In January 2014, I traveled to Marcala, Honduras to attend a meeting hosted by Cooperative Coffees, our green coffee buying cooperative (Heine Brothers’ Coffee is a founding member of Cooperative Coffees). We invited (and covered the expenses for) representatives from our coffee farmer partners from all over Central and South America to join us for several days of meetings focused on the problem of leaf rust, or Roya as it’s called in Spanish. Roya is devastating coffee plants all over this part of the world. Roya is a naturally occurring fungus in coffee fields that found the perfect climatic conditions during the 2012-2013 growing season to reproduce in epidemic proportions. Roya attacks the leaves of the coffee plant, it’s primary source of photosynthesis. This not only affects the ripening of the current-season cherries, but can also cause the flowers of the following season to drop. Depending on the intensity of the infestation, Roya can kill a branch or the entire tree.
As Cooperative Coffees, we deal directly with the coffee farmers from whom we buy. We have been hearing for some time now that Roya was devastating coffee plants and causing a severe drop in the annual yield for many of these farmers. We decided that one way Cooperative Coffees could help would be to convene a meeting where where we would invite farmers from many different regions to share their experiences and, hopefully, successes in dealing with Roya.
We held our “Roya Summit” meeting at the headquarters of Cafe Organico Marcala (COMSA), a small-scale, farmer-owned cooperative in Honduras, who is having great success combating Roya using organic farming practices. COMSA is proving that, despite the claims of many coffee industry influencers, research institutes and government agencies who advocate aggressive use of chemical fertilizer solutions, organic farming practices can be used to combat Roya and produce bumper crops of prime quality organic coffee.
While in Honduras, our group of 65 people – coffee-farmer representatives and coffee roasters from Cooperative Coffees – toured the coffee farms of several COMSA members, visited COMSA’s impressive biodynamic farm, toured COMSA’s coffee processing facility and shared many outstanding meals prepared by our friends at COMSA.
I was highly impressed by COMSA’s commitment to their organic practices. COMSA’s organic promoter, Victor Contreras, spoke to our group about how important they believe it is to “create a model of agriculture that is in harmony with the laws of nature to feed and nurture the life energy in the soil.” And COMSA’s organic practices are proving highly successful in resisting and/or recovering from the current Roya crisis. The coffee plants I saw at COMSA were as healthy as any I have seen anywhere in the world. While there was some evidence of Roya, it was very minimal.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to spend 3 days in Honduras with such a committed group of coffee farmers and coffee roasters. We were able to unite and share information around the Roya crisis and recovery while also sharing ideas on coffee production, coffee quality and coffee price. The spirit of generosity and cooperation was strong. While we did not solve the Roya problem for any of these farmers, I know that many left encouraged by what they had heard and learned.
I came home from Honduras with a deeper understanding of the impact Roya is having on many coffee farmers and was reminded how hard these farmers work to make a living. And I came away with hope that the success the farmers at COMSA are having with their intense commitment to organics will have an impact on farmers in other parts of Central and South America. I also came away as proud as ever that Heine Brothers’ Coffee is a member of Cooperative Coffees. At the end of our meeting in Honduras, several farmers made a point of noting how unique it was that Cooperative Coffees had stepped up and done something to help them by hosting and financing this “Roya Summit” (when what they feel like they typically get is little or no help and/or empty promises).
This trip to Honduras also affirmed a few things that I have learned in 20 years in the coffee business. The difficulties that coffee farmers face are significant. Our commitment to buying their coffee directly from them at Fair Trade prices is not solving all of their problems or making all of their dreams come true. However, I can say with confidence that the relationships we’ve formed with many of these coffee farmers (some of whom we’ve been buying from for 13+ years) and the fact that we continue to be there year after year to deal directly with them on a Fair Trade basis is having a meaningful impact on their lives.
