I realize that I wrote about some of our work with APOT, but didn’t mention much about the over-all experience.  It may be that I felt guilty that our trip as educators & visitors was so enjoyable at a time of such turmoil for our APOT colleagues. It also may be that I hadn’t had much chance to reflect over the whirlwind of two weeks. Having caught up on sleep, laundry, and emails, I wanted to write a little more about the fun stuff!

International travel is always full of adventure, and our Costa Rica trip was no different.

If you recall, I took along my family. While 2 toddlers, international flights, tropical bugs, unknown sanitary conditions, snakes, oceans, new cuisine… might seem like a recipe for disaster, it turned out to be a truly enjoyable adventure! (I think Craig and I were a little surprised and grateful in retrospect at how smoothly things went.) It meant so much to me to be able to share all of the places and people that had become important to me through this project with my husband and kids. And to share a big piece of my personal life with my colleagues, for better or worse–there we were!

It also seemed surprisingly fitting, as Costa Rica seems to be a country where children are valued deeply. Literacy rates are high, policy decisions often take the long view, playgrounds and soccer fields are in every town… My husband and I also had many conversations with men, especially, that showed how deeply they valued the “daddy” role and how central is was to their country’s future. This was surprising to us, and totally refreshing.

Some family highlights:
1. Swimming in the kiddie pool and big pool at CATIE–right behind our apartment building!
2. Taking a night walk with Jim and Miranda to shine caymans on the lake with a flashlight.
3. Up-close looks at armadillos, big toads, about 300 resident egrets & herons, golden orb spiders, a sloth, poison dart frogs, hermit crabs, fiddler crabs…
4. Nice dinners at all Jim & Tamara’s favorite haunts. Some with incredible views!
5. Running in and out of the warm ocean waves and getting covered in the “black sand” from Playa Negra in Cahuita.
6. Emmet making rooster noises, howler monkey calls, and riding Allan’s horse!
7. Henry seeing toucans and parakeets and all kinds of other birds, even learning how to use binoculars.
8. Funky hotels with lots of charm and charming staff.
9. Fresh fruit juices (papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, mango, tamarind, guava…) and milkshakes at EVERY meal.
10. Guided walk and boat ride back at Cahuita National Park. Saw white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, bats, sloth, basilisk lizards, iguanas, crabs

Some not-so-highlights but not so bad:
1. Our apartment ceiling leaked–a lot–in big rains. Fortunately, it didn’t rain hard much while we were there. And the beds moved easily.
2. Hot at the ocean on our weekend trip (and mosquitoey on our jungle hike), though well worth it. So hot that the cold water tap was warm. So hot that the pool was too hot. Even the ocean was hot.
3. My last night at CATIE, I was walking with the flashlight to meet the guys after a long day. Shined on a snake hunting frogs about 6 feet away. “Cool, a snake!” I thought to myself. After describing it the next day, Tamara said, “Oh, yeah, it sounds like a Fer de Lance.” I Googled it later–yup.

Every good adventure has a few leaks and potentially dangerous encounters, but that’s what makes it an adventure!



P.S. From beginning to end, the Purdue/CATIE team was prepared, flexible, professional, and easy-going. It was such a JOY to work with Miranda, Jim, Tamara, Johan, Flory…–as well as our team members from other trips who helped with planning and materials. Thanks all for your patience and teamwork!





We are now safely home after a successful trip. The second week of our May 2012 team’s time with APOT was a challenge for sure, but we all pushed forward together. Over the weekend of May 12-13, the General Assembly met to discuss some serious issues about administration, debt, and possible restructuring under a partner coop. Our Purdue team was not involved in this discussion, though it did impact the way we approached our work. During our two weeks there, uncertainty was very high among all APOT members. We wanted to be sensitive to their stress levels, yet encourage the committees to focus their efforts and continue to move forward.  The stakes are high for many families who rely on APOT for certification and processing. Beyond that, it is also like a family for many.

We had a very positive outreach day with the Grano de Oro indigenous region members, who are forming their own committee within APOT. Also had great sessions with each of the organizational committees.

We truly believe that all of the organizational capacity-building skills we worked on together will be helpful no matter what direction APOT takes from here. Already their communication is improving. All are committed to making APOT more transparent, democratic, and participatory–it just takes a lot of practice and some growing pains to figure out how to make that a reality.

