Being an organic farmer isn’t easy. When something like Rust Disease breaks out in the coffee world, a farmer may have to choose between not spraying a copper sulfate solution to save her/his trees and keeping their certification or spraying and being able to feed their family. This is a simplistic view of the situation, but it is a real one that many certified organic farmers have faced. There is a lot of paperwork, fees, an annual audit, and, perhaps most of all, restrictions on what fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides you can use, too. Sometimes the farmer can get the premium price they deserve and sometimes they can’t. As a result, there are fewer and fewer certified organic coffee farmers each year. This is happening in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia . . . the list goes on. So, what’s an organic coffee roaster to do? Find ways to help those farmers who have kept their certifications and find incentives to encourage other farmers to transition to organic certification.
Not all of AMUCC’s farms are certified; about 20% are in the program and a few others in transition. It was with this in mind that we offered to pay additional premiums to support the maintenance and development of AMUCC’s organic program. It’s why we initiated the program for an interest-free microloan program with them as well. But being certified organic isn’t enough, right? The coffee still has to taste good. So, let’s encourage the farmers to not only get certified organic, but to produce great coffee as well by holding a contest of sorts. This year we didn’t have a contest, but we wanted to show the farmers that quality pays, so we have a winner anyway: Maria Potosi. Next year, we are going to plan a contest with participation from our customers and choose three coffees, with first place getting $1 additional per pound of coffee we buy from them; second place .75¢ per pound, and third place .50¢ per pound.
This money doesn’t go to the coop. It goes right into the hands of the farmer who grew the winning coffees. Sounds great, right? Yeah, but this can’t be a fly-by-night thing. Being there, just being there, year after year is at the core of our definition of relationship when we call a coffee a relationship coffee. Being a fair-weather buyer doesn’t really work in our book. Here-today-gone-tomorrow? Nope. That’s why you see many of the same coffees in our offerings year after year. We call them “core coffees.” We may do a special offering of, let’s say, a Colombian coffee from a different region or coop but our core Colombian coffee stays the same.
Our goal is to find and develop relationships in as many of the countries of origin that we buy from as we can. That’s not to say that there won’t be some change in our lineup; sometimes we need to buy from other farmers or coops because of the limited amounts of coffee that a given farm or group can grow. Our demand may outstrip their production, in other words. But overall, we’re in it for the long haul.