Mike Mays (co-owner) and Andrea Trimmer (Director of Operations) are off to Peru! They are leaving today to visit coffee farmers in Pangoa, where a majority of our coffee from Peru comes from. Once arriving in Lima, Mike and Andrea have a 12 hour van ride over the mountains (altitude of 15,000 feet!) to reach their destination. As a 100% Fair Trade coffee roaster and member of Cooperative Coffees, we regularly visit farmers from different cooperatives to see the farms, share a meal, and get to know how life is for the farmers. The additional money that Pangoa receives from fair-trade coffee goes towards educational loans, healthcare, and more. Stay tuned for pictures and stories from origin!
Fast Facts on CAC Pangoa
- Approx. 600 members
- Based in San Martin de Pangoa (450 km east of Lima; in central Amazon)
- Coffee grown between 1,100 and 2,000 meters
- Economic diversification: cocoa, honey, roasted coffee (domestic market), ecotourism
- FLO Certified since 2003
- Organic certified since 2002
Read more about Pangoa here!
Introducing La FEM!
Heine Brothers’ Coffee is proud to release a very special coffee produced in the northern mountains of Nicaragua. The coffee is, of course, delicious. But, how it got here is what makes it unique. Nicaragua La FEM is grown and processed exclusively by women in communities surrounding Esteli, Nicaragua.
La Fundación entre Mujeres is actually the umbrella organization supporting six small growing cooperatives scattered throughout the mountains. In total, they organically farm about 300 acres of coffee, hibiscus rose, fruit trees, and vegetables. La FEM provides agricultural education, access to credit, seed, infrastructure, and markets.
One of La FEM’s prime objectives is land ownership, helping to secure their members’ physical and economic independence. They also run primary and secondary education, adult literacy programs, women’s health programs, and domestic violence outreach and support.
This is a big year for La FEM, as they continue to rebuild after massive landslides destroyed the homes of 42 member families in December, 2011. Heine Brothers’ and our Cooperative Coffees partners are happy to help La FEM export one full container (250 bags) of green specialty coffee this year. The full container threshold is a big one for coffee producers, and we hope, brings these women to a new level of stability.
April labor strikes in the Panama Canal Zone stranded this coffee for two months, but it’s finally here. We hope you enjoy this medium-bodied coffee. It has a nice earthy, chocolaty sweetness balanced by a clean, citric acidity. Heine Brothers’ was only able to purchase six bags, so this is a very limited offering. Enjoy!
Available in your neighborhood Heine Brothers’ Coffee or online!
We have worked for a couple of years trying to find a fair-trade & organic chocolate to replace what we were using. Finally, a few weeks ago, we rolled out a new recipe for our mochas and hot chocolates using a fair-trade & organic cocoa powder with our fair-trade, organic, and raw sugar. We had tried it over and over again, getting the recipe just right, and loved the taste!
Unfortunately, it was a HUGE change from what we already carried. The cocoa powder had a different texture than the syrup, and, while a lot of people liked it, we defineitly heard some complaints. We’re always scared to change some of the items that we know our loyal customers love, and this ended up being too much of a change.
Starting today, we are going to have BOTH our fair-trade & organic cocoa powder Mocha, as well as a Mocha made with a delicious chocolate syrup (without HFCS!)! When you order a Mocha we’ll default to the syrup, so let us know if you’d like the fair-trade & organic cocoa powder when ordering. We can still make your mocha (using the fair-trade & organic cocoa powder) sweetened with honey or Splenda as well. Over the next few months, we’ll be testing out a couple of fair-trade & organic chocolate syrups too, so please let us know what you think! Thanks!
by Peter Clark – Equipment & Facilities Manager
One of the most common questions we hear in our stores is asking to clarify the difference between ‘Free Trade’ and ‘Fair Trade’. It remains a vague idea that takes just a little bit of history to understand fully. Shall we?
The mid nineties buzzed with all the good that Free Trade could do with the world. The end of the Soviet era allowed globalization to take a firmer hold on economics and culture. For better or for worse, goods would start moving at an even more accelerated rate from country to country seeing as how most of the severe political blockades were being lifted. Under this direction, economists began to assess the monetary hurdles that also affected the flow of goods and services. It turned out there were a great number of them, from environmental considerations to working conditions. A rising trend grew in international economy to alleviate burdens that slowed down the momentum of trade. With the 1994 passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), America allied itself with this idea. It, along with many other foreign economic policies, was meant as a way to overlook much of these on-the-ground factors that contributed to the manufacture of goods, and to allow a much more uninhibited exchange.
