Coffee

Greening the Winter Games

This time of year I find myself humming the Olympic anthem throughout the day. The Vancouver games run Feb. 12-28; it is time to start dreaming of mogul runs and bobsled victories. For some reason I hum the familiar tune associated with the games on my way to and from errands. As if hauling my three children around were an Olympic event in and of itself.

A Delicious Peace

In 2003, Ugandan Jewish coffee farmer J.J. Keki asked himself what he could do to stop religious violence. He decided to visit his Christian and Muslim neighbors to see if they could work together. “I brought the idea to my fellow friends, Christians and Mus­lims,” explains Keki in a video interview, “and I said we should make a co-op selling our coffee, as well as spreading peace in the world.”

Now the Mirembe Ka­wo­mera (which means “De­licious Peace”) interfaith peace cooperative has more than 750 members. Its partners reflect the religious communities present in the region—including Jewish, Muslim, Anglican, and Catholic—in a country known for its ongoing religious conflicts. The co-op sells directly to California-based Thanksgiving Cof­fee, a fair trade company that distributed 19,771 units of the Ugandan coffee in 2008 alone, according to Thanksgiving Coffee’s Holly Mos­kowitz. “We’re interested in the success of the farmers,” Moskowitz told Sojour­ners. “Our relationships with them are based on trust and understanding.” Thanks­giving Coffee, a family-run business, has pledged to buy all of Mirembe Kawomera’s coffee crop each year, despite any fluctuations in the market. Additionally, Thanksgiving and Mirembe Ka­womera developed an innovative profit-sharing model that helps keep the “fair” in fair trade.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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Java Justice

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.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2004
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What makes Pura Vida beans better?

Fair-trade and shade-grown: good words for impressing your tree-hugging, java-loving friends. But do you know enough to convince the co-worker who's sold on Starbucks? The world coffee economy is worth $50 billion, second only to oil in the commodities market. The United States consumes one-fifth of those beans, and less than 1 percent of the country's coffee is certified fair-trade. But watch out: Big business is catching on and co-opting the socially minded lingo. So if you're going to preach the shade-grown gospel, it's smart to learn the story behind your cup of coffee.

Economically just. Good coffee is fair-trade. Standard importers pay growers less than 50 cents per pound for their beans; fair-trade importers guarantee $1.26, with a 5 cent premium if the market price rises above the baseline. In addition, fair trade importers establish direct, long-term partnerships with democratically organized small-farmer cooperatives—both to bring stability to a volatile economy and to cut out "coyotes," middlemen who take advantage of market fluctuations to defraud isolated farmers. Pura Vida's fair-trade line is certified by TransFair USA (www.transfairusa.org).

Environmentally sustainable. Good coffee is organic and shade-grown. Organic means without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Shade-grown means under a rain forest canopy, which is how coffee has been grown for centuries. Not only does this prevent soil erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and allow for intercropping with fruits and vegetables, but shade-grown coffee—no surprise—yields a higher-quality bean. The alternative is clearing the forest for what's known as estate-grown coffee: fast-growing, sun-tolerant varieties that require acres of land and tons of fertilizer. Pura Vida's fair-trade line is certified by the Organic Crop Improvement Association (www.ocia.org).

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2002
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Cuppa Joe, With a Twist

It is a morning ritual for thousands of Americans, a gateway into the day, the warm cup over which they connect with others. But for drinkers of Pura Vida, that cup of coffee is also a ray of hope for at-risk children in the impoverished and struggling neighborhoods of San Jose, Costa Rica, and across the United States.

While some socially responsible businesses are able to boast a charity- or justice-oriented mission that grows out of their established consumer base, Pura Vida is an example of a for-profit business that was developed explicitly to support a religious and social mission.

In Spanish, "Pura Vida" has a double meaning. In street parlance, it means "cool," "awesome," or "great." But it also translates as "pure life" in English. Founders John Sage and Chris Dearnley seek to embody both meanings in the company's products, marketing, and social justice activities.

Pura Vida was founded in 1997 by Sage and Dearnley, who had met 10 years earlier when they both joined the Graduate School Christian Fellowship at Harvard Business School. After graduation, the two went their separate ways—Sage to work for Microsoft and into the high-tech start-up world and Dearnley first into business consulting and then, in 1995 after becoming an ordained minister, to Costa Rica, where he started a Vineyard church.

But the business school friends stayed in close contact, each looking forward to their annual get-togethers. In July 1997, relaxing by the pool after a round of golf in San Diego, Dearnley found himself telling Sage about the work he was doing in San Jose with at-risk youth, providing meals for the hungry and reaching out to struggling children. The work was rewarding but the group was financially strapped, Dearnley reported.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2002
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Fun With Facts

In Chiapas, Mexico, farmers are getting 25 cents per pound for their coffee crop. Starbucks' specialty grind is sold for $14.95 per pound.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2002
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