At this point, all of the organizational committees are formed and have action steps. The product committees have each met several times, and are beginning to communicate with the board. The Board members are working on bylaws. For the first time, it seems like more members of the Board and committees are realizing that they need to know more about the finances of APOT and take responsibility for them. This is the elephant in the room…


It’s been a whirlwind of a week!  Travel all went smoothly. Got settled at CATIE on Sunday. Then jumped right into Product Committee meetings first thing Monday. Miranda led Coffee, then Farmer’s Market, and on Tuesday, Bananas. While there were certainly new challenges that came to light in the meetings, it was clear that the committees were beginning to function and own some of their actions.

The meeting with the Board was also challenging and hopeful, as old ways of doing things (or not doing things) seem difficult to overcome. Yet commitment is high and some progress is being made in important directions. We worked through leadership responsibilities together. Also learned that Accountant reports may be able to shed light on some of the financial unknowns expressed by the Product Committees.

Lots of good ideas and actions generated on Wednesday during a brainstorming session to charge and populate the 6 Organizational Committees to help the Board fulfill the mission. While there seems to be a general enthusiasm for these efforts to build the capacity of APOT, building a more transparent, democratic,and participatory structure–overcoming the inertia of a culture used to hierarchy, not challenging authority, and avoiding conflict is no simple task. APOT members describe this struggle very eloquently. I think it most often plays out as a frustration of wanting to take action but feeling ill prepared to take leadership and to work through setbacks.

Today we met with a small delegation to plan next Monday’s outreach meeting at Grano de Oro. We’ll report on that next week. Should be a good trip.

In other news, the weather has been lovely. At times hot, but lots of sun, dramatic clouds, and some night rains. We’ve seen lots of wildlife. My family has spent most their time at the kiddie pool behind our “apartment” and at a few playgrounds around campus.

We head tomorrow to the beach for the weekend. Looking forward to walking through the national park, maybe even snorkeling!


Wow, this first week is flying!
We have now met with all the product committees, the Board of Directors, and some of the people involved in the organizational committees. The product committees are really doing a great job of understanding their product and how to make it better. The Board has a lot to do to finish the bylaws, but they are well on there way to a solid written document. We discussed their roles for APOT and how they help the other committees do their job. It’s hard for some of them to understand that one person is not in charge, everyone is in charge. This is what still needs to be discussed.
Yesterday, we met with the members to discuss what each organizational committee would do to help APOT. Thirteen members including several board members were present. We used the sticky wall to visualize the relationship between the groups and the roles of each group. The members did a great job. Next week we will meet with the individual’s on each of the committees to make action plans and set up steps for working with the board.
Today, we are meeting to plan our visit to the indigenous farmers. After lunch, we are visiting a chocolate farm!

This is a picture of the volcano. The clouds parted yesterday morning, allowing for a beautiful view during breakfast!

Our first day was quite a whirlwind! We first met with the coffee production committee to learn what the had accomplished since the last Purdue group was here. They were able to get an estimated amount of coffee to be delivered by the farmer to APOT. This was great information that can be discussed with the board so that the entire organization and prepare for upcoming sales. We also discussed their process to make the coffee and got a tour of their facilities. This will help to make standard operating procedures for APOT, so that others can be trained on the process. The farmers market group also made head way in setting up 1st quality and 2nd quality standards for selling items in the market. They are preparing to make a few changes all at once, and this along with understanding how much it costs to run the market will help them determine how they will price items as well as how membership fees may be adjusted.
Today we visit with the vinegar product committee to see how they have been doing since March.

On Saturday, my family and I leave for my second trip to Costa Rica. Yes, I’m taking my family. Two little boys, Henry 3.5 years old, and Emmet 20 months, and husband Craig. Although we have been preparing for this big trip for a while, any travel with little kids has its unique challenges. Fortunately, Craig is a good traveller and a patient, creative daddy.

I was a member of the October 2011 team that worked with APOT. While I was not anticipating a return trip, I am so pleased to have this opportunity to be going back to continue the great work that Purdue and APOT have been undertaking together. I am excited to see familiar faces and to get to know new ones–especially my teammate Miranda!

On my mind are the many challenges facing APOT as they continue to work through the diffuculties of strengthening their leadership, formalizing their structure, and gaining ahold of their finances. For every success in one area, there seems to be a setback in another. I’m constantly reminded of how hard what they are trying to do really is. They are not just building a business, they are building a voluntary community of families who structure their own lives and farms around membership in this cooperative. APOT members are doing all this with limited resources, few available models, and legacy debt from prior abuses of leadership.

We’ll do our best to provide some tools and facilitation to keep building a sound business plan, formalize internal policies and practices, and develop leadership campacity.

Wish us luck! We’ll let you know how things go.

Kris Parker

Coffee Talks

After a long meeting, the coffee product committee made some important decisions to put them on the road to success