A Review of Cristian Merlos Guzman’s Time in Madison

Cristian and

In October were honored to host Las Diosas President Cristian Guzman Merlos in Madison. She spent time meeting people who drink Diosas coffee and speaking with people about the Coffee Leaf Rust (Roya) crisis affecting her co-op’s farmers. Cristian visited several cafes, classes, and community groups to explain how this blight is stressing the women of Las Diosas and their families with 70% or more of the harvest being affected. She was impressed by the turn out at the events and the interest level in what her cooperative is experiencing.

Cristian attended two fundraisers– one hosted by Eat for Equity Madison and the Mermaid Cafe and another at The Cardinal Bar– to raise funds for Outside the Bean’s work. Between the two events, we raised several hundred dollars for OTB projects.

Las Diosas is currentlybusy putting together proposals to address the various needs that the organization will have in 2014. Please stay tuned to find out more about Las Diosas Roya response and Outside the Bean’s next steps.

Nicaraguan coffee cooperative member to visit Wisconsin in October

Cristian visits from Nicaragua!
400-CristianIn October, Outside the Bean is excited to host Nicaraguan coffee grower Cristian Dolores Guzmán Merlos. She is a member of  Las Diosas coffee cooperative and a member of la FEM, a Nicaraguan nonprofit working to empower rural women. Read her full bio below.

Her visit is also co-sponsored by the UW and by Just Coffee.



Here are some of her public events that YOU can attend:

October 19th: Eat For Equity Fundraiser dinner at Mermaid Cafe. 1929 Winnebago St, Madison. 6:00 – 8:30pm. This is a handmade local dinner cooked by Eat for Equity volunteers. Tickets are sliding scale, roughly $25-50 suggested donation. Reserve via email at eatforequitymadison@gmail.com and add your name to the guest list.

October 21st: Willy Street Grocery Co-op, 1221 Williamson St. Enjoy a talk with Cristian and sample coffee and chocolate. 6:30 – 7:30pm

October 22nd: Redamte Coffee House, 339 State Street. Chat with Cristian and enjoy Las Diosas coffee. 7:00pm.

October 23rd:Presentation at UW-Madison: “Climate Change and Coffee: Global Warming Impacts and Adaptation on Central American Coffee Farms” 103 Taylor Hall. 3:00-4:30pm. With Professors Caitilyn Allen and Brad Barham and Just Coffee Co-founder and Owner Matt Earley.

October 24th: National Food Day. Dane County Food Council, in conjunction w/ Fitchburg and other partners, is hosting a Food Summit entitled Connecting with The Land to celebrate National Food Day. The Summit is for everyone (farmers, activists, restaurateurs, community gardeners, educators, processors, entrepreneurs and community organizations) engaged in building a sustainable local food system. The Summit will include networking, a panel discussion on food justice and land access, and great local food. Click for registration and further information.

Saturday, October 26th: Fundraiser Party at the Cardinal bar, 418 East Wilson St., 4–8pm. Snacks and drinks. Music to be announced. Come and warm up for your Halloween evening or just enjoy hang out with your Just Coffee/Outside the Bean friends.

About Cristian:
Cristian Dolores Guzmán Merlos was born in the rural community of Guasuyuca, Nicaragua, daughter of coffee, vegetable, and corn and bean farmers. She has studied accounting for three years and is in her fourth year of business administration in Estelí. Since 2007, Cristian has been working to support her cooperative COPELUZ with their accounting, maximizing her understandings and contributing to the development of rural women.

Alongside the cooperative, Cristian has participated in different spaces offered by la FEM (a Nicaraguan NGO working to empower rural women), including workshops on gender, leadership, and exchanges that have contributed both to her professional and personal training. As a leader in her cooperative, Cristian was recently appointed to be the Manager of a newly organized secondary level cooperative “Las Diosas”.

Aside from managing the cooperative and studying, Cristian has recently purchased her own parcel of coffee and is now planting a 1/2 manzana of coffee with the idea of producing and applying her knowledge in the coffee farm. Being from a rural community gives her a strong sense of pride in being a woman farmer, representing the Las Diosas Cooperative.

Report Back from Aurora Esquipulas

families of the aurora esquipulas community.

families of the aurora esquipulas community.

We are back in San Cristobal de Las Casas from Aurora Esquipulas– mud-caked and fatigued. Chris, Aaron, and Chelsea are very ill and trying to sleep off intense stomach sickness. One solid take-away from our visit is that, even though Phase 1 of the Outside the Bean water project was a success, there is still much to do to purify the water that comes to the community. It was almost certainly the water that caused our team to go down hard. I am feeling queasy, but thus far I am holding my own. I credit the hot chilis that I ate at every meal.

Another important thing we learned is that the price that Just Coffee’s importing cooperative is offering to the farmers of Maya Vinic this year is not working well for many of MV’s farmers and it is putting a stress on them that we are not comfortable with. This is a big disappointment as it is well above the world market price and even the “fair trade minimum” price. Still this is not totally unexpected. Over the past three years prices rose steadily due to a spike in the world market price. While farmers also saw basic goods and inputs rise, the higher differential was important and farmers were getting used to it and planning their personal finances around it. This year prices fell by around 35% and it has hit these small producers hard.

water tanks bought and installed as part of the project

water tanks bought and installed as part of the project

We slept in the house of a farmer named Gerardo. Gerardo has two children and a wife who depend on the cash from coffee sales to pay for their needs. He is concerned because– although he will make enough to pay for his coffee production and basic needs– he will not have any extra money to pay for unexpected costs such as a trip to the clinic, a pair of shoes for his kids, or a home repair. He had hoped to replace his dirt floor with concrete this year, but will now need to put it off until 2014. This is deflating to me and makes me question the whole point of “fair trade”.

