In the harvest months of December and January, operators of a coffee processing machine in El Salvador receive trucks full of fresh coffee fruit many times a day, brought from families picking on the mountainsides. In a cascade of red and yellow, the fruit slides from the back of a truck into a reservoir. It is then put through large copper barrels that grate off the pulp.
The coffee beans pass through pipes onto a large brick patio with multiple levels. There they dry in the sun, appearing like mounds of gold on a Mayan temple. When it is dry, a grinder removes the husks, and the coffee is packed in 150-pound bags to be shipped to the United States.
Equal Exchange, a fair trade coffee importer in Massachusetts, works "to develop a more egalitarian, democratic model of trade," said Anna Utech, a member of the interfaith department. Equal Exchange and dozens of other companies committed to fair trade provide a living wage to small farmers, who have been devastated by fluctuations in the price of coffee globally. "Anyone who's ever known a farmer knows you can't survive with such uncertainty," Utech said.
Equal Exchange provides security to farmers through loans given before the harvest, so that if crops are destroyed or damaged members of the cooperatives will not lose their land or go hungry, as happens to many other small farmers. Fair trade buyers pay double the market price of 63 cents per pound, and add a 5-cent-per-pound premium for development projects.