By Matt Earley
This afternoon I visited the offices of Yachil Xolobal Chulchan here in gorgeous San Cristobal de las Casas. The administrative team met my buddy Chris Treter and I and we sat down to talk about the upcoming year.
Yachil is really the reason that we started Just Coffee back in 2001. As the legend goes, the first president of the co-op encouraged us to start JC when we could not find any otherroasters or importers to buy their coffee for a decent price. We schlepped into San Cris with the idea and came to the exact spot where I am writing this now– the rooftop of the house of one Don Tomas Johnson. By the time we left town the idea was crystallizing to become DIY coffee roasters. And so we did.
Our relationship with Yachil has been an interesting one over the years and they are unlike any other co-op we work with. As members of the Zapatista resistance movement they operate differently and have a lot of things to consider and layers to work through when making decisions. This has proven to be a big challenge over the years for us and it has been difficult to build the close relationships that we enjoy with many other farmer groups. This is because almost any co-op decision they want to make has to be run by the Zapatista Junta Directiva of Good Government and this takes lots of time and effort. It is a complex situation and one that is sometimes perplexing and a little frustrating for those of us who buy their coffee.
The farmers of Yachil are facing many of the same challenges that other farmer groups in Central America are facing right now. Coffee leaf rust (Roya) has shown itself in recent months and they are looking at a small loss this year, but they expect it to impact their coffee more significantly next year. They also are trying to build a warehouse for their coffee and are working toward finishing it with a lack of resources to do so. They are in a position this year to pay double the price of the local middlemen and this is helping to keep coffee within the cooperative in a falling market. In a time of uncertainty this is a big boost for their organization.
Currently we don’t strongly stress the fact that buying Yachil coffee supports the Zapatista movement. This is something that we used to do more, but stopped as our relationship with them did not really evolve. I proposed that we revive fundraising for some of their projects that they are working on right now. They weren’t able to give a straight up go ahead, but we agreed that I’ll take it up with the Junta to get approval. Easier said than done, but well worth the effort.
Check back from time to time to see how our work with Yachil progresses and how you can plug in.