By Kim Zahnow
Photographing for One Bigg Island in Space has been life changing for me. I am honored to be on this journey, traveling, connecting with new people, learning where coffee comes from and how it is grown. I absorb every moment both through the lens and within my heart.
Our awesome team pictured above (L-R): Bob Fish, Lee Davis, Manlio Huacuja, Trina Davis, Jaime Trujeque, and Heather Zink.
This was our first trip since 2019 and were all excited to be traveling again. On the way to the airport, Bob shared, “there is still goodness happening in the world, we get to be a part of goodness this week.” This truth was woven within each one of us and the people we met along the way. Our itinerary had three significant stops to connect with people that are making a difference in Chiapas, Mexico. Casa Hogar Alegre Orphanage, Anepann Coffee Co-Op, and Cofincaf Coffee.
We landed in Tuxtla, Mexico and the view from the airplane was awe inspiring. It looked like a paradise that should be abundant in wealth and resources. The unfortunate reality is that Chiapas is classified as being in extreme poverty and holds the number one rating for poverty in all of Mexico. Many people struggle to meet their daily basic needs such as safety, shelter, and food. This area offers little education, limited access to healthcare, and unequal rights for women and children. Building Farm-Direct relationships in this part of the world can make a substantial impact that can improve people’s lives.
Our first night we were welcomed into Casa Hogar Alegre Orphanage. We had wonderful accommodations, food, and company as we learned about this sacred place. Pictured above is Elizabeth Castelazo Noguera. “Mama Liz” has been taking care of children since she was 13 years old. She has endless stories of faith and miracles that have helped sustain this orphanage since its beginning in 1993. More than 100 children, most whom have histories of severe abuse and abandonment, now call Casa Hogar Alegre Orphanage home. Her daughter Mirari and son in law Jaime are continuing her legacy by living and helping in the Orphanage. It was so much fun photographing the children. They loved the camera and I would like to go back and volunteer.
The next three days we spent time getting to know two of the three women that lead Anepann Co-Op, visiting farms, and spending time in Jaltenango, Mexico. Pictured below is Bob with Isabel, Julieta, and Cristian.
Unfortunately, Leticia was not able to meet with us because of Covid. These impressive women are setting the example that women can lead in the coffee industry. Annepan Co-Op is made up of over 400 small coffee producers from Chiapas. They are winning over resistance by building relationships with the farmers, educating communities on the importance of women throughout coffee production, and offering technical training to improve the quality of coffee in Chiapas. Helping farmers have sustainable crops which lead to a better quality of life for their families is influencing the equality of women in Chiapas
Isabel, Julieta and Cristian drove us two hours up the mountain to 7,000 feet. It is rainy season so we had to be mindful of timing and being able to get back down the mountain before the afternoon rainstorm. These winding and washed-out roads were navigated perfectly by Isabel and Victor. Isabel shared with me that she had to prove herself as a women farmer by driving these roads because the men would say no a woman is not able to drive to the farms.
Isabel was a successful peacekeeper when a motorcyclist had a misunderstanding with our driver. He stopped our van and would not allow us to enter a small town as we drove down the mountain. Chasing us with a machete and throwing rocks as he had fear and anger. We calmly backed up to create space as Isabel entered the situation and helped bring peace.
Victor is a coffee farmer and member of the Co-Op. Pictured above is Victor and his family. Victor helps local farmers by providing use of his truck for getting coffee down the mountain at harvest.
He welcomed us for an amazing lunch on his farm. We had fresh tilapia deliciously prepared on a wood stove. The view was phenomenal overlooking the coffee fields. His family was good to us and made us feel welcomed
The Lopez Farm
After lunch we were fortunate to visit the Lopez family farm. The patriarch, Mario was not home at the time but we had a tour by his son, Mario Jr and daughter, Nancy. It was apparent the great care and pride that they take in their farm. This family is passionate about nature, animals, and their coffee farm.
The Impact of Covid
Covid has been challenging for farmers in Chiapas. With limited healthcare options when sick, everyone takes social distancing, masks, and sanitizing very seriously. Families have had to spend time apart as the farmers do not want to expose their families to potential Covid. I often shared that I felt more protected from Covid in Mexico because of the locals’ dedication to preventing its the spread.
After Jaltenango we traveled to San Cristobal de las Casas where we stayed in a beautiful hotel and enjoyed a night relaxing and touring this Holy city. The conserved architecture, town market, and people watching
Our final destination was La Fortaleza coffee farm in Chilon, Mexico. The is a beautiful farm is owned by the Castillo family. Historically this was a cattle ranch but the Castillo family turned it into a coffee farm and greenhouse in 2012 in order to support the community through example.
Today, the family is focused on environmental, economic, social, and humanitarian practices that have earned it the Rainforest Alliance certification.
Pictured above is Maria Esther Saut, Pascual Castillo Saut, Pascual Castillo Moctezuma, and Juan Carlos.
The Castillo family is making a difference in the community by helping rehabilitate farms that have been battling “Roya” or coffee rust. This is a fungus that attacks coffee plants. Many farms in Chiapas have been hit hard by this fungus and have lost their crops and source of income. The Castillo family have been providing seedlings and helping farmers rehabilitate their farms. There are over 2,000 farms that are a part of their network and working to recover from the rust plague.
At La Fortaleza, they are passionate about education and keeping the next generation interested in coffee production. They have impressive equipment for processing both wet and dry coffee.
On the Farm of a Smaller Producer
One special day was spent walking on the farm of Arturo and Ismael Ramos. This impressive farm has been in their family for over 100 years. The Castillo’s have been active in teaching Arturo and Ismael more effective ways to thrive as a coffee farm. One method they practice is planting corn and chilies with the coffee plants. This technique provides shade for the young coffee plants as well as food for the farmer. The food and money from this crop will feed over 100 people.
The Ramos family.
This trip was a positive step in getting to know these special people and their stories in service of a potential future Farm-Direct relationship. The goodness in their hearts and passion for coffee, community, and the environment shines. It was wonderful to be present in their lives.