Los Andes and the Power of Coffee

Los Andes and the Power of Coffee

The Los Andes estate sits of the southern slopes of the Atitlán volcano in Guatemala, about 50 miles from the Pacific coast. The bulk of the estate is a private nature reserve, which is 60% natural cloud forest, a habitat with unique biodiversity and home to several endangered species, including the Resplendent Quetzal, a bright and beautiful bird which Los Andes is dedicated to protecting. But the slopes of the volcano are also the perfect environment for growing premium arabica coffee beans, and the estate, under the direction of Olga Hazard and her family, produces some of the finest beans in the world.

Coffee By Design founder Mary Allen Lindemann recalls her first trip to Los Andes. “It was 2011,” she says, “and at the time they had agreements in place with large, international coffee companies to buy everything they produced. So they had no coffee available for us! But we got to know Olga, and we saw how extraordinary the farm is. We had been thinking of La Minita as the Cadillac of all coffee farms, but we were learning that other people were also doing amazing things.”

According to the vision statement on the Los Andes website, “The reserve is an area in which agricultural production, human development, and environmental conservation are carried out in a harmonious and sustainable manner, for the wellbeing of present and future generations.”

True to this vision, the estate has its own environmentally friendly infrastructure, with a hydroelectric plant, waste sorting system, energy-efficient stoves, and composting. It supports around 150 workers who all have homes with electricity and clean water, access to on-site medical care, and a quality education.

“I almost moved Alina over there when they were little,” says Lindemann, “because I've never seen anything like the elementary school they have there: just how they teach the kids leadership and working together and then business. For example, the kids have a chicken coop, so they go from feeding the chickens as little kids to taking eggs to market as they get older to keeping track of the sales and bookkeeping…Just super-smart.”

Also super-smart are some of the innovative processes Los Andes has implemented for growing coffee sustainably. “I was very fortunate,” recalls Lindemann, “that when we first started going down there, I had a chance to meet Olga’s dad, Jim Hazard, who was just fascinating, all the experimentation he was doing. It's the first time I ever saw vermiculture [raising worms to fertilize soil]. He would take us out to these large tracks of worms he was raising and show us how they compost waste and actually aerate the soil.”

At first, because there was no coffee available, Coffee By Design simply made donations to support the school and maintained their relationship with Olga. Then, about five years after the initial meeting, Olga let CBD know that she had a micro-lot of coffee to sell. “The coffee was truly extraordinary,” says Lindemann. So CBD began buying micro-lots on a regular basis from Los Andes while also continuing to support the school.

Then came COVID. “During the pandemic,” says Lindemann, “Olga called to see if we were going to buy all of her micro-lots, which we had never done before. And based on our projections, of course, business was going to be down, not up. But because of the relationship, we committed to buying the same amount as we had the year before.”

“The amazing thing,” continues Lindemann, “is Olga got back to us and she said, ‘You’re already paying for the shipping, so why don’t I just include the rest of the micro-lots anyway?’ And I said, ‘I can’t afford it.’ And Olga said, ‘No, no, I’m donating it. For so many years, you’ve invested in our kids, so now I’m hoping you can donate the profits from the sale of this coffee to benefit frontline workers in Maine during the pandemic.”

Even today, Lindemann appears visibly moved by extraordinary gesture of generosity. “The money raised was donated to the Immigrant Welcome Center of Greater Portland,” she explains, “where it was used to fund the language lab there and teach English to frontline workers.”

To Lindemann, this is a perfect example of how important it is to build relationships, to listen and learn, and to try to help one another—and future generations—instead of just trying to make the most money. “It’s a whole different way of looking at what can be accomplished through the coffee industry,” she says. “Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world, so, really, the sky’s the limit. I think about this all the time: the power of what we can do when we do coffee right.”

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