When we first started 44 North Coffee eight years ago our goal was to build a business that aligned with our ethics, values, and spirit. We looked for a coffee importer that was certified fair trade and organic. What we found in Cooperative Coffees was much more.
Earlier this month Melissa and Megan traveled to Durango, CO -- the home of Desert Sun Coffee Roasters and this year’s host for the Cooperative Coffees annual meeting or AGM. As a premise, 44 North has purchased the vast majority, some 95%, of our green / unroasted coffee from Cooperative Coffee since we opened doors for business in 2010. We have spent the last year working on the application to join the Cooperative as full members and this was our first meeting as provisional members.
A bit of history
Cooperative Coffee was founded in the late 1990’s when Bill Harris, inspired by time spent in Guatemala, worked to import the first container shipment of green coffee from that same country. His vision grew with the help of 7 other value driven coffee roasters to import and find a market for the initial 40,000 pounds of coffee that needed a home. Fast forward to today where the organization is now made up of 23 roasters from all corners of the United States and Canada.
What sets this type of green purchasing structure apart
What sets Cooperative Coffee apart from other green importers is the structure of the organization. As a cooperative, the members build long term relationships among themselves and with grower producer partners through fair and equitable trading practices. Many of the roasters and farmers have worked together more than 15 years. This long term commitment is unusual in the global coffee commodity market.
The Cooperative works on a personal level with growers and their communities to build sustainable systems and processes to grow and export high quality, organic and fair trade coffee. Cooperative Coffee’s core values are:
- Always fair
- Truth and transparency
- Human connections with a big heart
- Community through cooperation
- Passion for the cause
The idea of transparency and human connection with a big heart resonates with us greatly as we do business in a rural Maine community where shared values also lie in the intimacy of community. And yet, while we are removed from the more urban experience of coffee service, it is greatly important to have access to the other members in the cooperative who have years of coffee experience, trade information, and offer support.
The depth of fair trade
Many don’t know this, but specialty coffee is traded daily on the NY “C” commodities exchange. Back in August of this year, the international price for coffee (C-Price) dropped below $1 per pound, to the lowest price since 2006. This is a problem because according to a report published by Caravela Coffee, production costs are in the range of $1.05 to $1.40 per pound, meaning coffee prices are below the cost of production. Coffee farmers are losing money.
Cooperative Coffees was born on the premise of fair trade. In addition to the base level price per pound established by Fair Trade International, the Coop pays an additional .20 cents per pound that goes into a fund to help growers with investment projects. These projects are determined by the grower and farmer cooperatives on the ground to fund infrastructure, social, or educational projects.
Understanding that farming is full of environmental uncertainty and risk and that we as a collective group of well planned companies can absorb more cost on the buying / roasting / brewing side of the coffee chain, Cooperative Coffee has taken fair trade a step deeper and established a new floor price on all contracted coffee -- US $2.20/lb.
In establishing a new floor price – at US$2.20/lb on all our fair trade and organic coffees, Coop Coffees’ producer partners know that regardless of what happens in the NY “C” market, at least they can calculate well into the future the minimum income they can expect from our contracts. Of course, in addition to the minimum-price guarantee, our partners are also free and encouraged to negotiate the quality and context premiums — in keeping with the local market dynamics of the moment – they deem necessary to compete for the best coffees their farmer members can produce. [Source: Cooperative Coffee Blog]
How are we going to address climate change?
Rising temperatures and erratic weather cause massive loss of production capacity in coffee. Simply put, soils are begging for more carbon. And this needs to happen now. As roasters with a voice, we can elect to add another 0.5 cents onto our contracted price as a “voluntary carbon tax.” From 2014-2017 this fund resulted in $650,000 going towards producers the help them learn about “la roya” or leaf rust -- a fungus that was devastating coffee crops in Latin America. The project helped farmers find ways to counteract the effects and then facilitate education and communication between farmers in different regions and even different countries on successful practices.
During our time in Colorado we were able to learn more about many of these important and impactful projects as well as meet current roaster members of the Coop. We knew going into the application process that our core values aligned with the organizations, however the outpouring of transparent information, business encouragement, and personal camaraderie was overwhelming. We learned more than we hoped and left feeling a great sense of gratitude and excitement of what is to come for 44 and our new cooperative members. We are excited and energized to share what we are learning about sourcing and roasting ethical coffee.