Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beneficio, Update 6: Two floors, and more!

There has been great progress at the beneficio in the past week!

The first advancement has been in the roof of the beneficio. Receiving and initial sorting actually occur on this roof (which doubles as a floor). This is the area where the floater-separator and de-stoning machine are located. Martir also put together some stairs to make it easier to get up and down.

Which brings us to the next update: the floater-separator and de-stoning machine have been installed. They were built into the floor, but received additional finishing work to ensure the proper dimensions. Additionally, each of these has a grate in the bottom which will allow water to drain out when not in use. This water will drain into a collection bin, then flow to join up with other water used in the beneficio. This water will then go into the beneficio’s water purification system (more soon!).

The receiving tank is almost complete. An incline was built in to help move coffee toward the exit. All that is missing is a gate at the exit and a faucet.

The fermentation tanks are also almost finished, with inclines built in to help facilitate movement of water and coffee. These tanks have a grate for the exit of water and coffee mucilage after fermenting and washing, and a separate exit for coffee. Coffee will go from fermentation tanks into a correteo (SPOILER ALERT: A new piece of equipment to be installed. More soon!).

The storage room finally resembles a room. The floor has been laid, and space has been made where the door and window will go.

There isn’t a ton of space inside, but plenty to store some processing documentation, a little coffee waiting to be moved into storage, or UMF employees pulling all-nighters watching fermenting coffee.

Oh yeah, and the view out the window isn’t too bad, either!

The vermiculture is almost completed. All that is left is the second level of cement blocks in the channels where coffee pulp will be placed, and a few more sheets of roofing.

Up next: Installation of tubing for the water system, finishing up the gate for the receiving tank, laying the last bricks and roofing pieces on the vermiculture, and hanging the door and window on the storage room. Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beneficio, Systems Explanation: The Big Picture

Okay, so we’ve been showing updates and talking about the beneficio for more than a month now, but how does it all fit together? That’s the purpose of this systems explanation—to show how everything comes together. First, here is a computer model that was used for its design, which shows what everything will look like when its done:

There are 11 major parts to the beneficio, though not all are physically connected. Each system has a picture at its current stage of development (but please excuse any mess, it is still under construction!)

1. Receiving: Trucks will drive up into the flat area behind the beneficio and unload coffee into the receiving tank. We will measure the volume of cherry coffee coming in, and also take samples to check for over-ripe, under-ripe, and damaged coffee. We will be giving bonuses of L.5/gallon (about $0.06/lb) for coffees meeting the high quality standards.

Coffee will flow out of the receiving tank and into the …

2. Floater-Separator: This mechanism will separate out damaged beans (called ‘vanos’ in Spanish). Bad coffee flowing into the floater-separator will float on the top of water in this basin and get siphoned off into a separate holding tank.

Good coffee, on the other hand, will fall to the bottom of this basin, then get suctioned through a tube to the…

3. Destoning Machine: This machine also functions using relative densities. Stones, sticks, and other objects that may be mixed in with coffee will be pulled downward while coffee floats with the water current.

This step is vital to be sure that no foreign, potentially damaging, objects enter the…

4. Depulping Machine: Fruit is separated from bean in the depulping machine (note: currently under construction, only the forms for the depulping machine mount, not the machine itself, is pictured).

Fruit is gathered to be transported to the vermiculture and coffee beans are transported to the…

5. Fermentation tanks: Fermentation is one of the most important steps to producing a specialty quality coffee. All coffee will be fermented under water to ensure even fermentation, and will be washed after 12-16 hours to remove the sticky mucilage (which would otherwise ruin the coffee) which is left after depulping.

Washing water and coffee are then passed separately in the…

6. Water Separator: The fermentation tanks each have small exits at the bottom, so that the water-mucilage mixture can be separated from coffee and disposed of. Coffee is left about 95% mucilage free.

To remove the rest of the mucilage, coffee is moved to the…

7. Soaking Tanks (not yet installed, picture from another beneficio): Coffee sits in soaking tanks for 24 hours, with water being changed every 6 hours. This ensures that no mucilage is left in the coffee.

Once soaked, the coffee is moved to the…

8. Solar Dryers (not yet installed, picture from another beneficio): Coffee leaves the soaking tanks with a water content of 46% and must be dried to 12% in solar dryers. Coffee will be in solar dryers for 7-10 days, being moved every 30 minutes throughout that time.

