By Jessica Sheridan

Cynthia La Rue Blog

[Not many women] are crazy like me with boots on the ground in the thick of it, relishing every moment,” Nicaraguan coffee producer Cynthia La Rue told me on a Zoom call at the start of this summer.

Cynthia’s confidence and wisdom, like her kind smile, are reassuring, and are lasting impressions of an admirable woman. In an agricultural industry that is largely dominated by male leadership, Cynthia is a pioneer and a beacon of hope for a new generation of female producers. For these reasons and more, some of the highlights from my Farm to Cup Interview with Cynthia La Rue, whose Nicaraguan coffee beans are on our coffee line year-round (in our year-round composition Voyager, and seasonally in Harvest) are featured here on Women’s Equality Day.

Speaking candidly to Cynthia remotely on a gloomy day during a pandemic, her presence pierced through the day like a ray of sunshine. You would be hard pressed to speak with someone like Cynthia and not be inspired. 

with Jessica Sheridan & Cynthia La Rue

JS: What is the name of your farm? Is there any special significance to this name?”

CLR: “[My farm’s name is] La Plata. [I’m a] fourth generation farmer. What’s interesting about my farm is a female to female lineage. My great grandmother to me. When [my] mom and dad married, the farm was a traditional rustic farm. If they did 200 bags of coffee a year, that was a lot. By the 70’s, they were doing … 11,000 bags. Their farm name was La Trampa. My mom and dad had 6 children, I’m the last of 6. When dad got his farm back in the 2000’s, he asked his 6 kids who wanted to help him, and I didn’t even think about it. I had no idea. I just said sure, I was pretty close to dad. I thought it was about writing a check. The reality is he wanted us to learn how to farm. In one of our trips down to see him, he handed me a piece of paper and said here’s your farm, have it. My farm takes the name of one of the planting areas that he and mom built, La Plata being the larger of the two.”

JS: “So, your farm is one of a few parts of what was known as La Trampa. Where does the name La Trampa come from?”

CLR: “The Trap! My great grandfather Carmen had a fantastic sense of humor. He was a blue eyed Nicaraguan, if you can imagine that, and the days of the 1850’s, more or less, 1860s, more of less, to go to Guatemala, the east coast, which was a British protectorate, you had to travel this road and stop at our farm. Imagine the old west meal trains. So, being the jokester he was, he called it “The Trap”, or “La Trampa.”

My grandfather would be 150 years old if he were still alive. He met my grandmother at the farm with the meal train. They would commercialize salt from the coast to our town. In the trips going to and from the coast to town, that’s where my grandfather met my grandmother.”

JS: Where is your farm located? Is there anything notable about the area (i.e. climate, geographically, historically, etc)?”

CLR: We are inside a national reserve called Datanlí – El Diablo. There are two (nearby) mountains that are virgin jungles still, which is highly unusual. The lower part of the farm is that part that was inherited by mom, the upper part of the farm, which is about 3x bigger, is all a preserve that mom and dad started buying around the time I was born to preserve the water sources. They really had a lot of forward thinking back in those days, and it’s still pretty much the same as it was when I was young. Sixty varieties of orchids, wild animals, just behind the farm. On an agricultural point, our farm doesn’t have the altitude that some farms have, but we have the climate from the mountains. 

I grew up on the farm. I didn’t really know the farm until my dad handed the land to me and told me I needed to learn. At first I copied what my brothers did until I knew enough to trust that what I wanted to do was the way to go. My coffee at 900 [masl] is just as good as my coffees at 1200 [masl]. Altitude has something to do with it, but there is something in there at 900 [masl] that I find incredible coffee.” 

JS: “Can you tell me a little bit about your workers?”

CLR: I have the same people come to harvest with me year after year. I attribute this to a few factors. We upgraded our conditions with a few structures – food, child care. Those things really mean a lot (…). What brings them back also is how we relate to them on the farm, on site. My right hand at the farm, my foreman, he’s the son of the foreman that worked for mom and dad. We have this connection to people that really means a lot to them, and how we relate to them is probably not the norm. I’m very fortunate to have the son of the man that helped mom and dad build their farm. He often talks about what makes me different as a leader of a farm is that I work with a team, I built a team.”

JS: What kind of benefits do you provide your workers with?”

