UAC-CP Exports Coffee to U.S.


What started as just a dream for UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan more than 25 years ago, is now a reality: the College is exporting coffee to the U.S.

Since 2015, former UAC-CP volunteer Sidney Madsen, CPF board member Tara Nolan, and independent coffee shop owners Erik and Becky Johnson, have been working with the College to develop a plan to expand the coffee project’s capacity, which includes sending Carmen Pampa coffee to the U.S.

As a result of their efforts, Erik and Becky—owners of Duos Coffee and Ice Cream in Waverly, Iowa—are now buying the beans to brew at their coffee shop. To date, the couple has purchased about 2,600 pounds of UAC-CP coffee and they want to buy more.

The goal of the project is multifaceted. Under the guidance of the UAC-CP’s coffee project coordinator Gladys Rivera (see accompanying story), the group expects to increase earned income for the College to fund general operating costs. In addition, they also want the coffee operation to continue to educate UAC-CP students and provide a sustainable market for local coffee farmers.

“We want to make coffee a viable livelihood in the area,” explained Sidney, who first worked with the UAC-CP’s coffee project as a Princeton in Latin America Fellow in 2015-16.

Apart from helping to make the College more self-sufficient, Tara says coffee serves as a practical, hands-on educational tool. “I firmly believe we have an obligation to make sure we are teaching students to develop profitable ventures that are not reliant on gifted resources; it is a critical component of pursuing a path to self-determination.”

Erik and Becky want to see the project grow. “We’d like to begin to supply equipment, building upgrades and resources to the UAC-CP,” Erik said. “Gladys is phenomenal and we’d like to give her the tools and the support she needs to increase what she is already doing with so little.” For example, Erik said the College is unable to fully process the coffee down to the green bean; currently the final stages of the coffee process are done in La Paz by a UAC-CP alumni’s business.

The collaboration started when Sidney returned to the U.S. with samples of coffee and took the initiative to reach out to Erik, a roaster whose family members were volunteering in Carmen Pampa. “When Erik heard that I had Bolivian coffee he was excited. He said it was great coffee and wanted to figure out how to import it to the U.S.”

Encouraged by Erik’s enthusiasm, Sidney and Tara quickly jumped on board to help the UAC-CP seize the opportunity.

Although they are located in three different regions of the U.S., Sidney, Tara and Erik each bring a unique skill set to the project. Sidney, a Spanish speaker, has assumed the role of facilitating communication between Gladys and Erik. Sidney helps them discuss expectations regarding the quality and quantity of the bean, negotiate prices, and organize the logistics of exporting from Bolivia.

Tara, a retired management consultant, helps the team focus on business metrics. It’s important, she said, that the project is profitable, while at the same time paying fair prices to local farmers.
Erik and Becky represent the demand side. “We would like to purchase everything the UAC-CP grows.” Ideally, they’d like to see the UAC-CP produce about 2,500 pounds a year. “That’s approximately doubling the current yield.”

Eventually, Erik and Becky hope to see the coffee project bridge the U.S. and Bolivia in a more integrated way. They envision volunteers and paid staff visiting and working in both countries for the purposes of the coffee program.

Tara and Sidney are already fulfilling part of that vision. In addition to reviewing budgets and business plans from her home in Boston, Tara also travels to the College for meetings about twice a year.

Despite Sidney’s busy schedule as a graduate student at Cornell University, she is also committed to volunteering with the UAC-CP for the long-term, including a possible return to Bolivia once she finishes her master’s degree.

“If we can make this project successful,” Sidney said, “it will be a win for everyone involved.”

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