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Meet Richard Trubey and Raul Raudales of Cafe Solar in Lowell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Richard Trubey and Raul Raudales.

Richard and Raul, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I (Richard Trubey) was working as a volunteer on human rights issues in Central American back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, though my formal training was in environmental science. I met my business partner (Raul Raudales) when he joined our human rights organization. I learned from Raul about the environmental and energy issues related to coffee processing, and his goal to develop a coffee drying technology that would use 100 percent renewable energy and eliminate the environmentally destructive practice of burning wood in industrial dyers to dry the annual coffee harvest.

We also knew through our human rights work that small coffee producers are often kept at the bottom of value chain as they don’t have access to the equipment and factories needed to dry and process (mill and sort and store) coffee for export. Typically, the value added goes to the wealthy mill owner or multinational conglomerates responsible for processing and exporting a majority of the world’s coffee.

We began to dream about developing a transformational drying technology and making it available for small producers to appeal to developing markets for sustainably and fairly-produced coffee. We created the Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI) to put Raul’s expertise in energy and mechanical engineering to work. With support from Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, we began developing and testing prototype dryers in the processing facility of a fair-trade cooperative in Costa Rica. After many years of design changes and approaches, we finally had a working industrial scale, high-efficiency drying chamber that could be powered entirely with renewable forms of energy—solar and biofuel.

Today we are partnered with fair-trade Cooperative COMISUYL in Honduras, where the world’s first off-grid processing facility to be powered by clean energy serves as the hub for our new model of forest-friendly coffee production that we call Integrated Open Canopy for which producers received payments for carbon sequestered in forest buffers surrounding their coffee farms. Café Solar(R), is the coffee that is processed in our technology and is promoting the adoption of forest-friendly production. Café Solar is currently exported to Sweden, Ireland, Canada, the US, and UK.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have been, and still are many obstacles to breaking with the status quo industrial practices in the coffee sector. Many of our assumptions about technology transfer and the pace of adoption for things “green” were way off. But we would have no way to know and learn without testing the assumptions with investments that did not pan out.

Also, it has taken quite a while for governments and institutions to recognize and publicly acknowledge the roll of coffee in the destruction of forest habitat and contribution to climate change. In 2013, the Costa Rican Coffee Institute declared conventional wood-burning coffee drying an “environmental emergency.” That same year, the government of Honduras designated our Institute as a Co-manager of Pico Pijol National Park based on our model of forest-friendly production and carbon neutral processing in a program to scale up our model.

As a whole, the coffee industry is rather indifferent to the challenges of deforestation and inequity in the “value-added” supply chain.

Please tell us about Cafe Solar(R).
Our company has the patented technology and years of experience in processing coffee for export to install off-grid, rural factories powered by renewables, train the local youth in operation and export to provide a truly sustainable coffee, Café Solar®.

We have managed so far to introduce three innovations to the coffee sector:

  • industrial drying and processing with renewable energy
  • a land-sparing, forest-friendly method of coffee production in combination with clean processing endorsed by the US and Honduran Forest Services, and the American Bird Conservancy
  • hermetic storage systems in conjunction with the Massachusetts company, GrainPro Inc. Hermetic storage preserves quality and prevents the development of mold and Ochratoxin A, a suspected carcinogen that survives the heat of the roasting process. All Café Solar® branded coffee is stored and transported hermetically

We are most proud of our relationships with coffee producers and the team of rural youth that are creating new forms of employment: operating and maintaining renewable energy technology, mapping and measuring carbon on Integrated Open Canopy (IOC) farms.

We are proud that so many women have become highly expert in coffee processing and quality control, with many obtaining university degrees. We have seen men from the financial sector visit the coffee processing factory and they just can’t believe or accept that the young women are managing the operation. In the coffee sector, women in management positions is exceedingly rare.

We are also proud of our partnerships with the US Forest Service and the University of Massachusetts, allowing for 15 years of field research in the biodiversity benefits of Integrated Open Canopy coffee production.

We are also grateful for the vision and drive of the people of Honduras who are embracing the Yoro Model with creation of the Yoro Biological Corridor, a region connecting five national parks that will promote clean processing and Integrated Open Canopy production and the education and training required to support the future of sustainable coffee.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Raul’s favorite memories from childhood are foretelling, pondering how water evaporates in nature would lead him to think about what products need drying and how much energy does that require. Also, memories of plotting out bicycle excursions from his childhood city, Tegucigalpa, the farther into the countryside, the better.

One of my favorite memories is climbing all the trees in my parent’s yard in Westford, climbing as high as I could get to look to the North at Mount Monadnock and the interesting assortment of radio telescopes, one like a giant golf ball, at Haystack Observatory.

Pricing:

  • Strictly High Grown, Organic, Fair Trade Cafe Solar is available online from $12 (14 oz) to $68 for 5 lb bags. Free shipping for order $50 or more.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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