CLR:Child care, food, housing, medical insurance. In Nicaragua, it is traditional that you provide housing, 3 meals a day, medical insurance. I am of the belief since I am a certified farm that I don’t want children working. Single women with children are often not given work because it is seen as a cost to have child care or a school. For me, as a single mom most of my daughter’s life, I have a strong bias to making sure the kids are safe. I have a tortilla machine to ensure the cooks aren’t up all night making tortillas. My machine produces 600 tortillas/hr and the women in my kitchen have a real life during crop. If I won’t eat the food, they won’t eat the food. I eat exactly what they eat. The quality of the food is probably one of the more attractive things to the workers, because if they have good food, they’re having the selective picking I ask them to to have the quality of coffee I have. I’m one of the few farms that started that. It has a huge impact on the cup and the product you receive. If you don’t offer the conditions to the workers, it’s harder for them to give you that equal partnership of selective quality..so that the end result is a higher quality coffee.” 

JS: “Do you grow any agricultural products other than coffee?”

CLR: “Not in huge amounts, my farm is predominantly coffee. I am trying to make it as sustainable as I can. I use bananas as shade. We do harvest the bananas that we use for shade. To enhance the diet of the staff during the pre-crop time, I have the things that you would think, such as corn for corn on the cob and tamales for the holidays. I bring [other varieties] so that they can have other vegetables, not just the ones from here. Believe it or not, it makes a huge difference, because then their meals aren’t just traditional meals. 

I’m fortunate enough to have Julio, who has a background in growing vegetables. He has an interest and it makes the world go much easier because I can have four or five different types of squash, which is good.”

JS: “Is there anything you want drinkers of your coffee to know?”

CLR: What a fabulous question. Passion is probably the most important ingredient in growing coffee. If you’re not passionate about what you do in the land and with the people and with the environment, it would never translate into a fantastic cup of coffee. 

Personally, it’s fascinating to me. Very often your coffee is sold and you don’t know who it’s sold to… Knowing who’s the roaster and who roasts the coffee means a lot. If I could get the connection to how we grow our coffee and what it means to grow the coffee and get it closer to the person who is enjoying it, that’s really important.”

Though the coffee industry and beyond still have a ways to go in order to become truly equitable, Cynthia and people like her represent the culmination of the journey towards gender equity thus far. Days like today are not only a profound occasion to celebrate, but also to motivate. A special toast to strong women on this day–may we embrace their strength in all of its forms, may we aspire to be them, may we learn from them, may we support them, and may we lift them up for a better today and a more inclusive tomorrow.

Click the buttons below to get some of Cynthia’s coffee for yourself — Voyager & Harvest.

At Stone Creek Coffee, social responsibility is a foundational element of our identity. We believe that a commitment to the environment must coexist with other elements of social responsibility for a holistic approach to doing our best for the world and others.

Stone Creek Coffee will regularly audit and identify areas of environmental strength and weakness within the overall operations of the organization.  We will attempt to reduce any negative impacts to air, surface water, ground water, public health, community quality of life, and employee health while producing coffee that is sweet, clean, and juicy. Stone Creek Coffee will strive for continual improvement in pollution prevention while meeting or exceeding all regulations.

Jessica Sheridan, Director of Coffee 
As a mission-driven company, at Stone Creek Coffee, we believe in serving and enhancing the local communities we live and work in.

We believe that the socially responsible practices we apply daily in our internal operations can proliferate with the involvement of our stakeholders, customers, and our communities. In each community where our employees work and live, we — as Stone Creek Coffee and individual members of the community — actively create opportunities to play a positive role through various initiatives. These initiatives include support of important charitable organizations through monetary and/or material donations, promoting volunteerism, and more.

In line with our mission to be socially responsible, we also commit to the following: 

Serving Local Customers
  • We commit to serve at least 75% local and independent clients or customers. 
  • Local Hiring - As a company that is committed to its local community, at Stone Creek Coffee, we are also committed to local hiring.
  • Local Suppliers - We are committed to using local suppliers when possible.

Jessica Sheridan, Director of Coffee 

At Stone Creek Coffee, social responsibility is a foundational aspect of our identity. As such, we expect our partners and suppliers to conduct themselves and their business in an ethical, legal, and socially responsible manner including, but not limited to, their commitment to the environment, their employees, and the community. 

Legal Requirements

We expect that all suppliers know and follow the laws that apply to them and their business, as well as to treat the law as the minimum standard. 

Ethical Requirements - Integrity

At Stone Creek Coffee, we believe in conducting business with integrity and as a force for good. We expect our suppliers to operate fairly and ethically. Bribes, kickbacks, inappropriate gifts or hospitality, or other improper incentives in connection with Stone Creek Coffee are not tolerated. Suppliers are expected to avoid any conflict of interest relating to financial interests or other arrangements with our employees that may be considered inappropriate, and are to work with their own suppliers to promote business conduct consistent with the principles in this Code.

