Earth Month 2022: Our Commitment to the Future of Coffee

Earth Month 2022: Our Commitment to the Future of Coffee

Every year, Earth Month is a time where businesses all over reaffirm commitments to become more sustainable. At Pachamama Coffee, sustainability was the very basis of our foundations. We were founded to create a more equitable and sustainable future for coffee, coffee farmers and our planet. Through ownership, small-scale coffee farmers are able to have a voice and a vote about the direction of their business to sustain themselves for generations to come.

 In order for a business model to be sustainable there has to be benefits for everyone along the chain. We work constantly for a dignified life and a dignified wage. We are proud of receiving this award {2021 SCA Sustainability Award} and we are committed to benefiting more families and more consumers even as we take care of our environment. - Merling Preza

Our namesake, Pachamama, directly translates to Mother Earth from the Quechua and Aymara people in the Andes of South America. The belief system surrounding ‘Pachamama’  is reflected in the idea of reciprocity, the give and take relationship between people and nature. One must give back to mother earth in order to receive, we must take care of Her so that She can continue to take care of us. This idea is foundational for us at Pachamama, it keeps us grounded to the standard to always prioritize and value the planet and the people within it. 

“Climate change is affecting us more. We once produced coffee in a much better environment, with stable rains, under the right conditions, and now we face challenges with coffee leaf rust, with uncertainty around rain, or with what we can or can’t use.” - Merling Preza, The Role of Cooperatives, SCA Re;Co Speech

Pachamama’s coffee farmers do not grow organic by accident. We often “inconvenience” ourselves in order to uphold our ethics: namely, the certification process and everything that is required for organic production and sourcing, is often tedious and more expensive, but well worth the effort. It is a deliberate choice we make daily (through farming) and annually (through certifications and buying) to uphold. 

“Agriculture produces almost everything we eat and drink, and because it is wholly reliant on the weather, it is one of the most sensitive sectors in our entire global economy to climate change.” J. Vern Long and Rose Barbuto, World Coffee Research: Farm Journal Foundation 

Day to day we can see the changes happening on the farm and around the world due to climate change. It is our responsibility and our duty to actively make decisions to protect,  rather than harm, the planet we all call home. Our farmer-owners understand the importance of prioritizing harmony with nature and adapting with it instead of working against it. They made the decision to commit to growing organically for the benefit of their families and their land. 

So what does organic production really encompass? To be CCOF Certified Organic + USDA Organic like we are, there are rigorous standards that have to be met. All methods of fertilization, pest control, fermentation, and even decaffeination are all based on a commitment to planet health and human health. 

Studies have shown organic farming protects soil health, water cleanliness, animal and plant diversity and the health of the families in each farming community. Additionally it’s been shown that organic agriculture when compared to conventional, actively reduces carbon emissions, the biggest contributing cause to climate change.  

When products are manufactured with the health of the consumer and producer in mind, the positive effects ripple out and benefit all. 

Future Proof Your Coffee

Testimony from Alejandro Gutierrez Zúñiga: La Unión Regional

We had the chance to speak with Agronomist and Certifications Coordinator for La Union Regional, Alejandro Gutierrez Zuniga, during our Board of Directors meeting in March 2022. Alejandro spoke with us about the importance of growing organically for the coffee farmers at La Union and some of the different initiatives that they actively participate in to continue to produce better tasting coffee, that is better for the environment. 

Alejandro Zuniga Peralta, Coffee Agronomist Huatusco Mexico

At La Union, the coffee farmers developed a technique that reduces the waste of coffee production and actively reinserts it into the earth: our true reflection of the nature of reciprocity. If you didn't know by now, coffee is grown on trees and comes from a fruit that looks like a cherry. This outer layer known as the cherry is not consumed by coffee drinkers around the world (at least not yet) and is typically discarded as waste. Alejandro explained how they developed a system to integrate this piece, that was once waste, into their organic fertilizer for coffee fields to close the loop on the cycle. 

“When you plant an organic crop, you will not just see the rows of coffee plants, the biodiversity of the place is kept as is the natural environment. You have plants, different kinds of trees, the natural soil is conserved. All that is connected to biodiversity.”

