have stolen any usable building materials. The farm is overgrown with weeds, and recently people even came and stole coffee. This is a problem when you abandon your farm to live in the city. Adalid is planning to remove the weeds and bring up some organic fertilizer to renovate the farm. Alex recently was named the new president of the co-op, which is a big deal, because he was a little kid when the co-op started.
While in Rio Negro, we visited Doña Cirula. Even though it has been years since she sent coffee with the co-op, they keep her on the rolls. She is a single mother and grandmother and her story is a testament to importance of coffee for families. When we first visited, her house was tiny. Over the years she has added to her house, and now her two sons have built houses on the property too. They now have a road, passable by motorcycle, and Farmer to Farmer has helped them install a micro-hydroelectric system on a nearby stream. They make extra money charging batteries for neighbors. Despite all this, the 2022 harvest was drastically less due to coffee rust. We saw rows of bags full of underripe coffee they had to pick, because the rust was going to make ripening the crop impossible. The underripe coffee can be ripened off the plant, but it takes time and effort and the end result is low value. We surveyed the grandchildren who were sorting coffee when we visited, and only two are in school. The others have graduated elementary and are unable to continue.
Don Polo Euceda
Leopolo Euceda has been sending coffee to Farmer to Farmer since we first started buying from the co-op. His family’s farm is on the south side of the mountain in the village of El Tamarindo. The south side of the mountain is in the rain shadow, so instead of lush broadleaf vegetation, El Tamarindo is surrounded by pine and oak forest. We made a brief stop to visit on the way up to visit other farms. Don Polo doesn’t have any school-age children, but has eight grandchildren in school. This year they don’t have much coffee to send, the rust and the broca (an insect) hit hard.
Don Apolinario Garcia
Also known as Don Polo, he lives in El Sute. El Sute and neighboring El Horno are a three hour bumpy drive from Comayagua. These communities are old, Indigenous Lenca villages, which until recently mostly grew only subsistence crops like corn and beans. Coffee has some in a big way. We did not visit his farm, but we met him on the road with his two daughters, Jaisy and Sonia. Apparently, we are lucky he wasn’t able to show us his farm, because it is full of ticks! They have these tiny ticks that you can barely see which burrow under your skin causing unimaginable itching and welts. So yeah. Glad we met you on the road.
We were happy to visit Doña Juana Zavala’s farm for the first time. She lives in El Horno, but her farm is in El Sute, the next village over. It was quite a hike! Her husband Alexis Gonzales was killed in a logging accident two years ago and she took over the farm. She sent some very high quality coffee last year. She was happy to show us the coffee, although her organic plot is struggling.
Don Arnulfo Alvarado and Doña Adilia Martinez
Doña Adilia has been having a hard time of it. Her daughter died over a year ago and it hit really hard. She was honest with us about how depressed she has been and how many days it is hard to get out of bed. I can only imagine what it must be like. They live in El Sute. Don Arnulfo was not at home, but we saw him at the town center. Arnulfo and his brother Don Chico, bought us to visit their mother, Doña Julia, who just passed 94 years. By the way, we all got ticks at Arnulfo’s place anyway, and we spent a long time getting them off of us!
Don Chico and Doña Moncha
Chico is short for Francisco Alvarado, and Moncha is short for Simona Vasquez, and they are the biggest producers of the coffee co-op. They live in El Sute, and Doña Moncha manages the farm. Don Chico is always on the move because he also has a farm in Yoro, a full days travel away from El Sute. When we visited, their daughter Berta and her son Frederico (Yico) were in Yoro. But Berta’s other son Sergio was on the farm in El Sute, and he was pleased to show us around. With Farmer to Farmer’s help, Sergio is hoping to attend middle school this year. He lost two years of secondary education due to the pandemic. At one point I got out my phone to show him pictures of Wisconsin, and he got out his phone to show me pictures and movies that he took over the last two years. He was so proud and excited to show me. It was not until later that I realized how Farmer to Farmer member Sue Gerlach had donated that phone and changed Sergio’s life.
Hector is my best friend in Honduras and he acted as our guide during my trip. He has a farm in La Majada, but the coffee rust has hit so hard that he is in the process of renovating the farm by replanting with new varieties, so we didn’t visit the farm this time. We could not have visited any of the farms without him and his trusty Toyota Land Cruiser. Thank you Hector!