9. Water system (not yet installed): Coffee is transported through this system using water. All water is collected from the vermiculture roof, pumped to a pressurizing tank 100 ft above the beneficio, then released for transport, use in the floater-separator, fermentation, and washing processes.

10. Roof: This year, we will have a tarp roof for the beneficio. Between harvests, we plan to complete the roof.

11. Storage Room: We will be taking advantage of every square inch of the beneficio area. Rather than filling in the space below the beneficio floor, we put in an extra wall and will be using this area for storage of machinery, coffee, and occasionally sleeping when processing goes through the night.

There it is! Keep checking back for more updates on the progress, as we plan to finish construction within the next two weeks.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beneficio Update 5: Finishing Walls and Laying Floors

Things continue to progress well at the Beneficio. We have been working on the main structure, and it is looking more and more like a processing center. The fermentation tanks are built, and are in the process of being smoothed out. After this, we will add the exits for coffee and ferment water and they will be ready to go.

The walls are finished, with a small area built in for storage of equipment and coffee as we process.

We are in the process of laying the floor and building the sorting and de-stoning apparatus. Cement will be laid by the end of the week.

We held a meeting this past Sunday afternoon to update farmers on progress and continue getting feedback from them. They were very excited to see things coming along well, and we discussed transportation issues. Some farmers are planning on sharing horses to bring coffee—by alternating days of picking, producers who live in villages near La Unión can bring their coffee without paying for transport. Other farmers are working to coordinate picking so that they can share a truck and keep their transport costs low.

Up next: finishing fermenting tanks, the storage room, laying cement for the floor, and beginning to install the water system. Check back for more updates!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beneficio Update 4: Tank done, walls going up

The water tank is lined with cement and ready to start collecting water for our daily use at the beneficio. The tank will hold water that the beneficio needs for coffee processing.

All of this water comes off the roof of the vermiculture from rain. Only part of the roof is currently connected, but will collect 1500 gallons of water for every 1" of rain that falls once completed.

Work on the beneficio itself is coming along well. The foundation is done, fermentation tanks are being installed, and the receiving area has walls almost completed.

Up next, finishing fermentation tanks, laying the floor of the receiving area, and beginning to install the water system!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beneficio, Systems Explanation: Vermiculture

As we continue the construction of the Coffee Processing, Training, and Quality Control Center (ie. beneficio), we will take a few moments to stop and break down individual systems to explain them in greater depth and discuss how they are related to the goals (quality, training, environmental sustainability) of creating the beneficio. First up: the vermiculture.

Coffee Pulp is normally left to rot in
large piles, polluting water sources 
Processing coffee conventionally causes a large amount of environmental damage, and one of the largest contributors is coffee pulp (the fruit of the coffee). This pulp, which must be removed soon after picking coffee to avoid damage to the coffee, is largely viewed as waste, and for good reason. If improperly disposed of, a pound of this waste contains as many environmentally damaging contaminants as a pound of human fecal matter. Left to rot and drain into water sources, it damages local wildlife and, worse, can work its way into the water systems that farmers use for drinking, washing, cooking, and bathing. However, there is another option: a vermiculture.

UMF Team member Gilberto
showing off a worm at the
UMF-IHCAFE training on
A vermiculture is a very simple idea: rather than allowing coffee pulp to rot, put it in an environment with controlled humidity and temperature and add worms to compost it (many readers with a green thumb will immediately recognize the ability of worms to help with decomposition). By shading the coffee pulp, protecting it from rain, and adding Californian worms (provided by IHCAFE), the coffee pulp gets composted. In doing this, coffee pulp transforms from a semi-toxic waste into an amazing organic fertilizer. It is only natural that, coming directly from a coffee plant, coffee pulp contains many of the nutrients required to grow coffee -- nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, boron -- in larger quantities than cow manure, pig manure, ash, and other conventional organic fertilizers. 

The vermiculture roof is
almost complete
Since this is a composting process, it takes approximately 3-5 months for coffee pulp to be fully converted into organic fertilizer. This process happens naturally, but adding worms (hence vermiculture) speeds the process and increases nutrient levels. Once fully composted, we will bag this organic fertilizer and make it available through our microloan program. This nutrient-rich fertilizer will be key as we work to teach farmers about the importance of improving soil health and decreasing the use of chemical fertilizer. Rather than using purely chemical fertilizers, farmers will be able to take a microloan for a mix of organic and chemical fertilizers. Not only does this organic fertilizer directly decrease the chemical fertilizer needed on fields, it can increase efficiency of chemical fertilizers if applied correctly (further decreasing chemical fertilizer needs). It will also increase organic matter and soil health, and will naturally create a slow release of nutrients to the plants (as opposed to the large, one-time nutrient infusion of pure chemical fertilizers).

Computer model of the finalized vermiculture
This is what UMF is all about, and an example of what we are trying to accomplish with this processing center:
  • Take a waste and make it productive (environmental sustainability)
  • Use it to decrease farmers’ costs and improve the health of their fields (training)
  • Increase quality and production of plants (quality)

This is just one of the many systems incorporated in the beneficio, so check back for in-depth explanations of the other systems,as well as construction updates.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Beneficio, Update 3: The vermiculture and tank go up

The roof is nearly complete over the lumbrecultura (vermiculture) site, and already the workers are using collected rainwater for use construction.

A pipe is set up at the low end of the roof to funnel water into a large bin. This recycled water will supply water for mixing cement and other needs at the construction site. Once the water tank is completed, collected rainwater will be channeled here.

The water tank is more than just a large hole in the ground now; it has a cement floor, and the sides are being lined with concrete blocks.

We will be finishing the water tank and getting walls built for the beneficio in the next few days. Be sure to check back and see how it is coming along!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beneficio, Update 2: Construction begins

The road that we started to build last week is now being used to bring supplies and workers (by car, truck, bike, wheelbarrow, and foot) to the construction site. We built a cement
bridge to drain water under the road so it won’t collect at the bottom of the hill and wash out the road.

At the end of the road we have almost finished 2-meter-deep hole. We will soon start laying brick to create a 3,700 gallon holding tank for the water that we will collect and use for coffee processing. This tank is designed to hold enough water for a week, and will provide all the water needed to run the beneficio.

We’ve also put up the supports for the roof of the vermiculture site. The vermiculture will serve a dual purpose—in addition to providing organic fertilizer from coffee pulp, the roof is designed to collect rainwater and run it into the holding tank. This way we won’t be taking water from the city system, leaving more water for town residents and ensuring that we are always using uncontaminated water.

Finally, work has begun on the beneficio itself – lines are up as guides, and we are preparing the supports that will be installed for the floor of the structure. New materials are coming to the site every day as work continues on the beneficio.

Up next: putting the roof on the vermiculture, laying bricks for the water tanks, and laying the beneficio foundation. Stay tuned for more!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Beneficio, Update 1: The Beginning of the Road

Construction is starting on the coffee processing facility (beneficio). As we arrived at the property to begin preparations, four dump trucks unloadedroad-building materials into swampy grass leading up to the site of the new beneficio. It will take several days and a small bridge to complete the road, which will provide solid ground for vehicles coming and going from the property. Martir, Albin, Jeremy, Charlie, Patrick, Marco and Eved were there to start moving rocks.

From here, we will begin building the vermiculture and water tank. This is just the beginning, so stay tuned for more updates on how things are progressing!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beneficio: A Community Driven Coffee Processing Facility

Unión MicroFinanza is working with local farmers to build a wet-processing center (beneficio) that will support small-scale farmers who cannot afford their own processing equipment. Currently, farmers who do not have their own processing equipment are forced to sell their coffee in a semi-processed state. In the past, this has excluded them from being able to sell to higher-priced specialty markets in the U.S. With the installation of this beneficio, any farmer, even a farmer who harvests only a few hundred pounds of coffee, will have the opportunity to sell their coffee at significantly higher prices.

The farmers we work with have been involved in the project since the beginning: giving input and feedback on design (pictured above), working through potential problems, and helping to build the site. Everything from the machinery to the layout to the location of the beneficio have been determined not by UMF, but by the farmers who will be using it.

We have three main goals for the project, which we will explore further in this blog as building continues:

Quality – We want to get the highest quality coffee possible in order to get higher prices for farmers. Every step in the process -- including temperature-regulated water fermenting, post-fermentation soaking tanks, and slow drying times of one to two weeks -- is based off of the highest quality processing that we have encountered worldwide.