Alejandro shared how you can see life on the farm when it is organically farmed. He shared with us a video from Ruben Zuniga Peralta of a moving forest floor in his coffee fields. There were hundreds of ants carrying leaves all over the ground and looked as if it were a river running through the dirt. In a non-organic farm, farmers would typically spray pesticides that would not allow for life like this to thrive. There is beauty in this habitat that can only be preserved when there is an understanding of the harmony and balance that nature requires.

Pest management practices do indeed become harder when there is no use of pesticides to kill off the undesired insects that affect production. Alejandro explained, there is a pest, called root knot nematodes, that began to eat away the roots of the coffee plants in the fields of members. This led to tree loss and reduced crop output which in turn leads to less money for the farmers.

To combat this, Alejandro’s team uses a system of tree grafting to connect the root of an “undesired” tree, the pest wasn't attacking, to the top half, stem and leaves, of the desired coffee tree to continue producing the better tasting coffee without root loss. The process is long but this route allows farmers to adapt their fields and in the long run keeps them profitable. 

coffee tree grafting

Alejandro explained to us how this process unfolds for La Union.

In the month of March we begin the grafting process because it is lengthy. First you have to germinate the robusta, which is the base of the grafted plant, and that takes about a month. After a month, you begin to germinate the seed of the variety that you want to put on top. During these few months, we begin to prepare the nursery: weeding out, and cleaning the ground, leveling the ground, preparing the soil that will be used to fill the bags where the grafted plant will go in, and you begin to fill the bags and position them in the nursery. 

The grafting process is done on the side, and then in no less than a day it needs to be taken to be planted in the bag, otherwise it will dehydrate and die. The process can take anywhere from the month of March, all the way to the month of August in Huatusco.

Grafting is a way to combat pests that have impacted the coffee fields, it is a way to continue growing healthy quality organic coffee.”

Coffee tree nursery

Coffee trees take about four years to mature and produce viable coffee to sell, so turning over crops like this costs more than just key time, but money for producers. One major concern for the future of coffee is that it is produced, mainly by “smallholder farmers who have less access to resources to help them adapt and agricultural research spending on coffee lags behind many other crops with similar economic impact, leaving farmers with fewer climate-smart tools at their disposal.”  

By organizing into a cooperative, adaptation like this is easier because there are people like Alejandro to help disseminate information and production techniques quicker and more efficiently than an individual farmer trying to shelter the adjustments alone. 

Our Visit at La Union | Summer 2021

Rosa Angelica and Antonio Sarabia visited member-owners in Huatusco, Mexico at cooperative La Union Regional before Alejandro came to visit us in Sacramento. They witnessed first hand the dedication, precision and understanding of the process needed for organic and shade grown coffee cultivation. They recalled a conversation they had with Joel Carlos Fernandez about the reason he uses organic practices:

“I don’t want myself or my family to get sick by harmful chemicals, It not only hurts ourselves, but the land that produces what we consume, the animals we share the space with, the water we drink.”

This Upon returning from Huatusco, Rosa and Antonio described all the detail and the beauty of nature all around them in the coffee fields. From the caterpillars, spiders and small animals on the leaves to the layers of trees encompassing each coffee field. The harmony in the environment could be seen up close and for miles upon miles. 

Organic Coffee, Shade Grown Coffee, Biodiversity on Coffee farms

Dive deep into the organic coffee fields of La Union Regional and see the beauty for yourself.

When you buy Pachamama, you are using your dollars to commit to a better future of coffee. You are investing in the small scale coffee farmers that own Pachamama and ensuring they can have a future in coffee and a better life for their communities. Together we are building a sustainable future of coffee that prioritizes human health, planet health and the communities that produce our favorite product. 

“More consumers need to know that their coffee purchases make a difference; and more of the voices working within this movement, on the ground, need to be heard so we can change the discourse in the coffee industry echo chambers.” Sam Knowlton, Daily Coffee News

That is why Pachamama shares on the ground experience and knowledge from our farmer-owners. Bridging the gap between coffee farmer and coffee consumer is key in building the future coffee system.

As consumers we have a choice to support organizations and businesses that deliver on their promises to do better and be better. Individual action at times can seem lost among the big players in industries actively working against sustainability, but we all have a voice and we all have a vote with our dollars to support who matters. Celebrate Earth Day everyday with us at Pachamama. Adelente!

Written by Ashley Fleming 


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