Every 42 seconds Peru loses another acre of rainforest. Logging, mining and intensive agriculture threaten the future of the heavily forested Amazon Jungle and Andean foothills. The Amazon generates 20% of the world’s oxygen and 60% of the world’s fresh water. If we allow the continued destruction of this tropical forest tens of millions of years old, we will not only lose this vital source of oxygen and fresh water but countless species of plants and animals.
Dripping with sweat, I looked up the mountainside I was climbing with an 80 pound sack of raw coffee beans on my back. This treacherous climb with my friend Lin Mael by my side ascending 2 miles to the nearest dirt road personifies the resilience and sheer will of the Peruvian rural farmer, or “Campesino”. These hardworking farmers, who transport their goods on similar journeys, tend their lands entirely by hand without the use of any chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, or genetically modified seeds. When they finally arrive to the nearest town with their harvest, the campesinos are met by only one or two commercial buyers, or “comerciantes” as they are known, who will dictate the price paid for the crop. With very few buyers and many sellers the price tends to dip way below the international market price and is often unsustainable for these farmers who “cash in” only once a year from their crop. After making this treacherous journey a number of times, I decided to find a way to help these hardworking campesinos by connecting them directly to the market. By supporting these farmers who maintain forested land through shade-grown crops we help protect the critically important Amazon ecosystem.
Campesino Mateo (as I came to be known in Peru and have named my company) provides Peruvian coffee and cacao beans to artisan producers and consumers in the United States. I live and work on the farms with the campesinos harvesting, processing, fermenting, drying, and storing the beans to ensure that the energy of this unique terrain is expressed in the foods I import. By directly connecting small-scale rural farmers with coffee roasters, chocolatiers, innovative chefs, and consumers, I am able to guarantee fair prices for the farmer while providing the market with the highest quality traditionally farmed products. Campesino Mateo emphasizes transparency, integrity, and quality above all else. We are truly committed to making a positive difference in the health and vibrancy of our farmers, clients, and ultimately the world.
Located in the lush “Eyebrow of the Jungle” zone between the Andean Mountains and Amazon Jungle, the Peruvian farms are remote, unspoiled, and virtually inaccessible. The fertile land and agricultural crops are fed by heavy annual rainfall and crystalline mountain springs. These conditions, in addition to the extremely high altitudes reaching 2200 meters (7000 feet) on some farms, creates the perfect environment for growing amazing coffee and cacao. These crops grow in diverse “food forests,” an ecosystem interplanted with many different species of fruits, herbs, wood trees, and spices. Farmers work hand in hand with their neighbors to harvest, ferment, and dry their shade-grown arabica coffee beans and heirloom cacao beans. The campesinos manage small plots of land averaging 2.5-3 hectares (about 6.5 acres) which allows them to closely manage their crops and process their coffee and cacao on the day of harvest, further increasing quality.
The Social Impact
A fairly compensated farmer will continue using traditional cultivation practices and invest in improvements such as building greenhouses and other appropriate technologies to improve quality. Many farmers I have met are interested in selling their lands and moving to the city in search of more economic opportunity. Peru’s biodiverse, flourishing ecosystems are threatened by the exploitation of the large deposits of minerals (gold, copper, silver) that exist throughout the Andes and Amazon. The multinational mining companies that extract these natural resources bring short-term profits but leave behind lead contaminated water, polluted air, depleted soils, sinkholes, and loss of biodiversity. The farmers would like to maintain their unspoiled lands and rural agricultural lifestyle, yet they are often compelled to allow the mining companies to enter in order to pay for medical bills, child education, and simple infrastructure projects. Ideally however, they would like to continue their traditional way of life and be able to afford the benefits of modern medicine, education and infrastructure.
By directly connecting farmers with consumers, we offer an economically viable alternative to environmentally destructive mining and logging operations. This relationship helps ensure that land in the “Eyebrow of the Jungle” will remain unspoiled and in the hands of conscientious people who use traditional cultivation methods. I believe the “gold” is in the water, the soil, the bananas, the cacao, the coffee, the avocados, the mangos, and the natural abundance on their lands. My conviction is that we can maintain the purity of these lands by supporting and empowering the campesinos.
The Environmental Impact
–Supporting small-scale rural farmers who use organic agricultural practices helps preserve the natural lands they inhabit, while providing the market with an alternative to large-scale monoculture fossil fuel intensive agricultural products.
–Supporting diverse “food forest” agriculture helps maintain a natural ecosystem that provides sanctuary for animals, migrating birds, plants, and fungi.
–Providing economic incentives to farmers empowers them to resist multinational mining and logging operations that destroy environmental diversity and the quality of soil, water, and air.
–Partner farmers tend their lands entirely by hand, using man-power to operate simple hand-held processing machinery. The farmers reject the use of outside inputs such as fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, synthetic chemicals, and genetically modified seeds.
I will return to Peru to work with the farmers during the next harvest and purchase raw coffee and cacao directly from the campesinos. I have met with dozens of artisan chocolatiers and coffee roasters in the Northeast US and I will provide them with the finest hand selected Peruvian goods. I would like your help launching this company, and I’m excited to offer you some of the first products I bring home! With your support I will purchase the goods from this upcoming harvest, ship them to the US, and manage the customs, warehousing, and distribution. Every additional dollar we raise is another dollar for our partner farmers. Artisanal chocolates, freshly roasted coffee beans, floral jungle honeys, pungent and brilliantly colorful spices, and Peruvian mountain salt are some of the goods I will share.
What’s special about this coffee and cacao? The valley of Ocobamba, where I’ll be living and sourcing my first shipment encompasses a near-perfect location for producing the most amazing agricultural products. The incredibly intense flavors and aromas expressed in the coffee and cacao directly reflect the unique conditions in which they are grown. Diverse shaded forest ecosystems, high altitudes reaching 2200 meters (7000 feet), and crystalline waters nourish the tall heirloom cacao trees and old Typica and Bourbon coffee trees. These conditions yield cacao beans with the highest fat content producing chocolates with exquisite texture and irresistible taste profiles. The premium coffee beans with their creamy body and sweet, floral notes are perfect for both delicate aromatic light roasts and earthy, chocolatey dark roasts.
Thank you for everyone who has taught me on this journey, especially the many campesinos it’s been my pleasure to meet and learn from.
A special thanks goes out to my family for their unwavering support, George Howell and Mark Mooradian for their insights and mentorship, Charlie Chalkin at Charlie Chalkin Productions for producing my video and Virginia Hall (http://www.virninja.com/) for designing my logo and website.