Many of you have probably heard the term “fair trade,” but you may not know exactly what that means or entails. Fair trade became popular a few years ago and it aims at cutting out the middle man and have sellers buy directly from growers. This way, sellers know where their product comes from and growers get more of the money.
Fair trade sounds great and it’s a great idea, but here at Jackie’s Java we decided to take fair trade one step further than other coffee roasters. In fair trade, there is still a middle man which the farmer and the roaster have to pay to make the transaction. When Jackie started Jackie’s Java, she really liked the idea of fair trade but didn’t like the idea of having to pay a company to make the transaction.
In 2008-2009, Jackie had a connection with the Colombian government. That sounds sort of sketchy, but the Colombian government actually had a lot to do with the coffee trade. The government oversaw the coffee exportation and the agricultural side of coffee growing because coffee exportation was such a huge portion of their GDP and they wanted to make sure the coffee was high quality. Because of this regulation, the coffee in Colombia was amazing!
Anyway, Jackie was a part of an experiment the government conducted to completely cut out the middle man and connect roasters with farmers. She was invited by the government to come to Colombia and meet some coffee farmers. She got off the plane into a bullet proof van along with a few other roasters (all from much larger companies), a security guard and a translator.
Their itinerary changed every day, and wherever they went there was a car in front and behind them in order to stay protected. Jackie said, at the time, kidnappings were very common in Colombia as the drug trade had dried up and the Guerrillas were taking people hostage and holding them for ransom as a way to replace the income they had previously gotten from transporting drugs.
Jackie went along with all the other roasters to a few farms where they were able to meet and taste the coffee. They were also taken to Bogata and shown the government buildings where they research coffee and come up with new and innovative ways to grow and roast.
A few days later when the people from the big roasters left, Jackie stayed. She got into a Jeep with just one security guard, translator and a government official and they drove deep into the mountains where it is nothing but coffee farms. Jackie met 25 farmers in one day and was able to talk with them about their lives and how they got into the coffee growing business. A vast majority of them were farming organically, but couldn’t pay for the certification to be “officially” organic. Many were also recycling the spent coffee fruit, using other environmentally friendly techniques that the Colombian Dept. of Agriculture had taught them, and were giving back to their communities.
At the end of Jackie’s private tour, which she was invited on by the government, she picked one farmer to buy from who had stood out from the rest. The farmer she chose was someone who she would not have been able to buy from without the help of the government. Jackie chose him because Roberto was a hard worker, an innovator and he cared about his community, along with having amazing coffee. Jackie bought his entire crop for two years. When the government went to his farm to tell him the news, they said he started to cry.
Roberto started off as a picker, a job done by migrant workers picking beans on a coffee farm. He saved enough money to start planting coffee while still picking. As his farm grew, he wanted to give back to the migrant workers on his farm so he built a dorm for them to stay in, only if they wanted to stay. He wanted to make sure everyone was treated well.
On the El Banco property Roberto built many things to help make his farm more environmentally friendly and energy conscious. He had something called a rolling flat built into his house that he laid the beans on to dry instead of using an electric drier like many other farmers.
Unfortunately, there was a drought in Colombia that wiped out most of Colombia’s entire crop in the third year so Jackie couldn’t buy from Roberto anymore, and now the two have lost touch. But this sparked her interest in fair trade and making the effort to work directly with farmers.
After the first trip to Colombia, Jackie traveled to a few other countries looking for the best coffee to sell. Her second trip was to Brazil by herself, where they required her to rent a bulletproof car. She made some appointments with small farmers, but mostly drove around and knocked on doors to meet farmers and taste their coffee.
The next trip she took was to Costa Rica. At this point, Jackie had teamed up with a few other roasters on the East Coast to make fair trade buying cheaper by sharing shipping and storage costs. On this trip, she found the La Amistad farmer. Jackie stayed on his farm and toured it by horseback. His name is also Roberto and his passion for the environment and running a truly sustainable farm runs very deep. Roberto was one of the first farms in Costa Rica to go organic. He also sat on the board for organic certification in an effort to show other farmers why being organic is important.
La Amistad Finca actually sits well within the La Amistad International Park- a park that spans Panama AND Costa Rica. Growing up on Roberto’s family farm, (before the park was created) Roberto saw that this parcel of land was unlike any other. Educated at UC Santa Barbara, Roberto came home to the farm and was able to show his father that there were species of birds and bats found on the farm’s property that had never been categorized or found anywhere else. Roberto’s father donated much of the family’s farmland to the Costa Rican government to help create the park and protect this land. I bet you have never had coffee grown inside of an International Park before!
Roberto and La Amistad is very concerned with the environment as well as being socially responsible and trying to make the world a better place. Roberto harnesses all of his electricity through a hydroelectric generator on his farm. The generator even creates excess energy that he donates to power the nearby town. He even provides housing for migrant workers on his farm and provides school supplies for the children of the workers that live on his farm. As of Jackie’s last visit to the farm Roberto had built 26 stand alone houses for his migrant workers to live in for FREE if they wanted to stay.
It is not cheap for us to buy fair trade. Buying directly from growers means we have to pay to ship the entire container even though it is not full. Coffee takes an entire year to blossom and grow and is only harvested once a year. Therefore we have to store the entire year’s supply of beans and we have to rent a whole extra warehouse just for storing the beans. (Other roasters simply call up a broker every month and order all of their coffees Costa Rican, Brazil, Colombian etc. all at once from a broker who buys from an importer who buys from an exporter who buys from a mill who buys from a “coyote” who buys from the farmers. These roasters do not pay the extra money to store and import the coffee and therefore it’s not only NOT Fair Trade, it’s also just run of the mill coffee. Nothing special. Their Farmers are not incentivized as ours are to produce a better crop year after year. Many of the farmers we buy from are very small and they don’t produce enough beans to fill an entire shipping container. A few years ago, Jackie realized this and decided to partner with two other roasters on the East Coast to share shipments of coffee with and share the cost of shipping.
Most roasters hire a broker who calls the exporter in Colombia (or whatever country) and they ship it and get it through customs. Our grower in Costa Rica has his own exportation license, so he takes his coffee directly to the port. Once it gets to the U.S., we hire a customs broker just to make sure it gets through customs safely, but that’s all the broker does for us. The roasters on the East Coast take their coffee and then they ship our share to us. That is how we think fair trade should be.
Jackie has traveled to Panama and Costa Rica other times as well, but sometimes you just don’t come back with new coffee or a new grower. It doesn’t always work out. But we are passionate about where our coffee comes from, so we make the effort to go out and search for the best coffee beans. We want the farmers we buy from to be passionate about coffee, about their community and about the environment, and we are ok with spending more money on making sure we get the best coffee from the most passionate people we can find.
Our passion for good coffee starts from the beginning. We spend the money to find amazing farmers doing innovative things on their farm, in their community and for the environment. We make sure to deal directly with them so we can support them as much as possible. Then, when the beans finally get to us, we take the time and spend the money to make sure it is roast right so you can have the best coffee.
After meeting all of the coffee farmers and hearing their stories, Jackie had some of their passion rub off on her. And that passion goes into every bag of coffee we make at Jackie’s Java. We truly want you to love our coffee and we want you to be as passionate about it as we are!
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