Friday, November 26, 2010

Coffee is wonderful. So wonderful in fact that for the last 500 years it has grown to be one of the largest agricultural commodities in the world despite having no intrinsic substantive value. You cannot live on it like you can rice or beans, but it would seem we cannot live without it.

The process from the tree to your Venti Mocha Latte with a shot is a fairly complex one (sometimes including some unique steps), and like all production challenges, complexity means cost to you. That is why coffee costs so much. Since most coffee grows near the equator, most of it is grown in countries with significantly lower living standards. Call them third world, call them low income, these folks live in utter poverty in many cases. So the cost of the actual beans ends up fairly cheap.

Unfortunately, it’s a little too cheap. Most of the coffee we consume is grown and harvested at rates that do not allow the farmer or harvester to make a living wage. As a commodity, the price is often set , and the farmer cannot argue. Enter the Fair Trade ideology. Fair trade is good in theory. Be sure you are paying what is fair. However in some cases, even fair trade goes through a middleman and the farmer still does not see is living wage. The fair trade that works is the one that bypasses the middleman, and trades directly with the grower, but that is not very scalable. I cannot imagine how a Folgers or Maxwell House would tackle that problem. Starbucks tried, but even they fall short with only part of their beans being fairly bought. We have to change our world small and steady.

Let me introduce you to Land of a Thousand Hills coffee. Their name comes from the nickname of Rwanda, the country where they buy their beans. If you are not familiar with Rwanda’s history, watch Hotel Rwanda for an overview. It is the worst human genocide in recent history, and their now fragile communities are trying to rebuild. Here is a video of the owner of LOTH.

For every 130 bags of coffee sold through LOTH, a Rwandan farmer can feed, clothe and shelter his family for a year. A YEAR! We all love coffee. We all drink it. Why not know what you are supporting, and where your money is being spent when you purchase coffee. You can buy LOTH coffee on their website, or if you ask V or I, we can pick some up at Windows Cafe' in Bethel.

Drink Coffee, do good.

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