Poverty is a real and ongoing problem for many coffee farmers and farm workers around the world. It's a problem that's impossible to ignore when we travel to coffee farming communities. Our "Fair and Direct Trade” approach means that all of our coffee is purchased directly from farmers we know personally, and at prices that will sustain both a high quality of life and a high quality coffee farm well into the future.
We know each of our farmers on a personal level. The long-term relationships we build are a win-win for the farmers, our company, and our customers. We truly look forward to the day when the next generation takes the reins and grows the business with our partner farm owners and their families.
In addition to trading fairly and directly, we also spend upwards of $1 million a year through our non-profit called Community Aid, to build schools, health clinics, worker housing and much more, in coffee towns around the world. Read more about our Community Aid projects below.
The "Direct Trade" process means that all of our coffee is direct, farm-to-cup coffee. This is nothing new to us - we've used this approach for decades - but many new, high-end coffee roasters are advertising their coffee as "direct trade" farm-to-cup coffee and charging high prices for it. We choose to blend our coffees, rather than sell by their single-farm estate name. But the underlying coffees are premium, directly traded, farm-to-cup coffees. You'll taste the difference in quality that such a direct and long-term approach to coffee sourcing provides.
About Fair Trade Certified Coffee
Fair Trade is an idea that grew out of a concern about the overwhelming poverty in many coffee growing communities. It's a well-intentioned idea, but in our experience with our boots on the ground in coffee communities, we know there is a better approach. "Fair Trade Certified" coffee (with the black & white seal) means that the coffee is purchased from cooperatives of small farmers at a payment of no less than $1.31 per pound. That price is set by an non-profit organization called "Fair Trade USA" based in Oakland, California. Importers and roasters pay a 10 cent premium to "Fair Trade USA" for the right to use the Fair Trade Coffee seal on their bag.
We believe there are a number of problems with the idea that "Fair Trade Certified" is the ONLY way for consumers to help farmers. As pointed out here in this Time Magazine article from 2010, "Fair Trade Certified" coffee hasn’t really been helping small farmers. In fact many are still going hungry for many months of the year.
One problem with "Fair Trade Certified" coffee, is that a roaster doesn't have to know the cooperative at all to get the Fair Trade seal on their bag. In fact, most roasters offering "Fair Trade Certified" coffee buy their coffee from an importer middleman. And this means that many roasters don't actually see the poverty and environmental degradation at the cooperative with their own eyes. They may think paying a slightly higher price is helping, but that is not necessarily so. In fact, the farms may be in poor health agriculturally, and the cooperative members may not be spending money appropriately to end the cycle of poverty there. Certainly, getting a premium for coffee that is not necessarily better quality, helps neither the farmer nor the roaster.
Another problem for large volume roasters like us is that we cannot buy all our coffee from small farmer cooperatives as required for Fair Trade certification. In order to meet our very large demand for consistently high-quality coffee beans, we also need to buy coffee from large coffee farms. We've found it extremely difficult to buy high quality coffee on a consistent basis from so many small farmers who may have only one or two acres. A roaster interested in offering the highest quality beans may or may not find them from Fair Trade Certified farmer cooperatives. And if the roaster finds them, he may not be able to buy enough to supply the consumers' demand. Fair Trade Certified doesn't indicate or guarantee high quality, and we found that small farmer cooperatives were not trained in the best agricultural practices to improve crop quality.
Finally, we found that poverty is especially acute in the communities of landless, farm-workers that have settled around large coffee farms. Some people believe "Fair Trade Certified" helps workers. In fact, the Fair Trade Certified price is for a pound of coffee - it is not a wage. So it's only available to farmers in cooperatives growing coffee on one or two acres. Workers with no land cannot benefit from the Fair Trade scheme since they do not own any coffee trees. These workers and their families often live in dire poverty with little hope to end their suffering. Our unique approach that we outline below fills a void for these landless farm-workers that the "Fair Trade Certified" seal cannot address.
It is for these reasons, we've chosen not to certify our coffee through the "Fair Trade USA" organization.
Our Unique Approach: Fairly Traded and Community Aid
Fair Direct Trade
Our "Fair and Direct Trade" approach to coffee sourcing addresses all of the quality shortcomings of the "Fair Trade Certified" approach and provides ongoing, permanent solutions to help break the cycle of poverty. We buy our coffee directly and personally from large and small farms - including farmer coops - that meet our stringent standards for quality, compassion for workers, and environmental stewardship. We visit the farms personally, set up long-term contracts and develop long-term relationships with these farmers and coops. We always pay above their costs of production - plus a profit - which is a much higher price than Fair Trade. In fact current average price we pay is $1.55 for non organic and $1.87 for organic: far more than the $1.31/$1.55 price required for Fair Trade certification.
But we do even more. Through our groundbreaking Community Aid Program, we strive to break the cycle of poverty that exists in coffee communities by spending upwards of $1 million - every year - to improve the education, housing, health, and sanitary conditions for workers and their families on every farm where we do business - whether it's a huge plantation, a small farm or a coop of small farmers.
Finally, we provide agricultural assistance to all the farmers we work with to 1.) improve crop quality and 2.) convert to shade and organic farming to ensure the beans are sustainable, delicious and worth the higher prices we pay. Not only does this make coffee taste delicious, but it also improves the environment – including the water supply - for the people, flora, and fauna there in and around coffee communities from Mexico to Rwanda.
Coffee farming communities need help in so many ways other than just a slightly higher price. Our Community Aid Program – with direct investments to break the cycle of poverty, as well as consulting to improve agricultural quality in all our partner farming communities – is doing just that. We are proud to say that 100% of our coffee is fairly, directly and ethically traded. Because we have our boots on the ground at every farm where we buy coffee, we know that every dollar that goes to our partner coffee farms is making a real difference to lift farmers, workers, and their families out of poverty.
Pete Rogers, our green coffee buyer, reflected on customers' invaluable role: "The reality is that without you, our customers, we could never accomplish any of this. You are making the decision to buy this coffee, and through that you are supporting these programs and breaking the cycle of poverty. You need to understand the success and help us celebrate since without you the ‘we’ has no power, no success and few changes. So on behalf of the thousands of people in coffee communities world wide...Thank you!"