Island coffee drinkers may be familiar with Ometepe Coffee by seeing the signature brown bags at Country Grocer or buying brewed cups at the Saturday Market or other community gatherings, but an event at the library on Monday, Feb. 12 will share the Ometepe story and much more.
The Ometepe-Gulf Islands Friendship Association (OGIFA), first formed in 1988 to help bring potable water to the almost 30,000 people living on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, is responsible for importing Ometepe Coffee to Salt Spring and other locales.
As people attending Monday’s event in the library’s community program room will learn, coffee sales through OGIFA currently support about 70 farmers in two co-ops in Nicaragua. In partnership with the Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Islands Association (BOSIA) of Washington state, funds have helped farmers survive some particularly challenging years.
OGIFA secretary Debbie Magnusson and board member Frances Hill explain that the impact of a coffee rust disease, aging trees, hurricanes and Covid combined for “some terrible years” for the farmers.
“They said the coffee plant varieties had to be completely changed in order to consider rust resistance and climate change,” said Hill, who takes care of the coffee ordering and pricing.
In partnership with BOSIA, coffee sale profits have paid for an agronomist, who has helped navigate the farmers through the crises. After only three years, beans are growing on a new crop of plants.
“And so the coffee plantations are much stronger now,” said Magnusson.
Ometepe Coffee has also recently received a “Denomination of Origin” designation, recognizing the coffee’s unique characteristics specific to its growing region.
“And it’s not just fair-trade coffee, it’s fair-wage,” said Hill.
A slide show and talk about both OGIFA and another non-profit venture — the Nicaragua Children’s Foundation (NCF) and pottery from the small village of San Juan de Oriente in southwestern Nicaragua — takes place from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the library’s program room.
Salt Spring residents Mona and Allan Donovan created the NCF, which helps support educational efforts in the region, and will have ceramics for sale at the library on Monday. The ceramic artists are also paid fairly, they stressed.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., people can view exhibits, enjoy complimentary coffee and shop for pottery as well as note cards by the late Art Simons.
People are also welcome to the group’s annual general meeting set to run from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the same space.
One reason for holding the event is simply to let more people know about the organization, with the hope that they will be interested in becoming involved. Like many volunteer-run societies on the island, long-serving members are aging out or dying, and new people are needed to continue the valuable work.
“Hopefully there’ll be a free flow of people who wouldn’t ordinarily know about us learn about us,” said Magnusson.
Members will be invited to an upcoming tour of the Serious Coffee roasting facility in Duncan.
People who want more information about OGIFA but can’t attend the Feb. 12 Celebrating Ometepe Coffee and Culture event can contact chairperson Nedjo Rogers at email@example.com.