Coffee company saves the planet one cup at a time. Family coffee roasters thinking environmentally for more than 20 years
By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER Article Last Updated: 04/22/2007 08:49:57 AM PDT
SAN LEANDRO On a typical day, more than 100 million Americans will get out of bed, stumble into the kitchen or a nearby cafe and, before they know it, drink a rain forest's worth of coffee. But while many people might be aware of the crisis the coffee market has created, especially for Latin American coffee workers, a San Leandro-based coffee roaster says it's not as widely known that what goes into coffee, where it comes from and what you pay for it affects more than just people.
Coffee impacts the environment, too, the company says. The Rogers Family Co. is one of the few remaining family-owned gourmet coffee roasters in the country, supplying millions of pounds of Fair Trade coffee and tea each year to customers worldwide under its various brands.
But on this Earth Day, the company is urging coffee drinkers to "think before you drink." "Coffee is the one commodity that can actually restore the Earth," said Jon B. Rogers, founder and president of the company. Americans consume one-fifth of the world's coffee, making them the largest consumer base in the world, according to Global Exchange. Fair Trade has become the norm these days, assuring consumers the coffee they drink was produced organically and purchased under fair conditions.
But Rogers Family Co. had been working in cooperation with farmers to produce organic coffee under fair conditions before Fair Trade was even popular, analysts say. In 1986, when Jon's son, Pete, went on his first coffee buying trip for the company, he was appalled by the widespread poverty and developed a plan to do something about it and for the environment. As a result, the company required farmers to use traditional techniques to grow coffee beans in their natural state.
These techniques allowed farmers to grow coffee under a lush canopy of trees that support hundreds of birds and other wildlife, Jon Rogers said. One of the company's farms in Panama has become a model for organic farming in the region, transforming 94 acres of abandoned cattle land to a flourishing rainforest, he said.
In return, it has become a habitat for more than 60 species of birds and wildlife and has restored a flowing, clean-water source to the local community. "When you go there and see how people are living, you say, 'I can't be part of this,'" Rogers said. "So $1 million in coffee goes to community aid. I could put that into a Mercedes or a boat. But why? In the long run, the business will be a lot better because of it."
Dan Bylin, a Walnut Creek open space ranger, has been a loyal drinker of the company's Organic Coffee Co. "Rainforest Blend" for the last two years. When he first moved to the Bay Area, he said, he had sampled different brands of coffee but found none that had been produced shade-grown, organic and locally. But he stumbled upon a bag of Rainforest Blend on a trip to Costco. Having been used to the wild and outdoors, Bylin instantly fell in love. Just to show his appreciation, he invited the company to display its environmentally friendly coffee brands at an event in June, which will feature the Mt. Diablo Audubon Society. "We drink so much coffee, we don't realize that the plantations, the forests and the trees are gone,"
Bylin said in a phone interview. "But with shade-grown plantations, migrant birds can still use them and people are able to still grow coffee, make a living and survive. "It's a win-win situation for everybody, and I still get my coffee." Martin Ricard is a general assignment reporter who also covers San Leandro. He can be reached at (510) 293-2480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.