Behind the Scenes: Living in Nicaragua & Working with Coffee Producers

Credit: Alexa Lampasona

Credit: Alexa Lampasona

In 2014, Amanda Eastwood visited more than 25 coffee producers farms in Nicaragua where she spent 12 to 15 hours per day learning about the farmers' coffee, sharing meals and cupping coffee. Her experience living at origin in Matagalpa, Nicaragua is part of her role as Origin Operations Manager for THRIVE Farmers. Eastwood's bachelor's degree in Spanish and Global Studies has certainly helped as she immersed herself in Nicaragua's culture. AJC talked with Eastwood about her experience at origin when she was back in the states for Atlanta's CoffeeFEST in February.

How often were you visiting the farms that could be a potential THRIVE Farmers coffee producer?

I spent seven months in the field, with four days each week on the ground visiting farms. Before Nicaragua I also worked in Mexico, Venezuela, Tanzania and Costa Rica.

What was a typical day at the farm like?

I’ll arrive around 6 a.m. to walk the farm with the farmer. I ask a lot of questions. One thing I learned was to be a better listener. It’s very important because it makes the farmer feel validated and important. Then typically we’ll share a meal. We typically want to have three touch points with our potential producers so I’ll follow up and schedule a second meal with the family and then a coffee cupping.

Why not taste the coffee first?

You should develop a rapport first because it’s really important to build trust. You do have to taste the coffee at some point in the process because the proof is in the pudding. You’re really accountable in the cupping because the farmer is in the room with you. The idea of a coffee cupping is mainly to engage with the farmer and get on the same level. At that point I’ll know if the coffee is a good fit for THRIVE Farmers, or I can provide tips for the farmer to enhance their coffee for the future.

How many producers did THRIVE Farmers purchase coffee from in 2014?

I visited 25-30 farms and we purchased from two producers. But our model is a long term vision and Nicaragua is an emerging market. We don’t just go into a farm and leave if it doesn’t work out. We’re committed to keeping the doors open when farmers can become a better fit.

Give an example of how THRIVE Farmers’ model helps these single-origin coffee producers.

One farmer said to me, “Amanda, I feel peace and calm working with THRIVE Farmers because I know you’re committed to building the relationship with me and my family. Because I know that you are going to continue to buy from me and pay a sustainable price, that gives my family food security.” And it goes both ways; he’s committed to working his land the best ways he knows how to increase yields.

How did you begin to make connections when you first went to origin?

I start with who I know and work on getting to know them better. I keep those people close in my inner circle and then they trust me more and share their contacts. On both sides, if I get a reference or a farmer gets a reference from someone they know and trust, that reference is likely to be a good connection.

Was it difficult being a female and foreigner?

I will always be a foreigner, but I have rarely had negative encounters with anyone I have met. I’ve had enough exposure with the people of Nicaragua so I’ve built a positive reputation. People talk and my reputation goes before me so I have always been taken seriously. I do my best to be a woman and not hide those attributes, but then I back that up with coffee knowledge.

How does the coffee culture differ in Central America?

The coffee culture is so varied. There is an emerging specialty coffee culture available to the upper echelon, and that style is more like a North American café, with lattes and other specialty coffees. Then on the other end, there are pop-up kiosks by the bus stop where they sell you a Styrofoam cup of coffee for the equivalent of 30 cents, and the coffee already comes with the sugar in it.