This is part two in a series. To read Part One, click here

As we saw in the last installment, the indigenous peoples of the Andes set aside the month of August to celebrate and elevate their close connection to Mother Earth, Pachamama. The Earth provides arable land for farming, weather conditions that help them thrive, and shelter – in short, survival. In return, villages work together to give back to the Earth through ceremonial offerings, and sustained rest periods during the agricultural off season.  This give and take relationship is the iteration of the principle of anyi, or reciprocity.

Reciprocity is a phenomenon with varied applications and understandings: indeed, it informs theories in the disciplines of social psychology, cultural anthropology, and international relations. But for the peoples of the Andes, it is the simple understanding that mutual contribution begets mutual benefit. If they want a bountiful harvest, villages must properly honor and provide for the Earth in the form of gifts and celebration. It is deeply interwoven in their cultural heritage to respect and protect the land that provides for them, with August being set aside as a time to reflect on the relationship. Dia de la Pachamama is the spiritual ideal of reciprocity in an intentional and concentrated form.

This ideal, and the philosophy that underpins it, is an important part of the history and culture of Pachamama Coffee. In 2003, co-founders Thaleon Tremain, Nick Brown, and Raul del Aguila decided that it was time to seek a solution to the inequalities that seemed to be built into the coffee industry. It appeared that the agricultural producers (coffee farmers) were not being adequately compensated or respected for the intense work that they carry out on a daily basis to provide unique, outstanding coffee for the burgeoning specialty coffee industry.  It was also obvious that any viable long term solution had to be grounded in cooperation and equity rather than charity or paternalism.

Enter the intrigue of Pachamama and her insistence on shared service for shared prosperity. Raul, a native of Quillabamba, Peru, grew up with a healthy respect for a lifestyle centered around partnership with the Earth and all life. Why not, suggested Raul, create a coffee company that actively engages with the concept of Pachamama: working together toward a shared goal that benefits all players, without risk being unjustly concentrated on any one party.

It was with this spirit in mind that the company was founded by the name of Pachamama Coffee. Pachamama sought from the beginning to embody the concept of reciprocity.

For a coffee company, this meant that benefits should be proportional to input for all involved. This goal was achieved in the form of a radical business structure that hands the equity and control to those who take the most risk by earning their living from coffee: Pachamama was founded as a 100% Farmer-Owned cooperative, and it remains such to this day. In this way, profit and access to the North American coffee industry is not being given to anyone at the expense of the disenfranchised – it is controlled and afforded to the producer organizations who invest financially and in the form of green coffee. Reciprocity can be explained colloquially as the idea that “what goes around comes around”, and in the context of Pachamama Coffee, the hard work of farmers is what goes around, while direct connection to end consumers and control of equity is what comes around.

As a company, Pachamama is grounded in this knowledge on a daily basis. Operations both in Sacramento and the countries where the five member-cooperatives are located are designed to reduce environmental impact and garner equitable benefits for everyone involved. The representatives of the farmers are the key decision makers of the enterprise, because ultimately any major changes that occur in the coffee industry disproportionately affect the producers of green coffee. Pachamama seeks to put the ideal of reciprocity into practice in the form of clout and influence on the coffee industry in exchange for dedication to the cultivation of exceptional coffee. Pachamama takes August as a time to celebrate the endless possibilities of cooperative partnership and give thanks to pachamama for all she has provided so far.