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The After-Graduation Series–Volunteering with As Green As It Gets in Antigua, Guatemala

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.

For the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer and learn with As Green As It Gets (AGAIG) , a non-profit focused on “economic development and environmentally sustainable agriculture in Guatemala.” Granted, I’ve also been working at a local organic farm and just this week started working with a women’s health care clinic in a nearby town. While getting my hands dirty at the farm is undoubtedly fulfilling, working with AGAIG gives me a broader sense of environmental development work here.

On the base of the Volcano Agua in San Miguel Esocbar, about 7 minutes from Antigua, are the headquarters of AGAIG. San Miguel was one of the hardest hit places from Hurricane Agatha last year, and AGAIG was a huge part of the clean-up efforts in town. Beyond that, AGAIG does everything from helping farmers find markets, to experimenting with mead making. One of the sayings that I’ve heard the most frequently from the founder, Franklin Voorhees (an environmental studies minor himself), is “we’re not as fly-by-night as you’d think.” This, in a nutshell, does pretty well to explain the quality as well as vastness of their work. From what I’ve seen so far, AGAIG is all about helping the local coffee farmers organize and bring their product from the ground to the market–as environmentally and economically sustainable as possible. This type of development work–the kind that is actually working to get people the tools they need to be free from outside assistance– is what inspires AGAIG’s work. This type of work is unique among the many development NGOs in this area that I know of so far.

On Volcano Agua where many of the coffee farmers with AGAIG have their land

The day to day work is variable in tasks, but you can always expect the unexpected. One Friday afternoon I went to a farmer’s house (who also works as a carpenter) to collect bags of sawdust for starting a compost. The next morning, I helped the collective prepare a site for building a greenhouse (the idea is that they want to be able to grow their own coffee plants instead of buying from elsewhere), and the following Thursday I learned a method of propagating citrus trees.

Preparing the land for building a greenhouse with the AGAIG collective

One of the farmers, Filoberto, has the collective’s coffee roaster inside his house, as well as a bicycle-powered depulper. Also in his compound are 2 horses, a few chickens and ducks, his children, and wife. His daughters, Marta and Maria, make herbal teas as well as causemetics to pay for their schooling (According to USAID, the average schooling is only 4 years in Guatemala). Meanwhile, Filoberto is producing coffee and exporting it directly to places like the United States and Europe with the assistance of AGAIG. This is what Franklin likes to call direct trade coffee; the farmer receives all of the money from this transaction–not a middleman, and not AGAIG. His family is just one example of the families in the AGAIG collective. As I do more work with AGAIG (and continue to expect the unexpected), I will certainly keep you posted. Meanwhile, if you are looking for possibly the world’s best cup of coffee, order a bag (or ten) directly from their website.

Posted on: March 1, 2011, 10:00 am Category: The "After" Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: ,

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