Coffee Talk Magazine Piece about Cafe Solar!

06 May

Here it is!

Introducing Café Solar!

A New Model of Sustainable Coffee Production from the “Direct Trade” partnership of Mesoamerican Development Institute at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the COMISUYL coop in Yoro, Honduras, and Red Barn Coffee Roasters in Upton, Mass.

by Peter Friedland

Café Solar is an impor­tant new cof­fee devel­op­ment (even among the many oth­ers com­ing out of the Coffee Universe!)

First, as its brand name pro­claims, this Honduras cof­fee is being dried in the world’s first solar-powered green cof­fee pro­cess­ing mill.

Second, it’s the result of 17 years of devel­op­ment by the Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI), a U.S. non-profit based on cam­pus at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and which is also a Honduras-based Non-Governmental Organization in part­ner­ships with three Central American uni­ver­si­ties in Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. (MDI’s motto is ‘If we don’t have it, we invent it.”)

And for the first time, Café Solar green cof­fee will be shipped in May directly from the Coöperative COMISUYL to Red Barn Coffee Roasters in Upton, Massachusetts, where it will be roasted for sale at Red Barn’s cafes, ecom­merce store sales and at the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus

The work­ing rela­tion­ship between Massachusetts-based Red Barn and UMass Lowell’s MDI, and the Honduras coop COMISUYL, is one of the inno­v­a­tive ways con­sum­ing coun­try roast­ers are pio­neer­ing “Direct Trade,” the alter­na­tive model gain­ing increas­ing attention.

The Yoro pro­cess­ing cen­ter is ‘off-grid’ in that it gen­er­ates its own elec­tric­ity, and allows local farm­ers through their coop to not only process but also to export their har­vest directly to the world spe­cialty cof­fee mar­ket. And not only to the U.S. but also to roast­ers in Canada, Sweden and Ireland, a first in 100 years of cof­fee pro­duc­tion in Yoro, Honduras.

The Yoro cen­ter is the only facil­ity able to indus­tri­ally dry cof­fee with­out burn­ing wood from threat­ened trop­i­cal forests, the fuel source for con­ven­tional dry­ers hav­ing resulted in vast defor­esta­tion in Honduras and other cof­fee­lands where mechan­i­cal dry­ing is done this way.

Most of the facil­ity is oper­ated by local youth of the com­mu­nity of Subirana trained in the use of renew­able energy tech­nol­ogy and qual­ity con­trol and prepa­ra­tion by MDI and COMISUYL.

Another sig­nif­i­cant aspect of Café Solar is that the coöper­a­tive and the pro­cess­ing cen­ter are both man­aged by women: the COMISUYL General Manager is Maira Manzanares, and the Yoro pro­cess­ing plant  Manager is Orbeli Manzanares Ulloa. Maira is a cof­fee farmer whose grand­fa­ther was one of the first to begin plant­ing cof­fee in the region and has been involved since a child in all aspects of cof­fee production.

Orbeli is also a cof­fee farmer whose knowl­edge of cof­fee prepa­ra­tion and qual­ity con­trol was enhanced through train­ing  funded by through Fair Trade International and Mesoamerican Development Institute.

Orbeli recently rep­re­sented MDI at a sem­i­nar with USAID in which USAID is hop­ing to gain from her expe­ri­ence in run­ning the world’s first off-grid pro­cess­ing center.

Also the Yoro solar energy plant is backed up with an addi­tional ‘renew­able energy’ ‘bio­fuel’ for the gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric­ity made from an indige­nous tree, Jatropha Curcas. A local farmer-owned com­pany, gen­er­at­ing addi­tional jobs and income, pro­duces the oil.

In a U.S.-based par­al­lel around con­tribut­ing to the local econ­omy, the Yoro solar and biofuel-powered green cof­fee pro­cess­ing cen­ter was man­u­fac­tured largely in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, ben­e­fit­ting New England’s econ­omy as well Honduras’.

Another unusual and inno­v­a­tive aspect of Café Solar is that  it has been des­ig­nated the “offi­cial sus­tain­able cof­fee” of the UMass Lowell cam­pus, one of five in the over­all UMass statewide sys­tem. That’s because of Café Solar’s his­tory of serv­ing as a sort of ‘cof­fee cur­ricu­lum’ gen­er­at­ing many edu­ca­tional projects exam­in­ing “Sustainability” from mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary per­spec­tives, an approach neces­si­tated by the com­plex­ity of this increas­ingly used but still widely over­sim­pli­fied term.

These projects have ranged from engi­neer­ing of the solar and biofuel-powered green cof­fee pro­cess­ing mills to the busi­ness and social issues of cof­fee, as well as to con­sumer coun­try brand­ing and mar­ket­ing.
As a result, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary fac­ulty group at UMass Lowell has begun meet­ing to develop an entire sem­i­nar focused on Café Solar.

Another crit­i­cal envi­ron­men­tal aspect of the Café Solar story is that the Coöperative COMISUYL is prepar­ing to tran­si­tion cof­fee farms to MDI’s trade­marked forest-friendly land man­age­ment sys­tem called “Integrated Open Canopy” (IOC), which MDI has been study­ing with grad­u­ate and doc­toral stu­dents from the University of Massachusetts and the US Forest Service for the past eight years.

In addi­tion to increas­ing crop yields, IOC has been found to pro­vide habi­tat for a mul­ti­tude of endan­gered migra­tory and res­i­dent bird species, as well as other forest-dependent wildlife not sup­ported by other cof­fee pro­duc­tion meth­ods, includ­ing the much more widely-known and cer­ti­fied prac­tice of ‘shade grown’, mak­ing it quite likely there’s more con­tro­versy to come around these issues.

The research mak­ing this case has just been pub­lished by the jour­nal Conservation Biology. The prin­ci­pal researchers include the two prin­ci­ple Café Solar devel­op­ers Raúl Raudales and Richard Trubey, along with Dr. Richard Chandler and Carlin Chandler (Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst); Dr. David King (U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Amherst MA); and Victor Julio Arce (Mesoamerican Development Institute).

Café Solar® is avail­able at Red Barn Cafés includ­ing at Boston’s Historic Faneuil Hall.

And visit for more infor­ma­tion about solar and biofuel-powered green cof­fee pro­cess­ing, Integrated Open Canopy land man­age­ment, and how UMass Lowell and UMass Amherst fac­ulty and stu­dents have been involved with Café Solar and MDI.

Peter Friedland has been an envi­ron­men­tal jour­nal­ist and social ven­ture cof­fee com­pany devel­oper, includ­ing hav­ing roasted cof­fee over the past 14 years. Currently a Sustainable and Specialty Coffee con­sul­tant, he is proud to do Disclosure that yes, he is also a “sales rep” for Café Solar in the best spirit and prac­tice of com­bin­ing Social Change with Commerce.

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


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