Labor Requirements 

Child Labor and Slavery - We do not tolerate child labor or slavery in our supply chain. Consistent with the United Nations Global compact principles, suppliers should avoid any sort of child labor in the business operations. 

Identification of Concerns - Suppliers are required to provide means for their employees to report concerns or potentially unlawful activities in the workplace. Any report should be treated in a confidential manner. Suppliers will investigate such reports and take corrective action if needed.

Wages and Working Conditions

Working Hours, Wages and Benefits - Working hours for suppliers’ employees will not exceed the maximum set by the applicable national law. Compensation paid to employees will comply with applicable national wage laws and ensure an adequate standard of living. Suppliers are expected to provide their employees with fair and competitive compensation and benefits. Compensation and benefits should aim at providing an adequate standard of living for employees and their families. Suppliers’ employees will be paid in a timely manner. It is recommended that suppliers offer their employees ample training and educational opportunities.

Diversity and Inclusion - Fair and equal treatment of all employees is expected to be a fundamental principle of all of our supplier’s corporate policies. Typical discriminatory treatment takes into consideration – consciously or unconsciously – irrelevant characteristics of an employee such as race, national origin, gender, age, physical characteristics, social origin, disability, religion, family status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or any unlawful criterion under applicable law. Suppliers will ensure that their employees are not harassed in any way. Stone Creek Coffee encourages its suppliers to provide an inclusive and supportive working environment while exercising diversity when it comes to their employees as well as in their decisions to select subcontractors.

Health, Safety, Quality, and Security

Health and Safety - In order to provide dignity and respect, we expect all of our suppliers to protect workers’ rights and provide safe and healthy working conditions. We encourage our supplier partners to foster an environment that is inclusive, and free of harassment and discrimination. 

Emergency Preparedness, Risk Information, and Training - Suppliers will make available safety information on identified workplace risks and suppliers’ employees will be correspondingly trained to ensure they are adequately protected. Suppliers will identify and assess likely and potential emergency situations in the workplace and minimize their impact by implementing emergency plans and response procedures.

Quality and Security - Suppliers are expected to have good security practices across their supply chains. Suppliers will maintain processes and standards that are designed to assure the integrity of each shipment to Stone Creek Coffee from its origin through to its destination and all points in between. Suppliers are expected to implement the necessary and appropriate measures in their area of responsibility to ensure that Stone Creek Coffee products, their workable components or raw materials as well as the corresponding know-how do not end up in the hands of counterfeiters or third parties and do not leave the legal supply chain.

Environmental Awareness 

Waste and Emissions - Suppliers will have systems in place to ensure the safe handling, movement, storage, recycling, reuse and management of waste, air emissions and wastewater discharges. Any of these activities that have the potential to adversely impact human or environmental health will be appropriately managed, measured, controlled and handled prior to release of any substance into the environment. Suppliers will have systems in place to prevent or mitigate accidental spills and releases into the environment.

Resource Conservation and Climate Protection - Suppliers are expected to use natural resources (e.g. water, sources of energy, raw materials) n an economical way. Negative impacts on the environment and climate will be minimized or eliminated at their source or by practices such as the modification of production, maintenance and facility processes, material substitution, conservation, recycling and material reutilization. Suppliers will engage in the development and use of climate-friendly products and processes to reduce power consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Preference to Purchase from Local Suppliers and Suppliers with Ownership from Underrepresented Populations - At Stone Creek Coffee, we are committed to our community and the environment. As such, we have a preference to purchase from local suppliers when possible, as well as to purchase from suppliers who support other local suppliers. We also give preferences to suppliers with ownership from underrepresented populations.

Supplier Audits and Record Keeping - In order to make responsible, well-informed business decisions and disclose truthful and timely information to our stakeholders, we expect our supplier partners to maintain accurate and honest records.  In line with this, we expect our supplier partners to do the following: maintain books and records that reflect all transactions in an accurate, honest, and timely way; employ appropriate quality audit and compliance processes for matters such as product and food safety, worker health and safety, and labor and employment; to enable traceability, disclose the location of facilities and known origins of materials upon request/audit.

When screening potential suppliers, we screen for the following:
  1. Compliance with all local laws and regulations, including those related to social and environmental performance
  2. Good governance, including policies related to ethics and corruption, as well as diversity and inclusion
  3. Positive practices beyond what is required by regulations (e.g. environmentally-friendly manufacturing process, excellent labor practices, performance to the Core Commitments, etc.)
  4. Third-party certifications related to positive social and/or environmental performance (B Corp certification, Bird Friendly, etc.)
  5. Local suppliers should be given preference (within 250 miles of Factory)
  6. Suppliers owned by underrepresented populations should be given preference

Jessica Sheridan, Director of Coffee 

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