“The most striking thing, right away, was that these young producers aren’t scared to try new things. They’re so open to ideas,” says Kayd Whalen, InterAmerican senior vice president, describing a trip just days before to Risaralda, Colombia, to visit the newest Coffee Kids project.
In 2015, Coffee Kids became a program of Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) North America, a nonprofit focused on providing deep and lasting support to coffee farmers and farmer organizations. The Coffee Kids program provides business skills, funding and mentoring to young producers (ages 14 to 30) with the goal of empowering them to turn “coffee farming” into “coffee businesses” that are stable, sustainable and financially successful enough to support a good life for a family.
In addition to Colombia, Coffee Kids currently has programs in Tanzania and Trifinio, the tri-border area of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. InterAmerican is thrilled to work with Coffee Kids on importing these coffees and finding them homes with green buyers who ideally will want to keep enjoying the coffees and continue the relationships.
“The first farm we visited belongs to Jorge Suarez, and he showed us how he’s hanging cherry in mesh bags for fermentation, which is something cool he read about. Again, not scared to try new things! He then proudly showed us his mini solar dryer with his honey-processed coffees, which were beautiful,” Kayd continued.
“We also met his family—everyone was super welcoming—and he made us coffee with a scale and a Chemex, which was definitely a first for me on a farm! And, it was absolutely delicious.”
Jorge began working with Coffee Kids after he performed his military service; he knew he wanted to follow his family into coffee, but he wasn’t sure about the path. Coffee Kids provided training and support, and two years later he’s producing fantastic coffees and has opened a coffee shop where he serves his own coffee and has introduced the community to new brewing styles.
“They’re showing the youth—as they like to be called—that coffee should be treated like a business," said Erika Tran, head of Sustainability at IAC, who was also on the trip.
"Coffee Kids has the steps all mapped out, and they’re really helping them to be entrepreneurs,” Erika continued. “Right now, there are about 59 participants in the program. We cupped five of their coffees, and they were all outstanding. We’re excited to bring in those coffees, but it is a bit of a challenge, since they don’t all belong to the same association or the same community.”
The fact of how far apart they live, and the effort required to attend the program, is meaningful to the big picture.
“Once kids from these areas graduate from school, they rarely have a chance to socialize with other people their age. Even adult farmers really don’t get to see many people outside their family,” Erika explained. “But all these young people in the program are friends now, and they text each other all the time and they’re sharing ideas and advice—there’s a real community between them that’s being created, thanks to technology and the program, that’s never been possible before.”
The potential in the area was also palpable to both Erika and Kayd.
“The amount of violence these kids have endured at their age is heart wrenching and unacceptable. But none of this is a sob story—certainly not to them. These young people were strong and smart and upbeat and determined—this is all about getting them into the supply chain and giving them the access they deserve to share their beautiful work,” says Kayd.
She added that Michael R. Neumann, the founder of HRNS, had visited the project recently as well.
“He said something to them along the lines of, ‘Stop this nonsense about the future of coffee—you’re the present!’ And it’s so true. Their excitement and their work motivates us to do the work that we do.” •
We’re looking forward to bringing the Coffee Kids Colombia coffees to our customers. Want to be alerted when we do? Let us know! Traders.email@example.com. Interested in getting involved with Coffee Kids? Click here to learn about joining its Supporters Circle.