One of the best parts about working with Coffee Kids and HRNS is that I never stop learning. I learn how well organized producer associations can ensure the integration of women and youth more fully in a community. I learn about how climate change is affecting coffee-growing regions and how new agricultural techniques can help farmers adapt. Most importantly, I learn the real stories of young farmers. Recently, I had an incredibly powerful experience to not only learn from youth in Trifinio, but also to share the passion and motivation of these young adults directly with three of our roaster partners, Carabello Coffee, Cameron’s Coffee, and Café Señor K.

In mid-March, all three partner companies joined us on a visit to Trifinio, the tri-border area of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. This type of trip is an experiential way to learn about coffee producing communities, as well as a way to bring in new perspectives on other parts of the value chain to young farmers. The results of the five-day trip were nothing short of transformational–we walked away with a whole new understanding of how the people in our sector, from the farm to the board room, can learn from each other. It helped all of us see that coffee should not be a supply chain, with value leaving the growing communities, but rather a circle, with value and knowledge, constantly cycling through and improving the lives of everyone involved.

I’ve been reflecting on the trip in the weeks since and two key lessons have stuck with me that I wanted to share.

Farmers are not so different from the other professionals in the field.

For far too long, people have thought about the coffee workforce as farmers and everybody else. Farmers are “out there in the fields” while the rest of us are in our coffee shops, offices, and roasting facilities.

But the staff of Carabello, Cameron’s, and Café Señor K had plenty to talk about with the young farmers. They visited young farmers’ coffee shops and talked about the challenges inherent in running a business. They enjoyed a cupping and talked about which varieties of coffee they favor. The young farmers were inspired to learn that these big successful companies began as start-ups, and the visitors were elated to learn about the entrepreneurial approach that the young farmers take, like diversifying their crops and products to mitigate economic and environmental risks. They spoke as peers because they are peers.

It takes a village…or a cross-functional team.

We visited UNIOCAFE, a producer association in the Ocotepeque region that has been an innovator in involving young farmers in their work. We are incredibly grateful to them for everything they do on behalf of young farmers, and for hosting us on this trip. HRNS catalyzed the development of UNIOCAFE, and Coffee Kids has partnered with them in creating a Youth Committee that teaches cupping, preparing coffee for sale, and leadership skills. The UNIOCAFE Youth Committee is one part of the work Coffee Kids has done with over 250 youth in the region, thanks to our wonderful supporters.

The visitors from Carabello, Cameron’s, and Café Señor K were so impressed with the work of UNIOCAFE, and how it supports smallholder farmer members – men, women, and youth – with the skills and tools required to be active in this global industry. UNIOCAFE brings the community together to solve important challenges and prepare for the future.

In the same way, Carabello, Cameron’s, and Café Señor K brought their whole community. Owners, coffee buyers, marketers, and a roaster all joined for the trip, and each carried a unique perspective. The young farmers were exposed to so many different aspects of the coffee business and are already exploring new ways to incorporate new ideas and approaches into their own enterprises.

*****

We’re already planning another trip in February 2020 and on ways to incorporate what we learned from this visit into our programs. If you would like to join us in the field, you can reach out to us here.

We pulled some of our favorite images from the trip and created this gallery to give you an impression of just how special it was.