When a cup of coffee becomes just another step in a morning ritual, the work that went into getting that coffee to that point can sometimes be overlooked.
Annual trips and yearlong support have built a bond beyond Wisconsin-based nonprofit Farmer to Farmer and organic coffee farmers in Honduras and Guatemala.
Six people, a larger number than is often typical on these trips, recently traveled through the organization to Honduras earlier this month to visit the farmers there firsthand and engage in a cultural experience. A board member or two will also visit Guatemala this year.
Sue Gerlach, operations manager for Farmer to Farmer and one of three part-time contractors for the organization, was among the group on the latest Honduras trip.
In a year, Farmer to Farmer gets 4,500 pounds of coffee from nine farmers in Honduras and 16,500 pounds from 26 farmers in Guatemala, Gerlach said.
Each of the farmers is committed to being organic, Gerlach said, which helps with maintaining water quality and healthy soil.
In Guatemala, all of the farmers that Farmer to Farmer purchases from are women, Gerlach said. The women are organized as a women’s co-op under a larger co-op.
They are “empowered” to make their own decisions, Gerlach said, and take care in providing high quality coffee.
Farmer to Farmer’s connection to Honduran farmers dates back to board member Andy Gaertner’s time in the PeaceCorps in the late 1990s.
The Honduran and Guatemalan farmers often live in poverty or just above the poverty line, Gerlach said.
Farmer to Farmer eliminates the middle man and pays all the coffee farmers above fair trade price, Gerlach said, adding that while fair trade prices establish a good baseline, the prices still aren’t enough to bring the farmers good revenue.
Because planting and harvesting are some of the most cost-intensive parts of growing the crop, Farmer to Farmer also pays 60-100% of the cost upfront before the harvest is completed, Gerlach said.
Most people “don’t have a clue how hard” growing and harvesting coffee is, Gerlach said. If they did, people would be willing to pay “far more” for it, she added.
The organization helps the farmers they support beyond purchasing the coffee as well.
Twenty-three Guatemalan students, from kindergarten to college, are supported by Farmer to Farmer scholarships, Gerlach said. Scholarship money is distributed twice a year.
“It’s very personal,” Gerlach, who has been involved for 10 years, said, noting that they check in on the kids’ grades and to make sure they’re healthy.
The group has also sponsored one-time education experiences for the Guatemalan and Honduran farmers, including getting the farmers from the two countries together so that they could learn from each other and helping the farmers get the training they needed for their organic certification.
Farmer to Farmer trips to Guatemala and Honduras are not limited to members from the organization. They hope to have more people join the trips and extend an “open invitation” to anyone interested, Gerlach said.
“It gives you a whole new perspective,” Gerlach said.
In addition to visiting the farmers, the recent Honduras trip included hiking mountains, enjoying authentic Honduran food, picking coffee, seeing the coffee be processed, taking a boat ride to an island and encountering many animals and birds, Gerlach said.
Taking the trip gives visitors a deeper appreciation of the work being done and the environment the farmers are doing it in, Gerlach said. It also exposes those on the trip to the political challenges in those countries and helps them identify with the farmers and others there as people who have the same needs and wants that everyone else does, she added.
Experiencing a culture where you don’t necessarily speak the language can also allow you to experience a similar type of isolation that those who come to the U.S. often face, Gerlach said.
The whole experience is “pretty life changing,” she said.
For those interested in supporting Farmer to Farmer, the organization is looking for board members, Gerlach said, or people can “support sustainable and good coffee” by purchasing some themselves.
While the nonprofit, which is in its 30th year, is incorporated in Glenwood City, there is no brick-and-mortar location for it. The coffee is sold at select locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota.