In early June, CAN Executive Director Rose Cohen and Associate Director Heather Putnam traveled to the Central Highlands of Veracruz, Mexico to meet with CAN network partners there and visit rural coffee-growing communities where CAN is working to promote food security and sovereignty in addition to women’s and youth economic empowerment. Heather filed this report:

Our visit included participating in a workshop with families working with CAN and VIDA’s food security and sovereignty project. Women and youth collectively reflected on what they had achieved in the last four years of the project and what they saw that still needs to be improved to further decrease seasonal hunger and strengthen livelihoods in their communities. The women shared their accomplishments, which include having more food available because of their vegetable gardens and all of the agroecological practices, like composting, that they had learned through the project. As one woman put it, “with all of the different food available, if there are no beans, then we can go get some squash or something else out of the garden and change our diet according to what is in the garden, and we eat well. Or we could trade foods that we have for foods that we don’t.”

However, the women pointed out that with the continuing crisis of the coffee leaf rust affecting their coffee yields even more this year than last, that things had been difficult in the last year and would probably be more challenging in the year to come. One woman said, “this year we will have to look for another way to earn money. I am going to take in sewing. That is what we have to do—be creative.” They also said that the situation will be difficult for a few years to come as they are replanting the affected coffee plants this year, but it will take at least three more years to have a coffee harvest from these plants.

The next day we were able to meet with AgroEco® coffee farmers from the Campesinos en la Lucha Agraria Cooperative and sign this year’s coffee importing contract based on the price and terms we had negotiated with them. They told us how they had invested the Women’s Unpaid Labor Fund from last year’s coffee harvest into the development of a women-centered agroecological coffee brand called Femcafe, which they will market locally in Mexico.

Finally we were able to visit the CAN-supported school garden in the high school in the community of Ocotitlan. There we met the graduating class of seniors who had built the school garden in its new location on land donated by a local farmer. The students showed us the amazing diversity of plants in the garden and shared the skills they had learned, like production planning, double-digging, making compost, and companion planting.