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The After-Graduation Series: As Green As It Gets and the man underneath the tilley hat

Myself, Emily-Kate, and Franklin at Fredy's house at the end of a coffee tour

Franklin Voorhes is a difficult man to track down. If you really want to find him, he’s usually in one of the following places: traipsing around the coffee fields of San Miguel Escobar (the headquarters of As Green As It Gets), riding his motorcycle with his ponytail flapping underneath his tilley hat, or drinking a vanilla latte at his coffee shop in Antigua. He’s not really in touch with email, doesn’t do texting or voicemail, and there’s about a 50% chance when you call that someone else answers his phone to say that he’s leading a tour group or in a meeting.

Franklin helped to start a nonprofit called As Green As It Gets (AGAIG) that operates as a “small-business incubator” for Guatemalans, mostly in the San Miguel Escobar area near Antigua.  Mainly, this means helping local coffee farmers complete the entire process of growing and exporting their own coffee. Before AGAIG started working in the San Miguel area, coffee farmers sold their coffee fruits to middlemen who’d then export their coffee to places around the world. As you might imagine, the coffee farmers received very little in return for the back-breaking work of farming coffee on the side of a volcano. AGAIG saw a huge opportunity to increase the income of the coffee farmers, thereby increasing access to health and education for their families, by learning how to complete the entire process themselves.

Franklin (right) with Fredy, a coffee farmer from San Miguel Escobar

These days, the farmers are in control of the entire coffee process and use mostly hand-powered equipment and only 5% of the water that a standard coffee plantation uses. AGAIG serves as a platform for the farmers to sell their coffee around the world. Yet another unique factor about AGAIG is that all of the proceeds from the coffee sales go directly back to the farmer who grew the coffee. This is pretty much unheard of, and it’s also the best coffee I’ve ever had.

From what I’ve seen in my year here, the status quo for most non-profits that call themselves “community development” organizations (and international giving arms) is to have some vague premise of sustainability. However, the reality is they are still here and very much depended upon 10, 20, or 50 years down the road. In contrast, As Green As It Gets is a development-oriented non-profit that does the quality of work that facilitates the transition to an entirely Guatemalan staff. Franklin’s future goals are not to be the principal of the middle school that AGAIG is building, or to continue to export coffee to places around the world, or to foster more Guatemalan entrepreneurs. Instead, Franklin’s goals for the future are to be able to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made from local ingredients and to have the time to drink cappuccinos throughout the day. Both of these are nearly complete, as he has a coffee shop that’s selling both peanut butter and jelly.

Fredy's son with a bicycle-powered machine for processing coffee

This doesn’t mean that Franklin’s leaving AGAIG in the dust. Once he’s attained these goals, it simply means that the coffee farmers are completely in control and operating AGAIG on their own as they see fit (which is nearly what’s happening today). The farmers he’s worked with most closely are a group of 25 in San Miguel Escobar. The average family size for these farmers is about eight children and each farmer needs labor from three to four people. AGAIG also works with farmer cooperatives around the country, so when you do the math they’re directly impacting the lives of thousands of Guatemalans.

Franklin went to Iowa State University, where he studied Engineering and minored in Environmental Studies. His advice for current students of the environment is to find another major with more marketability, or double major with a field that can pay the bills. For people who’d like to get involved with AGAIG, his advice (in preferential order) is to: come and work with them for a year or so, organize a service-learning trip to come down for a week to learn more about what they do, or if you don’t have the time to do that, make a donation online.

Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.

 

Posted on: January 26, 2012, 6:00 am Category: The "After" Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

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