However, instead of giving up and going back to the states to wallow in guilt, I am thinking about what this means for our work and our understanding of fair trade. If I were to look at “fair trade” in the light of some of its marketing over the years, I would walk away in disappointment and disgust. But that “fair trade”– the one that promises to “pull farmers out of poverty” by buying a bag of coffee with a special seal– is strictly fictional. Looking for a label is a good first step, but it is only that. The next one is to look at the companies that claim “fairness” and see what they are actually doing. And from there each of us has to see what else we can do like supporting non-profits such as Outside the Bean and On the Ground who work in coffee communities. Fair trade has to go beyond a transaction and must include the building of relationships between our communities and a commitment to work together to help overcome challenges like the lack of drinking water, education, health care in the places that we are connected to through our coffee purchases.

Make no mistake, small farmers need a fair price for their coffee. When I get back to Madison I will engage Just Coffee Co-op to see about returning more money to the farmers of Maya Vinic this year. I cannot begin to tell you how it feels to look a farmer in the eye and hear that the price Just Coffee Co-op pays is not working for them. Between the price we pay and the resources from our communities that we can provide through non-profits like Outside the Bean, we want to raise the bar and make our “fair trade” community-based, inclusive, revolutionary, and truly fair. This requires more than a relationship of buying and selling things. It has to come from person to person, family to family, and community to community.

Please stay tuned and find out how you can plug in to make this a reality.

Getting to Work: Improving Access to Clean Water in Chiapas, Mexico

Outside the Bean is excited to embark on its first community development project. We’re planning to implement a water access project in the community of Aurora Esquipulas in the municipality of Pantelhó in Chiapas, Mexico.

The targeted community of Aurora Esquipulas has approximately 8,000 people. Currently 100 families in the community are without adequate access to clean water and use a suboptimal water source because they have no water at home. To assist those families in accessing clean water Outside the Bean is partnering with the Chiapas-based NGO CATAS to construct tanks and taps to collect and distribute water from a nearby spring. The tanks, with a total capacity of 10,000 liters, will fill with spring water overnight allowing this reserve to meet the needs of the community during the day time. For the long term sustainability of the project CATAS plans to do the workshops to teach community members how to care for the spring source and the appropriate technologies system.

We’ve worked hard to ensure this water project is a success. Through our work with CATAS in Aurora Esquipulas, Outside the Bean strives to  improve the livelihoods, health and productivity of the affected community members. We hope to provide updates soon as construction of the water system gets underway.

A big thanks goes out to our donors and supporters who help make our work possible. While we’re ready to go ahead with this first project, we welcome donations that will contribute to the success of future efforts to support coffee producing communities in Latin America. Join us in thinking “Outside the Bean” by donating now.


Update on the July 9th Fundraiser @ The High Noon Saloon

The Outside the Bean team would like to thank everyone who came down to the High Noon Saloon on July 9th, 2012 to officially launch our organization and raise money for  our mission to support community development projects in areas that supply coffee to Madison.

A massive thank you also goes out to The Shrunken Heads and the Beat Road Blues Band for their excellent performances at the event. Together we raised nearly $300 dollars. We plan to put this money directly into a water access project we are working on in the community of Aurora Esquipulas in Chiapas, Mexico.

Stay tuned for more updates about the Aurora Esquipulas water project and the exciting work of Outside the Bean.

Fundraiser at The High Noon Saloon, Monday July 9

Two friends of Community Action on Latin America have set up a fundraiser gig with two bands at The High Noon Saloon on Monday, July 9.

Beat Road Blues band, headed up by Marc Rosenthal, will welcome you to happy hour at 6pm.

The Shrunken Heads, with Carol Bracewell on bass, will launch around 730pm.

Carol has been a longtime CALA member and is excited to be helping Outside the Bean get organized. Marc has been a tireless volunteer for the Madison-Arcatao Sister City Project, which has collaborated with CALA to host speakers and events.

Come and hear these two local bands and help Outside the Bean reach its fundraising goals for its first project.

Beyond the Bean Kickoff Party this Friday 5/18

Note: We kicked off this project with the name Beyond the Bean, but have since changed it to Outside the Bean. On Friday May 18th Beyond the Bean will host our kickoff event at the Cardinal Bar located at 418 East Wilson Street in Madison. The event will go from 6pm to 8pm and offer an opportunity for people in Madison to get to know our new 501C3 organization and hear about our first project — an initiative to improve access to clean and dependable water supplies for a community in the coffee producing highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.

Beyond the Bean is a non-profit project of Just Coffee Co-op and the well known Madison solidarity organization Community Action on Latin America (CALA). The mission of BTB is to promote and coordinate community to community partnerships between dedicated people in the US and coffee farming families in Latin America. The project came about in order to go beyond the buying and selling of fair trade coffee in farming communities and to work to help improve their access to water, food, education, and health care in a sustainable way.

Come down to The Cardinal and hear about Beyond the Bean and get involved. A huge part of fair trade is making real and sustainable connections between our communities and we are hoping that you will take this opportunity to hear about our plans and to help move this forward.