“I love this time of year,” said Lester Monroy, the coffee shipment liason, referring to the months of the coffee harvest. “Everyone has money and food. Everyone has work. The people are always happy in the streets.”
The coffee harvest takes place between November and March. Families venture out to their land, for seven hours a day, picking on average 150 to 200 pounds of coffee, five days per week. In return for coffee picked according to mission guidelines the families are consistently paid 200 quetzals for every 100 pounds of raw coffee regardless of the market price.
The market price has varied from 30 quetzals to 150 quetzals per 100 pounds of coffee. In the end of 2007, the market price for 100 pounds of coffee was 100 quetzals.
Harvesting coffee is not just a days’ or weeks’ work – it is a cultural experience that expands well beyond the mundane of daily chores. It is an all day affair of sharing meals and spending time with one’s family and extended family.
On a typical morning during the harvest, after breakfast, the men and boys head out to the fields to begin picking. After the house is cleaned, the women and girls join the rest of their family members to pick coffee, caring with them some maseca for making tortillas and perhaps a bit of meat. On the way up to the land, which could be as far as a two hour walk, they may pick a few avocados for lunch as well.
After picking coffee for a number of hours with quickly filling baskets tied around their waists, families take a break to share the midday meal and stories over a small tortilla-cooking fire. The hot afternoons of the dry season are spent picking coffee beans for a few more hours under the protective shade of the coffee trees. With enough time for the walk or ride home in a pick-up truck, families gather the 100 lb bags of coffee beans for the fathers and older boys to strap to their heads and carry on their backs home to be sold in town.
Prior to the months of the harvest season, hours are spent daily preparing the land and caring for the plants that sustain the lives of the people. At the mission farm, 15 people work under the direction of Ramiro Coche. From March to May, workers cut the limbs of the shade trees and clean out the broken limbs of the coffee trees so that the coffee trees have sufficient sunlight and space to grow.
Following the clearing of limbs and debris, fertilizer is laid in June. During the season of heavy rains from June to September, the land is maintained free of weeds which are composted with fallen leaves and other natural debris.
“The land is very tired,” explained Coche, noting the traditional Mayan belief that what is taken from the Earth must be returned. “We must feed the Earth for the plants to grow full and produce more fruit.”
After the rains of October, the first harvest begins the first or second week of November and continues through February of the next year. By the end of harvest season, the Juan Ana Coffee Program typically has purchased more than 7,500 quintals (750,000 lbs.) of coffee from more than 650 families in and around San Lucas and surrounding communities. Julio Morales, who operates the purchasing and processing of raw coffee for Juan Ana, then processes more than 100,000 of toasted, ready to enjoy, Juan Ana coffee.
“The people are happy because we are working together,” Morales said. “They are giving us good coffee, and we are giving them a good price for their product. We are important together.”