In Gear | Rotary in Southern New Zealand In Gear - Issue 3 - Page 18

They started thinking about coffee way back down the production line. “To be honest, we just sent out an email, and it bounced around some organisations around the world, when it was just this dream, this wild dream … young people saying: ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to do this?’ “And, then we got a response, and it happened to be from the mecca of coffee in Mexico, which was incredible. Epifanio, a farm owner with The Lucy Foundation, inspects his coffee cherries. “We had a local group who said they worked with people with disabilities there, and that they’d tried some other things to get them engaged with inclusion and human rights, but felt the thing they were missing was they weren’t engaging them around coffee, but rather things like crafts, which, again, takes me back to this idea of charity.” After a painstaking scoping process, a social enterprise evolved, partnering The Lucy Foundation with coffee farmers and their families from Pluma Hidalgo, Oaxaca, which was home to a progeny of an heirloom variety of Typica coffee. Their shared goal? Exporting coffee beans to New Zealand. The premium coffee is the all-important vehicle, Robbie says, to produce so many other benefits, from social and environment to financial. “There is still a place for hand-outs and charity. But, we want to take it further and include that, but have it as part of a bigger picture. “You’ve got the give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a week; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime parable. The social enterprise model says a social entrepreneur wants to revolutionise the fishing industry. So, we’re applying that to coffee – we want to revolutionise the way we produce the product, because this is about sustainability,” Robbie says. A key first priority is strengthening the heirloom coffee plants, compromised by a hurricane several years ago that brought salt water from the ocean into the mountains, altering the pH of the soil. “Because the farmers are, for the most part, illiterate, they didn’t respond to the new environment, and didn’t put new practices in place for the new pH level, so their plants became weak. Then you’ve got ‘la roya’ – a rust on the leaves that has gone right through Latin America destroying crops, and you’ve got a little bug that burrows into the coffee bean. “All of these factors mean that this beautiful type of coffee that is only grown in this area, that is very special and an heirloom variety, is at risk of extinction. And, because of this, the farmers are having to abandon their land in search of work to put food on the table. “We’ve got one family we’re working with where mum is very unwell; they think it’s diabetes. She can’t afford the medications. She’s got two men who are mute, deaf with learning disabilities at home ... her sons. She’s looking after her grandchild, and dad works six days a week for a total of $NZ50. This is why he can’t work their land – they’ve got land, quite a bit of land, actually, but it doesn’t provide a quick enough return.” Sustainability first Robbie and her team are determined their approach remains holistically ethical and adheres faithfully to a three-pronged approach to sustainability: Respecting Page 18 | In Gear - Rotary in southern New Zealand - District 9980 | www.rotarydistrict9980.org