College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences students from the Ohio State University have a plan aimed at transforming the impoverished Honduran village of El Socorro de la Penita into a thriving coffee enterprise.
The plan is the product of a recent service/learning trip taken by students Alexa Hirsch, Karli Lane, Megan Perry, Amy Jo Frost and Amy Bradford. Led by Zia Ahmed, Ohio State’s senior director of Student Life Dining Services, the students met with a group of small-plot coffee farmers. “The goal of the service/learning trip was to learn about the coffee production lifecycle, grow relationships and understand the socioeconomic issues of the coffee smallholders.” Ahmed said, noting that farmers in this remote mountain community produce coffee served on the university’s campus.
The trip was sponsored by Columbus, Ohio coffee roaster Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea, which has been working with the village since 2011 and roasts coffee sourced directly from its smallholders. Company Founder and President Greg Ubert returned to the village with the students. “I was amazed by how much was accomplished by bringing together El Socorro community leaders, OSU students and coffee industry experts,” he said. “Together, we folded the community’s vision into a five year plan engineered to address their specific needs.”
AXIOM Coffee Ventures, a social innovation enterprise creating a pathway out of poverty for one million coffee smallholders, orchestrated the trip. Hirsch, the team’s student leader, was impressed by the level of cultural exposure and activities packed into the five-day trip stating, “We witnessed how the coffee supply chain works and actually engaged the smallholders who grow the coffee served on campus.”
Stephan Erkelens, President of AXIOM joined the OSU team to facilitate the planning process. “Despite a short time frame, we were able to creatively address the core information, infrastructure and financial inefficiencies that perpetuate poverty among smallholder farmers,” said Erkelens, who has considerable first-hand experience creating and running coffee programs that yield measurable results at the community level.
The student’s holistic plan draws from the smallholders’ own insight and ingenuity as well as AXIOMs field tested approach. Efforts to boost the farming community’s K-6 proficiencies are already underway through a grant from Crimson Cup for a new computer lab. The key 5-year education goal is to increase school attainment beyond the 6th grade which up until now has been practically impossible for the El Socorro families.
Additionally, the plan aims to increase co-op cohesion, expand the wet/dry mill capacity, and enable access to basic health care. The students continue to work with Crimson Cup and AXIOM to refine the plan, stating that these are just a few of the action items in a long list of efforts future OSU service/learning trips will address. “The best part is knowing that our trip not only made a difference in our lives but also in the lives of the coffee farmers we met,” concluded Hirsch.