Training – The beneficio will be made to be replicable by farmers in the future. This means that there will be no fancy sorting machines or equipment or expensive parts that farmers couldn’t buy themselves in the future. Our goal is to make this much more than just processing equipment—using it not only as a jumping off point for farmers to process their own coffee, but to teach farmers about quality, cupping, processing, organic fertilizer, and protecting the environment.

Environmental Sustainability – Most coffee processing causes high environmental damage. Our beneficio will address these issues by using solar dryers (rather than fossil fuels or wood from forests), vermiculture (making organic fertilizer from coffee pulp, which normally is a large contaminant), water recycling (collecting rain to minimize water usage) and water filtration (rather than dumping environmentally damaging byproducts into nearby water sources). In coming years, we aim to make our beneficio 100% reliant on alternative energy.

In the short term, our goal is to buy 20,000 lbs. of coffee from 20 farmers, beginning Dec. 1, 2011. The design has been finalized and we are set to begin construction

(the picture above shows the site). We will be posting frequently as we progress through building, along with more in-depth looks at different parts of the beneficio and how it will be used to improve quality and prices for small-scale farmers in Honduras. We would like to thank Calvary CRC in Holland, MI for their support in making this beneficio a reality.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Small Farmer, Big Plans: Part Two


Unión MicroFinanza is extremely proud to announce the second UMF article of a five part series in Fresh Cup Magazine - "Part Two: Small Farmer, Big Plans" Flip to page 46 for the article!

Flood the Nations Arrives in La Unión

UMF would like to welcome Flood the Nations to La Unión, Honduras. They will be installing 78 water filters in the village of Las Playas. We wish the town of Las Playas, the group and the UMF staff a productive and fruitful trip as we begin this partnership.

For more on Flood the Nations visit:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On the Other Side

The Muskegon Farmer’s Market is always near the top of my summer must-do list. I love the bustle of shoppers, the outdoor stands, and the many farmers selling their produce or crafts. This is where Union MicroFinanza (UMF) found me.

My name is Natalie Clark, and I’m a rising sophomore at American University studying international relations. Home in Muskegon for the summer, I planned to just be scooping ice-cream at my summer job, doubtful that I’d find somewhere applicable to my major to work with this summer. When I first spoke with Andrew Boyd and Jeremy Miller, my former AP Government teacher, I was intrigued by the ideas behind Unión Microfinanza. I was, and am, impressed by the passion and dedication that has built this organization, the strategies to improve the community as a whole through microfinance, and their direct involvement in La Unión, Honduras.

A few phone calls and a quick interview later, I had joined the team and was back at the farmer’s market, this time on the other side of the stand. Pouring the coffee was the easy part. I soon learned the coffee terminology and basics of production and gradually honed my “elevator speech” for Microloan Coffee. Through listening to the interactions of the UMF team with the customers, I learned of their dreams and ambitions for Unión Microfinanza and the Honduran people.

I became familiar with the faces of our farmer’s market customers, from those excited about our direct microfinance approach, to those who have visited Honduras and know the region, to the people who simply love the flavor of a great cup of coffee and are back each week for a fresh bag.

The camaraderie between the sellers renewed my appreciation for the fantastic atmosphere of a Saturday at the farmer’s market. There were doughnuts from the Dutch Bakery gratis, exchanges of coffee for honey, shared tents in sun and rain, and, of course, cups of coffee all around.

With the summer coming to a close, I’m preparing to head back to school and will bring with me the things that I have learned and the great experiences I’ve had working with “the coffee guys,” as my mom refers to UMF. I’ve seen up close the workings of an international non-profit: the challenges of working with a country and culture miles apart, the ever-important role of grants, and the necessary idealism that creates and inspires the hard work necessary to make a microloan organization become a reality.

I’ve edited grants, sold coffee, discussed ideas, organized materials, and shared the UMF mission with the farmer’s market community. I even tried and enjoyed my first cup of coffee, granted it took honey, cream, and sugar. It’s been an amazing experience working with this team on the other side of the farmer’s market stands. Next on my to-do list: a plane ticket to Honduras.

By Natalie Clark