For the second year in a row, I journeyed with a group of Elon University students to Peru to meet with shade-grown coffee farmers around the community of Jaén. The trip was part of a class offered through the university entitled Sustainable Development: Microfinance and Agriculture in Peru.
We had a few goals during our time there. The first was a series of community meetings to talk through what working with the Arbor Day Foundation would look like—how we can help improve production, why forming a co-op would be beneficial, and how they can receive a higher price for their coffee. Approximately 85 farmers came to these meetings, and in turn, we visited their farms.
The second goal was to get feedback from the farmers about what their largest expenses are and what we could help provide through a microfinancing program. We heard about the desire to plant more trees, purchase organic fertilizers, install drying beds to improve quality, and even supply food for their families between harvests.
The students had a very scientific third goal. They collected soil samples at the farms we visited and analyzed them to help the farmers understand what nutrients are in their existing soil and how they could amend it for better production. They saw a wide variety of soil types from farm to farm.
In addition to all of the critical information they were collecting for their classwork, the students also gathered plenty of life-changing experiences. It has been powerful to watch their outlook on the world change—to see how these farm families who have very little are so quick to give what they do have to give us a warm reception. They welcomed us, fed us, and most certainly humbled us. It’s a wonderful culture that I’m very glad they had the opportunity to be immersed in…if only for a short time.
Here are just a few additional snapshots to give you a peek into our journey.
Elon is a selective private liberal arts university in North Carolina renowned for engaged and experiential learning. This trip was part of a program that incorporated elements of microfinance and sustainable agriculture to help coffee farmers protect their lands while improving their economic conditions.