Permata Gayo Co-op in Sumatra

by Emily Sproule

After twelve hours of driving on a windy half-paved road from the city of Medan, we arrived at Permata Gayo Co-op in the rural lake district of Takengon.  Political posters lined the streets throughout the trip and everyone was talking about their vote.

Coffee was everywhere in Takengon.  Every open space beside every residence had coffee drying.  Orange tarps were at the ready as families looked at the cloudy sky, trying to decide whether rain was imminent.

Women wore specially folded scarves to cover their heads as they worked, raking out the coffee and picking the nearby cherries. Men chatted with each other on the side of the road, discussing the election and the daily coffee price, sent to them over their cell phones.

When I met with some of the co-op members at the Permata Gayo office, a humble two story wooden structure, the talk moved to Fairtrade premiums and the weed-whackers they had bought with them.  They had been able to purchase one of these hand-held machine to be shared among seven farmers.  They were currently in discussion over what they would spend the premiums on next.  Would it be shared dishes for traditional celebrations such as weddings (they were currently renting from out of town on each occasion) or coffee processing equipment?

They told me about how each organic farm was marked clearly on a tree lining the road to show who currently had organic certification.  There was a seriousness surrounding their organic practices as organic certification not only meant less chemicals for them to use and be exposed to, it also meant an increase in prices.  Win/win.

The Permata Gayo Co-op had formed under the hope that after they had moved back to their homeland, post civil war, they would be able to work together to receive aid payments to help rebuild their lives and their farms.  The payments never came through.  Instead, they worked together to gain Fairtrade status, advise each other on establishing organic practices and figure out how to get the best price for the coffee they grew together. It was simply teamwork that created a great product in which they could make enough money to start again.

I had the fortunate experience of cupping coffee with some of the farmers.  It was the first time that many of these particular co-op members had tasted their own coffee and they were quick to decide that perhaps the common Robusta beans they drank at home should be switched out with their own varieties of Arabica. Everyone enjoyed the slurp and spit. The interactive coffee tasting changed the meeting-like setting to one of friendship and comradery.

Permata Gayo is one of the Fairtrade co-ops that Ethical Bean purchases coffee from, in Sumatra Indonesia.  You can often find it in our Lush.  I love it for its earthiness and fruitiness and can’t help but feel nostalgic when I drink a cup and think back to my time there.

Emily Sproule, Ethical Bean Coffee, Sales & Service / Community Engagement