2017 has been a great year for us at Underground Coffee International. This past year has seen us making huge strides towards our goal of creating a sustainable coffee project that benefits local farmers as well as creates avenues to further the Gospel in South East Asia.
First and foremost, 2017 saw growth in our village church. Church members continue to be discipled and some are participating in 2-week Bible classes in a nearby town. In addition, there have been 12 people baptized in the village this year. We were also able to hire a new salaried position on our farm, which provides a job for one of our best workers who also happens to be one of the church leaders.
We continue to develop our test farm, planting three new coffee varieties that each have potential to increase the farmers' livelihoods. Over the coming years, we'll check the potential and yield of these new varieties and hopefully they will produce well enough to be introduced to the farmers.
2017 also saw the formation of our seedling-sharing program. There will be more details coming on this as we roll it out in 2018, but this will allow us to better partner with local coffee farmers and help them to produce better coffee. Currently we have 10,000 high quality seedlings that will be ready to distribute in the spring of 2018.
One of our biggest projects of 2017 (and 2018 and probably 2019) has been community surveys. These surveys have provided us with information on what kind of coffee farmers are producing as well as having a database of farmers who might be willing to partner with us in the future. The time we spend in homes talking with people has also allowed our farm manager (also the village pastor) to deepen his relationships in the village. We always try to end the time with prayer.
2017 also saw us enter into a partnership with Baptist Global Response. We've worked for the past few years with BGR to supply our coffee that we use in the US. This past year saw a bigger partnership in which we work together in South East Asia. BGR is currently helping us to source coffee processing equipment, helping us with quality control, and has agreed to buy/import our coffee after next year's harvest. This partnership has been huge for us because it solves some major logistical headaches, as well as paying the farmers upfront for their coffee (which is a rare thing out here).
2017 also saw our first attempts at harvesting and processing coffee. UCI is continuing to try to develop a quality standard for farmers that currently does not exist. Planting good coffee, fertilizing correctly, picking ripe coffee cherries and processing coffee well all goes against the culture here. Changing habits that have lasted generations takes a lot of time and energy, but we are slowly starting to see progress. If farmers can take better care of their coffee, we can introduce much higher quality genetics and sell the coffee for over 3x the price in the specialty market, meaning that everyone is able to benefit financially.
Our final major project in 2017 (told you we've been busy) is building a training center in the village. This training center will provide a place for us to hold trainings, check the quality of coffee the farmers bring in, as well as provide a place for us to stay in the village. We currently have a local builder working on the office, so it is being completed at the local pace... the hope is that the building will be finished this spring before the rains start and we can have a nice dry place to work.
Once again, thank you to everyone who prayed, supported and drank our coffee in 2017. The work here continues to go forth because of the support that you provide.