Coffee companies, resorts, restaurants: brewing fair tastes better
Ethically produced coffee tastes better, and not merely because of the psychological rewards of supporting fair trade.
Father James Flynn, of Park City’s St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, has seen first-hand the impact fair trade can have on the quality of life for coffee farmers, and the quality work paying fair wages can produce.
"Better coffee is organic coffee, is grown in volcanic soil, and is shade grown," he says.
Flynn has picked beans with his index finger and thumb side-by-side with growers in Nicaragua and Guatemala, some of whom he’s seen working tethered to trees on the sides of steep pitched mountains. He’s been visiting the coffee growing countries for two decades with the human rights group, "Witness for Peace," sometimes for three and eight months at a time.
"My interest in fair trade coffee has been spawned out of what I’ve seen for myself and how difficult it is," he said. "I’ve personally seen fair trade implemented less than two years ago and I’ve seen [growers] lives markedly improved by having a fair price paid for their intensive labor."
Monday, Flynn will give a presentation on fair trade coffee entitled "Crisis in a Cup of Coffee" at the Sprague Library in Salt Lake it’s a presentation he’s given before, and one that has been instrumental in bringing fair trade coffee to local companies in Park City.
Most notably, Flynn managed to convince Park City Coffee Roaster to buy into fair trade, which in turn, has sold their socially-responsible brews to three major local ski resorts: Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort and Sundance Resort.
Park City Coffee Roaster’s best-selling brew, "Locals’ Secret" sells so well owners Raymond and Robert Hibl report they can barely keep enough on store shelves.
The 13-year-old company, began by purchasing 15 percent of their beans fair trade in 2001 and have since increased their investment annually. Last year, 63 percent of the company’s 200,000 pounds of green beans were fair trade and this year they’ve upped the ante to nearly 75 percent, according to Robert Hibl.
The company’s "Cowboy Coffee," "Spiro Blend" blends, and the beans it sells from Mexico, Ethiopia, Peru and Nicaragua all have the fair trade stamp.
The enthusiasm over the fair trade label coffees has enabled the company to consider going 100-percent fair trade by 2008 or 2009, he said.
"I can say that we sell our coffee in the whole-beam format to [The Market at Park City] and Albertsons, and I can tell that it’s selling more," Hibl said.
"People call us up all the time and want to know where they can buy our fair trade coffee or where it’s served."
Lots of large companies invest in fair trade, such as Millstone, and NesCafe, but Hibl observes.
According to the Starbucks Web site, the company partnered with Conservation International in 1998, which helps it to invest in a fair trade, shade grown program in Mexico. The company reports it purchased $1.6 million pounds of coffee from the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico last year for its Conservation Coffee program.
Since Starbucks began Conservation Coffee, the company says that Shade Grown Mexico received a 60 percent price premium over local prices for their coffee and exported 50 percent more than the previous year. Over the next three years, Starbucks plans to support the expansion of its Conservation Coffee program in Central America, Peru and Columbia.
Buying fair trade can get pricey, however, especially for smaller companies.
Hibl admits, adding "We’ve definitely got a good name in the marketplace locally now that helps us, too."
Park City Coffee Roaster supplies Blind Dog restaurant and Adolf’s, but while larger companies can afford to help the company cover the costs of fair trade certification, often owners of the smaller companies, like the Hibl brothers, absorb the extra $1,500 to $2,500 a quarter.
"Fair trade used to not be considered a gourmet coffee but now it’s considered some of the best coffees in the world," Hibl explained. "With fair trade coffee, you actually have a consistent harvest year after year."
According to Hibl and Flynn, coffee growers’ wages in the countries that work with companies like TransFair USA (the independent nonprofit that works with Park City Coffee Roaster) have in some cases more than quadrupled.
In Nicaragua in 2002, coffee was selling at 45 cents per pound well below the cost of production, and when coffee prices fall like that small scale farmers lose their shirts, Hibl notes.
Flynn confirms that on his visit, he witnessed families starving from the lack of income during that period, before fair trade implemented a guaranteed floor price paid directly to the producer.
Katie Olson, who manages the Salt Lake location for Ten Thousand Villages, a national organization devoted to the sale of fairly traded crafts and dry goods from abroad, says that for Ethiopia and Burundi such instability can ruin an entire population the coffee trade accounts for more than half their export revenue.
The coffee trade is the second only to oil on the list of the largest commodities traded globally, according to Olson.
"Fair trade is really a poverty-reduction tool," she explains. "Artisan groups are seeking out the most economically disadvantaged in the community and teaching them skills they need and giving them that fair wage."
According to Olson, even if the market might fluctuate, through fair trade standards, growers will still earn a fair wage for their work, fair labor conditions, freedom of association for farmers and workers and democratic decision-making processes.
"I think because we are so fortunate in this country and our buying habits are global, if you can buy fair trade and know that you’re making a difference, why not do it?" she asks.
While the U.S. still has some ways to go in other arenas when it comes to fair trade (Olson sites clothing as a good example), finding fair trade products that are needed regularly and paying the extra dollar can be "doubly important," Olson says and coffee is an easy way to do that.
Ten Thousand Villages will help to host Father Jim Flynn’s presentation, "Crisis in a Cup of Coffee" on Monday, March 5 at 7 p.m. at Sprague Library, 2131 S. 1100 E. The event is free and open to the public.
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