Cafe Campesino celebrates 20 years this year.

Bill Harris has been on a self-described “coffee tangent” for the last 20 years. This year, he goes back to where it all started, and you’re invited to join.

Some 20 years after meeting a coffee farmer on a Habitat for Humanity trip, Bill Harris will join Habitat again, returning to the very town where he was inspired to start Café Campesino- San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala.

This Nov. 10-18, 2018,“Back-to -Guatemala” service trip will organize volunteers to build smokeless stoves in homes around San Lucas Toliman and feature excursions to nearby coffee farms.

Coffee professionals looking to learn more about rural Guatemala, Habitat for Humanity’s international work, or the origins of an industry-leading sustainable coffee supply chain, are encouraged to participate.

Since starting Café Campesino in 1998, Bill has returned to Guatemala more times than he can count, but he has not gone back as a Habitat volunteer in 19 years.

“I’m thrilled to be returning to San Lucas Toliman on Lake Atitlan to help families in that area again,” he said, adding that he was curious to see how many families in the area would be working with coffee.  “It’s one of the most famous coffee-growing regions in the world.”

Over the years, Bill has traveled extensively to the departments of Quiché and San Marcos, where Café Campesino sources its coffee, and he has seen the need for improved air quality in homes that use wood-burning stoves.

“In particular, we’ve noticed so many coffee farming families that have really difficult conditions in the homes, with women & children living in smoky rooms all day long.  We’re excited to help build safer kitchens for those who need it,” he said.

individuals measure a smokeless stove installation

Habitat volunteers installing a smokeless stove.  Photo courtesy of Joe Johnston.

Habitat estimates that 90 percent of rural Guatemalan families use wood as their primary cooking fuel and most cook using an open fire inside the home. This contributes to respiratory illnesses and deforestation across the country.  Smokeless stoves, however, are built with adobe blocks and a metal pipe to ventilate smoke outside of the home, which improves indoor air quality and uses about 60 percent less firewood.

Smokeless stove installations are a part of Habitat’s efforts to improve household conditions that negatively impact physical health.  The organization also installs sanitary latrines and works with families to filter their drinking water.

Process of installing a smokeless stove

Smokeless Stove installation.  Note the exhaust pipe and adobe brick foundation. Photos courtesy of Joe Johnston.

Bill started importing coffee directly from small-scale farmers after talking with a coffee farmer during a Habitat home-building project in 1997.  During that conversation, the farmer helped Bill understand that middlemen in the coffee supply chain were absorbing his profits.

Despite doing the labor-intensive work of caring for coffee trees, hand-picking coffee cherries and preparing coffee for export, farmers have traditionally earned the lowest percentage of profits, because they often do not have direct access to buyers.

Bill with coffee farmers in Guatemala in 2011.

Bill and Cafe Campesino CEO Tripp Pomeroy in San Marcos, Guatemala, with members of the APECAFORM coffee farmers’ cooperative.

When Bill started Café Campesino in 1998, he had this in mind.  He started importing coffee directly from small-scale farmers who were organized into cooperatives.  That farmer-cooperative model in Latin America inspired a roaster-cooperative model in North America.  In 2000, Bill found five other coffee roasters in the Eastern United States who wanted to source directly from farmer cooperatives using fair and environmentally responsible principles to guide their terms of trade.  Cooperative Coffees was born, forming a one-of-a-kind importing collaboration between small-scale roasters in North America. Today, Cooperative Coffees has more than 20 roasters-members in the U.S. and Canada who have collectively imported more than $80 million of fair trade, organic coffee directly from farmers.

The group also leads the coffee industry in its terms of trade- returning year after year to source from the same farmer groups, facilitating access to pre-financing for farmer groups and re-opening closed coffee contracts so farmers can benefit from higher coffee prices at harvest time.

Bill Harris in his Habitat for Humanity shirt, holding a carafe of Chemex-brewed coffee and a hammer.

With a Chemex in one hand and a hammer in the other, Bill Harris returns to Guatemala with Habitat this November.

Café Campesino has also assumed a leadership role in the coffee industry.  Based in Americus, Ga., it is the state’s only Certified B Corp outside of metro-Atlanta; it sources and sells coffee-house supplies that align with its values, such as compostable to-go ware, fair trade, organic teas and a full line of organic syrups.  It also trains coffee industry professionals at its Specialty Coffee Association Premier Training Campus and operates a restaurant and coffee house in Americus.

Because Café Campesino and Habitat for Humanity both started in Americus, individuals who were involved in both entities’ “early days” are expected to participate in this trip.

In fact, Joe Johnston, a former Café Campesino employee who has been working with Habitat for Humanity International for the past 8 years, will be leading this November trip to Guatemala.  Joe opened Café Campesino’s first coffee house in 2007 that was located adjacent to the company’s roastery.  Today, Joe manages staff and Habitat Global Village teams that travel the world.

Traveling internationally with Habitat changed Joe’s life.  It certainly changed Bill’s life.  And it will no-doubt impact yours.  Join Joe and Bill this November as they ponder life, learn more about San Lucas Toliman coffee and help families in need. Learn More.

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