Sustainability with Pig Poop and a Biodigester

Coffee picking on the side of a volcano. Building a tilapia pond as part of a methane, biodigester project. Laying the cement foundation and constructing a wall for a school. Learning about coffee and the realities of fair trade. Talking about the danger of a single story.

Now put that into three days.

This is Operation Groundswell’s inaugural Guatemala: Alternative Reading Week program and we are definitely making the most of the time we have in this wonderful country! We have not stopped since our arrival into Guatemala City on Saturday and everyone is more than happy about it!

We have spent the last two nights in San Miguel Escobar, talking fair trade and coffee with our local expert, Franklin, and helping out with ongoing projects with our partners As Green As it Gets (AGAIG). Our first morning we threw on our cajuela’s (coffee picking baskets) and headed for the hills, literally. Climbing up the base of the 3,766m Volcan Agua, we picked coffee fruit (Yes, it’s fruit!) and then learned the process of roasting from a local farmer.

After a taste of delicious Guatemalan food, we joined AGAIG in building a tilapia pond for their biodigester project. In a nutshell, it is a process where methane is harvested from rotting vegetable or compost is harvested as fuel. AGAIG has been working with a local community to build their own biodigester and this one is powered by pig manure! What is even more amazing than using pig poop to power stoves and lanterns? The manure is mixed with water so it runs from the pig stalls to the biodigester. As that water eventually overflows, we have arranged a channel that goes to the tilapia pond we helped build. That manure is a natural fertilizer that causes an algae bloom to feed the fish, which the farmers can eat! AND the excess run-off from the pond is channeled down to the crops! These are the crops that feed the pigs AND the farmers. Allelujah!

Building a biodigester with pig poop!

Building a biodigester with pig poop!

Yesterday, the crew lugged cinder blocks and mixed cement, building a wall to a school in the community of Ciuadad Vieja. AGAIG received a donation of land in the region and since then they have been working with the community to build a school for the 8,000 residents (half of which are under the age of 15). They are still in the early stages of construction, but have been planning everything from the design to the education goals, and still need a big hand!

We spoke more about the coffee trade, ate more delicious latino food, and then had a group discussion about how stories (from the media & other cultural influences) shape perceptions and stereotypes – and how ‘single stories’ can be challenged. It is relevant not only to what we have witnessed on our program, but the stories we see and hear about the world at home and abroad everyday.

Our last morning in San Miguel was less physical and more technical. We learned how to make artisanal bags out of avocado and macademia oil! And though it was hard to bid adios to the lovely families who we stayed with, we were all excited to hop on a chicken bus to Santa Anita: the next leg of our adventure!

What’s next for Team Guatemala? We will be working with Quetzaltenango, a coffee cooperative run by ex-combatants of the country’s 36-year civil war. We also hope to help local farms with the national coffee emergency that’s been declared in the country. Over 70% of the nation’s coffee crop has been destroyed and we will be working with the community there to provide relief for the local farmers.

Dirty, (a bit) smelly, and ready for more action, we are excited for Santa Anita and what the rest of the program has to bring!

Peace and love from the Land of Tortillas,
Team Guatemala