Santa Anita sits at the crossroads where Guatemala’s western highlands end and the slope down to the pacific ocean begins. It is a multi-ethnic community of 35 families coming together from different corners of the country and bringing with them five different languages: Spanish and four Mayan. The community is still only 22 years young, having been born in the aftermath of Guatemala’s destructive 36 year-long civil war. As part of the peace process, a group of former guerrilleros or revolutionary soldiers, who had spent the better part of their lives pinned down in the mountains fighting for their principles and hopes for a brighter future, decided to purchase an old coffee farm on which to build their new lives.
With their characteristic passion for collective learning, the founders of Santa Anita La Union, dedicated themselves to figuring out everything they needed to know about growing, processing, and selling coffee. Almost overnight, they went from soldiers to farmers with each member owning approximately 30 cuerdas (10 acres), all within a 30 minute walk of each other. Their coffee, like most other things, is grown and processed by hand.
For some years, Santa Anita experienced somewhat of a renaissance and the community flourished. With a lot of hard work and some support from the international community they built infrastructure and found markets for their coffee. They established an elementary school and made payments on their mortgage. They found a home in which to live out their revolutionary dream.
Unfortunately, like so many other coffee cooperatives, their success did not last. First came internal divisions and disagreement over the community’s strategic direction. The town and its coffee cooperative split in two with eight farmers banding back together to form the Association of Coffee Producers of Santa Anita (APCASA).
Then disaster struck. A rust coloured fungus called Roya swept through the region, wiping out over 70% of Santa Anita’s coffee plants. Coffee quickly turned from being a source of hope and solidarity into economic disaster. Santa Anita’s production plummeted and for five years they were unable to export any coffee. But they remained determined and embarked on an ambitious plan to replant and restore their farms. With a little help from De La Gente, the LATA foundation and Operation Groundswell, they replaced over 45,000 coffee trees. They trained in pest management and applied natural fertilizers, fortifiers and antifungals to protect their forests from the Roya.
As a result, APCASA made another stunning comeback and is ready again to export their coffee which they’ve now learned to process 100% themselves, another big step in the cooperative’s continued development.
Not only does Granito work with Santa Anita to bring good coffee and great story here to N.America but through a partnership with Operation Groundswell, Santa Anita is also able to welcome travellers from all around the world who are interested in meeting their coffee farmer and seeing first-hand how this community now uses granitos de cafe (coffee beans) to make the change they want to see.
To learn more about Santa Anita, check-out the documentary film Voice of a Mountain.
Elena Diego is a 33-year-old mother of four and accomplished coffee producer with over seven years of experience. She is also the president of APCASA. She learned the craft of coffee production from Rigoberto Ramírez and through training with a variety of organizations.
Nowadays, Elena owns and maintains 30 cuerdas of land where together, she and her husband grow Bourbon and Catuai varietals. She is proud to dedicate her life to coffee and is proud to pass the knowledge on to her children by teaching them and involving them in the process of every harvest.
Rigoberto Ramirez is a special kind of leader. He spent 28 years fighting for land reforms and basic human rights for his countrymen. When the civil war ended Rigo had to find a new home because his community had been destroyed during the conflict. Now, after 15 years working with coffee, he says:
“We didn’t win the revolution in Guatemala, but at least we have Santa Anita. (…) It is a whole new and different world, but we don’t want to just live under the coffee trees. Instead we want to learn the language of coffee.”