For 52-year-old Carmen Blandón, her coffee farm is a business. And she’s the boss.
On her two-hectare farm in northern Nicaragua, Carmen employs 12 workers: men and women who live on her property during the harvest season and spend the days tending to her coffee trees and picking ripe coffee cherries.
But even with this sizeable team behind her, Carmen works extremely hard.
Incredibly, she’s up every morning at two a.m., making a hearty breakfast of rice and beans and homemade tortillas for her workers. It’s a process that takes three hours each day, and it doesn’t stop there.
“When the workers wake up at five a.m., I deliver their breakfast and give them sacks for their coffee beans,” she says. “Once they’ve filled up their bags, I’ll go and pick them up, and then go back to the house to make lunch. And as I’m making lunch, I’m also washing the coffee and choosing the best coffee beans.” After lunch, Carmen immediately begins prepping dinner, all while overseeing things on her farm.
Carmen’s no stranger to putting in long, tiring hours. “My parents were both coffee farmers, and they taught me the value of hard work,” she says.
For most of her adult life, she lived in Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua where she owned a clothing business with her brother. “I eventually moved from my parents’ coffee farm to Managua in order to work and raise my four children and eight grandchildren in the city,” she explains.
Ten years ago, she decided to migrate again – this time, from the city back to the field. Shortly thereafter, she joined Cooperativa Solidaridad, a small fair trade coffee cooperative that’s been a Root Capital client since 2010. Today, Carmen and 60 other coffee farmers sell their harvests to Solidaridad because of the cooperative’s strong member benefits: higher prices, technical support, and access to credit, to name a few. Short-term microloans from Solidaridad have been critical in helping Carmen, who now lives alone, build a new life for herself.
“When I joined Solidaridad, I didn’t even have a house,” Carmen explains. With a bright smile on her face, she continues: “Everything – from my home to the special lodging facilities I’ve built for my workers – has been thanks to loans I’ve received from the cooperative. I’m very thankful.”
For the last year, Root Capital has been helping Solidaridad’s management team improve the cooperative’s internal credit fund. Today, nearly 70 percent of Solidaridad’s members rely on the credit fund to access short- and long-term loans for home improvements and on-farm equipment. Next, they hope to create a fund that members can use for health-related expenses.
Turning her attention to the coffee-washing station on her property, Carmen smiles. “This is the water that God sends me,” she says. “There’s a lot of it now, but if I run out, I know that my colleagues at the cooperative will support me. I worry a lot less, and I’m getting ahead thanks to being part of the cooperative.”
Solidaridad, a 60-member cooperative in Managua, Nicaragua, has been a Root Capital client since 2010. Over the last several years, we have loaned the cooperative more than $2 million to help them provide timely payments to their members.
Recently, we also began providing Solidaridad with on-site training in financial management, along with training on agronomic planning and monitoring.