With the aid of hindsight and the fact that my anti-establishment angst is safely behind me, I can good-naturedly say that Free Trade was not designed by evil little men trying to squeeze whatever they could out of impoverished countries. There were genuine economic principles that led this movement. There is the saying, generally ascribed to John F. Kennedy, that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” In true free market style, this belief is grounded in the resolution that if any sector of an economy is growing, then surely this will bolster the economy as a whole. This same sentiment can be seen in the “trickle down” economic approach taken by Ronald Reagan. Understandably, when the world slammed back together after being divided by the Cold War, economists and politicians began actively treating the world as a single, cohesive economy. The push for Free Trade was meant as a way to unite the new global economy and allow smoother sailing along a new rising tide.
Unfortunately, the reality of Free Trade did not prove to be as simple as the economic maxim would have you believe. First, as quickly as the first world acclimated to the idea of a free-moving global economy, much of the rest of the world could not. For the greater part of the last century, there was a political war being held with economic concessions either being doled out for allegiance or withheld due to defiance. Whatever the cause, many of the developing world’s economic infrastructures were limited, unstable, or nonexistent. As with many other times in history, the resources that were being offered by the promise of Free Trade led to more infighting than cooperation. Various individuals, companies, or governments monopolized the few avenues open to Free Trade in the developing countries.
Secondly, enterprising people almost immediately exploited the hurdles that were overcome in the spirit of Free Trade. NAFTA stipulated that regulations on working conditions or environmental impact could not be enacted if they proved to be a barrier to Free Trade. This had the somewhat predictable effect of inspiring manufacturers to drastically cut corners in production, leading to dangerous working conditions without any regard for preserving the environment around them.
More than anything else, Free Trade meant to focus on the promotion of competition by allowing a minimum of government interference. This led to producing goods for as cheaply as possible, and the first world paying as little as possible for those goods, no matter the consequences. Within these parameters, the movement for Fair Trade began.
Even before the expansion of Free Trade really took place, many developing world producers and first world consumers saw the signs of what would happen and collectively organized in many different ways. As reality reflected their worries, momentum grew and the idea for paying a fair rate for goods produced with regard to working environment and ecology spread all over the world. From the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Southern Mexico to the World Trade Organization protests at the turn of the century, to the food riots that have littered the past decade, frustration with Free Trade has shown itself clearly.
We at Heine Brothers’ Coffee depend on farmers around the globe, and they equally depend on us. Because of that, we feel earnestly that we have a responsibility to give them a fair price for an excellent product. In this way, the farmers earn a living wage and maintain environmental sustainability, and we can continue operating an expanding business. Our official definition of Fair Trade is: “We buy directly from coffee farmers, pay fair prices, provide farmers access to credit and encourage environmental stewardship. All of this is designed to help coffee farming families improve their quality of life, keep their children in school and reinvest in their farms.” Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
For the past twelve years, Heine Brothers’ Coffee has joined multiple other coffee shops and suppliers throughout the hemisphere as founding members in our Fair Trade co-op, Cooperative Coffees. Together, we have traveled to many different coffee producing countries and met with farmers to find a way to make our business and theirs profitable for everyone. The experiences have left us keenly aware of the impact that we have in our global community and vindicated our commitment to Fair Trade. Of course, this has caused us to make sacrifices in our business, but we make them knowing we genuinely attempt to strive for social justice.
Our patrons allow us to directly change the world, in effect, changing the world themselves. Our staff does not forget that the communities, in which we work, actively join us in these efforts. As a company, we feel incredibly blessed. The pledge we keep to buy Fair Trade consistently proves challenging, but knowing our customers support us every day in this decision ensures that we will proudly continue.