This morning, we took a tour of the Finca Magdalena, the coffee cooperative that runs the hostel we´re staying in. Our tour was lead by the knowledgeable Jose, who I thought looked younger than his 76 years. He first showed us the coffee processing building. He talked to us about the finca´s history, when it was in control of some buddies of Somoza. Later, it was inherited by the owner´s daughter and her American husband, but the husband´s gambling and drinking habits had drained the inheritance and the farm was in ruins. Another man saw the land, fell in love, and bought it. It was later turned into a cooperative in the time of the Sandinistas.
Now it is a cooperative of 25 members, and has recently switched to producing only organic coffee. In the past, the finca produced ¨cafe tradicional,¨ which used chemicals and was sold locally. Now that they´re growing organically, they sell to international markets, largely in the U.S. and Canada. As great as it is that the coffee is now chemical free, it´s sad to think that Nicaraguans like the farmers themselves cannot drink it, because it´s too expensive. When we asked Jose about why they were growing organically, we expected to hear that it was for the better prices they could get, or because it was better for the land. Instead, he surprised us, exolling the health benefits of drinking coffee grown without pesticides.
Jose was great to listen to. Whenever we asked a question expecting a short, factual answer, he would go off into long, illustrative stories or reflections on life in general. Some of his interesting musings were about the importance of cooperatives. He said how necessary it was to be organized, and how the cooperative was a support network for all its workers. Also, he talked about how much better the conditions were as a worker in the cooperative rather than a plantation. In a plantation, workers had no voice, and if they complained, the owner would only say they could leave if they didn´t like it. Now, the workers meet weekly, to discuss problems that have arisen, and decide everything together. The sense of empowerment and pride that came from the cooperative system were very evident. The values of hard work, honesty, trustworthiness and love of the land were evident in everything Jose said. I hope to bring back some of this appreciation for the value of cooperatives to OSCA when I return to school.