Shade-grown on slopes of rich volcanic soil, small farmers have planted, cultivated, and harvested nearly half of the country’s coffee while fostering health and prosperity for their communities.
But trouble has been brewing. (Yep, we’re going there.)
Over the past decade, the slow drip of falling bean prices has left Guatemala’s coffee-producing communities in financial hot water. After a 60% price plummet since 2015, all that rich soil and sunshine isn’t adding up to a hill of beans.
And don’t let those $5 pumpkin spice lattes and drive-thru coffee shops on every corner fool you either. North America’s caffeine addiction may have retail outlets buzzing, but profits filtered out at the top leave the farmers in a daily grind of all work and not nearly enough pay. (Sorry, can’t stop now!)
Beyond mere market jitters, for thousands of coffee farmers, this financial erosion is grounds for surrender. And the economic jolt is contributing to an already shaky border crisis.
“A huge part of the migration America is seeing at its southern border is because of the falling price of coffee
,” said Ric Rhinehart, the former executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. “All of us are deeply concerned that we’ve reached the end of coffee producing as a sustainable livelihood for much of Mesoamerica.”
But an enterprising group of farmers in San Miguel Escobar were ready to wake up and smell the cappuccino. They didn’t want to leave, but something had to change… and an idea was percolating.
Together they formed De La Gente— meaning: “from the people”.
DLG’s strategy would adapt the traditional coffee farming business model to the modern era by working in collaboration to improve quality, processing techniques, and infrastructure while expanding market reach through online sales, product diversification, and experiential marketing.
And business began to perk up.
Partnering with more cooperatives and on a larger scale was an important first step but tapping into the burgeoning agritourism trend gave revenues an even greater boost.
DLG now works with five cooperatives representing about 300 farmers and delivering almost $500,000 in improved income to farming communities. Coffee tours led by local farmers bring everyone from coffee roasters and café owners to voluntourists and service learners from around the world to hike through coffee fields, learn sustainable processing methods, hang out with the farmer’s family, and experience the human side of an often-faceless industry.
Meanwhile, DLG’s staff photographer tags along to post every buzz-worthy shot to Instagram
Adding to DLG’s experiential offerings, Guatemalan barista-hipsters help guests identify and evaluate aromas, flavors, and brew methods from French presses to pour-overs at cupping
Diversification revenue now pours in from online coffee clubs, gift subscriptions, brewing equipment sales, ancillary products (DLG t-shirts, tumblers, water bottles, and assorted DLG-branded swag), cultural exchanges, Spanish lessons, and workshops that teach visitors everything from woodworking to bag-making to how to cook perfect pepián.
DLG’s blog and social media posts discuss sustainable, eco-friendly practices, offer updates on regional coffee conferences, and share important work developing organic fertilizers and pesticides.
Today, De La Gente’s integrated international supply chain is already helping Guatemalan coffee farmers rake in up to 30% more for their beans, count on greater price stability, and invest in a healthier future for the next generation
. Consumers not only enjoy great tasting coffee at affordable prices… but knowing that this rich and robust business model helps the entire coffee-loving world?
Want to enjoy great coffee that has an impact on the ground?
Buy coffee at the DLG online shop
Go on a coffee tour
Learn to make pepián
, Guatemala’s national dish!
Check out voluntourism and service-learning opportunities