Coffee in the Caribbean

This spring was difficult, our scheduled trip to Haiti on March 14th through the 25th of 2019 was canceled due to political violence. The student participants had prepared to spend time with Zanmi Kafe’ (Friends in Coffee) farmers in the Central Plateau of Haiti measuring plants and recording growth data. There was a scheduled visit to the Singing Rooster Coffee Co. who buys and sells Zanmi Kafe’ coffee beans, to see the production side. They have become the last link in the economic chain for our growers and we have enjoyed a personal relationship with their staff. It was with great sorrow that we were unable to spend this cherished break in our academic year with our beloved community partners: Zanmi Kafe’ farmers, Singing Rooster coffee production workers, students at the Center for Formation Fritz LaFontant and our lodging and logistics host, Marie Flore, the Director of Summits Education. Throughout this tumultuous period, we kept in communication with them and listened as they described the difficulties of day to day life. An unfortunate set of circumstances.

The political situation in Haiti escalated two weeks before departure. We have a thirty-year history of outreach work in Kingston, Jamaica and were able to re-route travel, acquire lodging and set up a program because of the long-term relationship in that country. We were in the city only a few months before in January.

We wanted to continue with the theme of coffee for at least part of our trip to Jamaica, so that the educational preparation would have some relevance. The history of our community engagement has been focused in the Trench Town District of Kingston, although we have spent work and cultural exploratory time in many parts of the city and country. The Blue Mountains are a short distance from Kingston and are home to some of the finest coffee in the world.

We stayed four days in the town of Mavis Bank in the heart of the Blue Mountain Coffee region. We toured the Mavis Bank Coffee Co. which has been in operation since 1885. Students were able to view the entire process from the delivery of coffee cherries by farmers, de-pulping, drying, roasting, packaging and shipping. A large amount of their Jablum brand is sold to Japan. It is an eye-opening experience for our students to be in rural Jamaica and see crates full of coffee with Yokohama, Japan shipping labels on them.

The group took a nine hour, up and down hike to the Blue Mountain peak, 7402 feet above sea level. Coffee plants flourish in the area because of the natural cloud cover that moves in and out daily and the well-developed eco-system that has not been de-forested. Proper land management has nurtured this world-renown crop. Two of our student leaders and other staff have spent time in Haiti. The contrast in landscape was startling to them.

One of these student leaders is Crystal Ngo. She has worked with Zanmi Kafe’ farmers in Haiti, studied abroad researching coffee in Panama, and now spent time in the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica. Crystal has developed, partially by chance, a body of work centered around the preferred morning beverage of millions of people around the globe. “I feel like I have seen what works and what doesn’t, but throughout my experience I have hope for the Haitian farmers because I have seen good practices and good leadership.’

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