Seed to Shelf

Applications Closed

Applications Closed!

We’re building a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in. We work with our local partners on community-requested projects to uncover the intricacies of each place we go to.

Join us as we backpack through the diverse landscapes of Guatemala to follow coffee from seed to shelf, from bean to cup. We’ll go behind the scenes to discover the realities of life for small-scale Guatemalan farmers, examine the fair trade movement, and see what role we play in the international coffee chain. We’ll dig deep and immerse ourselves in the local culture while thinking critically about our impact as travelers, consumers, and coffee drinkers.

Applications Closed!


Fees + Community Contribution

$1,350 USD + $95 USD
$1,500 CAD + $105 CAD

September 1 – 9, 2018 – Applications Closed!
  • Deconstruct the myths and discover the realities of fair trade.
  • Get your hands dirty cultivating coffee alongside local farmers on the side of an active volcano.
  • Immerse yourself in Guatemalan culture and hear about its history from former guerrillas who have traded their bullets for coffee beans.
  • Experience a sunrise above the clouds at the summit of one of Central America’s highest points!
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Sample Itinerary

*This itinerary is based on our previous experience with the region. Programs change every year based on the needs of our partners. This should give you a sense of what our program may look like.

Orientation in Guatemala City and Antigua

We begin our Guatemalan adventure at the front doors of La Aurora International Airport but quickly take our orientation to Antigua, where our group will acclimatize to the sights, smells, sounds, and smiles of the region. We’ll explore the cobblestone streets of Central America’s historic colonial capital and orient ourselves to the country’s cultural and geographic landscape.

Coffee 101 in San Miguel Escobar

On our first full day, we’ll dive right into explorations of Guatemala’s third largest export: coffee! We’ll head out to nearby San Miguel Escobar to explore the coffee chain from seed to shelf with De La Gente, a sustainable agricultural cooperative focused on direct trade. We will join founding members Filiberto and Timoteo on the slopes of Volcán Agua where we will learn to pick, process, and roast our coffee. We’ll then sit down with our hosts to share a traditional Guatemalan meal!

Brewing Justice in Xela

In the ladino and indigenous metropolis of Xela, we’ll encounter one of the few cities in Guatemala where coffee shops are popular with locals. We’ll join revolutionary-turned-reformer Willy at Café La RED KAT for a delicious meal and an insightful chat about the challenges facing campesinos (small-scale farmers) and their struggle to integrate into the new socio-economic order. In the afternoon, we’ll scavenge around local markets and take some time to explore this unique urban centre on foot.

Sunrises & Summits

No visit to the highlands is complete without a climb of one of its iconic peaks! We’ll get up bright and early as we take on an epic hike of Volcán Santa Maria or its more explosive younger sibling, Santiaguito. It’ll be an unforgettable journey as we push ourselves physically to be rewarded with an incomparable view above the clouds.

The Coffee Revolution in Santa Anita

After a brief journey to the north-west, our group will arrive in the community of Santa Anita and home of APCASA, a coffee association founded by former civil war combatants. These soldiers-turned-farmers perceive coffee differently: it is not just an exportable commodity but also a symbol of revolutionary solidarity. Staying in family homes, we’ll have the opportunity hear their stories and share our own while building friendships and deepening our understanding of the coffee revolution.

Growing Change

The following day, we’ll share a day in the life of a Guatemalan coffee farmer. We’ll take to the fields to harvest ripe, red coffee fruit and perhaps collaborate on the construction of the community’s new beneficio or mill. It’s here that the community’s coffee will be washed, de-pulped, fermented, dried, and sorted – all in preparation for the international market.

Lago Livin’

We will conclude our exploration at Operation Groundswell’s Hub, located on the shores of beautiful Lago Atitlan. The Hub is a physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated in and between people through conversations and collaborative projects. It is also a site where OG can test and develop new ways to create positive impact alongside our participants and our local partners. We will use our time here to experiment with alternative farming initiatives and taste the fruits of our labour.


After a whirlwind week, we’ll spend Day 8 resting our tired legs, refreshing in magical waters, and reflecting on our awesome adventure. We’ll have the chance to explore the unique and beautiful town of San Juan or simply stroll along the shores of the volcanic lake. We’ll then meet back up as a team to discuss lessons learned, assess our impact, and prepare for the journey home.


Finally on day 9, with hearts full of memories, we will return to Guatemala City where our group will say adios and adelante!

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What’s Included?

A comprehensive program itinerary and educational curriculum focused on the issues facing your specific region

Experienced and caring program leaders with you 24 hours a day

All lodging and accommodations throughout the program

Three local meals a day

All group tours, entrance fees, and excursions

All group transportation on the ground

Regular discussions and workshops to help you internalize and reflect on your experience

Support from OGHQ whenever you need it


With OG, you live like the locals.
With OG, you live like the locals. Whether it’s a youth hostel in Antigua or a bamboo bungalow on the shores of Lago Atitlan, we will be sleeping and eating as a team in ways that reflect a backpacker’s ethos. Grassroots travel and homestays will allow us to immerse in the local culture, but living as the locals do sometimes means living without some of the comforts we’re accustomed to. Cold bucket showers are common while continuous electricity can’t always be guaranteed – so come prepared! Wherever we are, we’ll make it home in no time.

Meet Our Regional Director

After running programs on three continents in as many summers, Bobby returned to his OG roots in Guatemala to manage the Hub as Regional Director. Throughout his travels he has found himself standing on top of an active volcano in Ecuador, watching the sun set across the Salt Flats of Bolivia, and working barefoot in the rice paddies of Cambodia. But nothing tops the smell of the pine forests back home in New England. When he’s not brainstorming new projects and animals to bring to the Hub, you’ll probably find him doing handstands.

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