Saturday, October 1, 2011

"After the Harvest" Film at The Coffee Ethic

Last week, I attended a special event at The Coffee Ethic and Park Central Library in downtown Springfield, Missouri. They showed the film "After the Harvest" with a discussion led by Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate and Jeff Taylor of PT's Coffee Roasting Company.

The movie asked viewers to think about the people who grow the coffee we drink every day and what their life is when coffee is not in season or 'after the harvest'. Some of the nonprofits featured focus on how to make the farmers' lives more sustainable by getting them more than fair prices for their product and teaching them how to grow other crops so they are not depended on just coffee.

So many farmers face what the video calls food insecurity, or not enough access to nutritious food.

Mallory Roth, event planner, listens to Jeff Taylor, co-owner of PT's Coffee discuss his experiences with coffee farmers.
Jeff started out the discussion explaining the coffee crisis of the late 1990's. He said that it was costing $1.50 for a farmer to produce a pound of coffee, and they only received about $0.50 per pound. Fair Trade rescued the coffee industry by creating a standard to pay farmers about $1.25 a pound.

The problem is that Fair Trade has not raised its price in a decade, but now the C-market value of coffee is between $2 and $3. So farmers are making more money when they sell to coffee producers that are not certified Fair Trade.

He wanted PT's Coffee Roasting Company to go up and beyond Fair Trade, so they established a Direct Trade program. In order to be a Direct Trade program, the coffee has to be the best of the best, a representative from the roaster must visit the farm annually, and they farmer must be paid at least 25% above C-market price. Taylor said often times they may pay closed to double C-market price. As you could expect, his farmers are doing well.

Shawn Askinosie, owner of Askinosie Chocolate, talks about the struggles in the cocoa industry.
 Shawn had a parallel but different experience in the cocoa industry. He said that the chocolate industry is about 15 years behind the coffee industry. Often times, farmers sell to someone, who turns to sell it to someone else, who sells it to a big company, who sells to an large chocolate factory, so the original farmer gets no where near the C-market value and the big chocolate company does not know all the behind the scenes. It can often turn into a chocolate mafia, where the farmers are in debt to people in the village who buy their cacao beans. 

Shawn takes a different approach. He goes directly to a farmer to negotiate a price. He said the first time he went to Tanzania he offered the farmer so much more than normal, when he returned the entire country's market value had increased.

Askinosie also has a program called Chocolate University where they teach students in the Springfield area about cacao farmers struggles in other countries. He said that he feels it is his responsibility to help the consumer resonate and connect with the product they are buying.

He asked the question with all of the stories of farmers in mind:

"How much would YOU pay for chocolate or a cup of coffee?"

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