You are here

Coffee Pickers, Mexico, 1927

Mexico.  Man and Woman (Indians) Coffee Pickers; Fruit on Trees.  (1927)

New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_13269
Document Description
Photograph of two coffee pickers carrying loads on their backs in Mexico, 1927
What does coffee grow on? Where does it grow?
How are the coffee beans transported from the fields?
Why do adults drink coffee? Is it a healthy choice for children?
Do these people look like farmers to you? How does their farm look different than a farm you might see in your area?
Currently, the world market has too much coffee available for purchase, making the price of coffee go down. How could the farmers make the price of coffee rise?
Historical Challenges
There is more than one legend about the origin of coffee. Research another popular legend about how humans first learned about coffee.
Find out if coffee is still a cash crop for Mexico. If so, have conditions in the fields improved?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: Make a poster or a brochure informing people about the coffee crisis and promoting fair trade coffee.
English Language Arts: Research how and where grow coffee is grown. Write a how-to paragraph about the steps involved. Use this information to promote higher coffee prices for the farmers.
Science: Locate studies that examine the effects of caffeine on people. Is coffee considered good or bad for our health?
Resources MSNBC, “Growing Coffee: It’s black, no sugar” by Jan McGuirk, Aug. 2002. Americas Program, “Migration and Coffee in Mexico and Central America” by Luis Hernández Navarro, Dec. 2004. National Geographic, “Coffee: Beyond the Buzz” New York State Library, "Selected Hispanic and Latino Websites."


Historical Context
According to legend, the first person to eat a coffee bean was a goat herder in Ethiopia around AD 800. The goat herder, named Kaldi, noticed his goats eating red cherries off a small tree. He also noticed that his goats seemed a little hyperactive. Kaldi decided to try the cherry, which surrounds the coffee bean, for himself. Thus, the effects of caffeine became known.

Coffee has been a part of many different civilizations. In Ethiopia, the coffee berry and bean were eaten, often surrounded by animal fat, by warriors to help keep them alert on raids. In the Ottoman Empire, where the plant soon spread, the people brewed the coffee beans into a drink. Even though the Ottoman Empire had made it illegal for coffee to leave its land, coffee soon leaked to Europe. In 1600, Pope Clement VIII “Christianized” the drink by approving its use by Catholics. In 1607, John Smith brought coffee to Jamestown, Virginia.

Currently, coffee producers are experiencing an international coffee crisis. Due to large agribusiness operations, the supply market has been flooded with too much cheap coffee. This influx of cheap coffee drives the price for raw coffee down, hurting small family farmers while benefiting large commercial coffee companies. For example, in Mexico, in order to sell his coffee to anyone, a coffee farmer might have to sell his coffee to a middleman, or “coyote,” for as low as seven cents a pound. This price is well below what it costs to grow the coffee. The farmer then is operating at a loss while the coyote can sell the coffee for a profit to large processing plants, who can then sell it for enormous profits to the consumer in a grocery store. The farmer’s coffee that sold for seven cents a pound can sell for eight dollars in a grocery.  

Organic businesses are trying to combat this trend by providing what is known as “fair trade” coffee. Fair trade coffee helps the small farmer by eliminating the coyotes. Farmers can sell their coffee directly to organic cooperative markets. The price the farmer gets for fair trade coffee is regulated by an oversight organization. Instead of the seven cents a pound, fair trade coffee sells for $1.26 a pound. Although popularity of fair trade coffee is growing, it still represents only about 1 percent of the coffee market in the United States, the world’s largest coffee consumer.
Essential Question
How does human migration impact the economy of a region?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain how human migration impacted the economy of Mexico.