Monthly Archives: May 2009

Why You Should Be Drinking Fair Trade Coffee, Now!

Over the past couple of decades we consumers have become increasingly aware of how our purchasing affects the world.  From destroying a rainforest we may have never heard of to forcing children into unfair employment, what we purchase can have a detrimental impact.  Now, I understand that the thought of us individually having this kind of power sounds like the height of hubris, but I really believe that we have simply been naive since the Industrial Revolution (i.e. the historical examples of the rubber industry and the not so historical examples of the chocolate and garment industries).  The agricultural industry has certainly not been excempt from exploitation and has in many cases been a leader in destroying the environment.  Coffee, for instance, became a cash crop over the past century and has since faced a corporate explosion due to consumer demand.  Unfortunately such an explosion, combined with traditional capitalist principles, meant that companies drove down production costs any way possible, including clear cutting environments and finding the cheapest labor possible.  This also led to the proliferation of an inferior product, as major coffee companies found that it was easier and cheaper to produce robusto species of bean instead of arabica.

Fortunately we no longer have to accept products that are inferior, environmentally destructive, and that keep families in poverty.  With the advent of mass communication, particularly the internet, we now have the ability to change things.  There are many organizations out there trying to show ordinary consumers that their purchasing can have an extraordinary impact, either for good or ill. 

One organization that is making a big difference, particularly in the coffee world, is Transfair USA.    ftc_logo

Transfair certifies different products that meet rigid standards that not only improve the environment but help coffee (and other products) producing families climb out of poverty.  They do this in several different ways, the highlights of which include improving environmental standards, organizing farming families into democratically controlled cooperatives, and securing a base price for coffee.

Improving environmental standards – Unfortunately, for the sake of profit, large coffee plantations tend to clear cut plots of land in order to grow larger amounts of coffee.  Traditionally this has not been the case as coffee, historically, has always been shade grown.  The cleared fields allow for higher and quicker yields but tend to produce an inferior product (most of the time producing robusto).  It also faces problems similar to other single crop fields, the need to continually fertilize and the use of pesticides.  Shade grown coffee is both better for the environment and produces a superior product.  It is better for the environment because it is not a monoculture and therefore requires less fertilizers and pesticides.  This method also provides a much more natural habitat for wildlife.  It is a superior product because, like wine, coffee tends to pick up the flavors of its environment.  Thus when it is grown near cocoa or a type of fruit, those flavors make it into the bean.

Organizing families into democratically controlled cooperatives – The majority of coffee throughout the world is being produced by small families (which is one of the main reasons that discretionary purchasing in this area can make such a huge difference).  What Transfair seeks to do is to organize these farmers into cooperatives that allow them to fight for higher prices for their products and improve their agricultural techniques.  The cooperatives are then able to pool their money and democratically decide how to improve their communities with their profits.  This also protects these families from being taken advantage of by middlemen who, in any other situation, would be necessary to get the beans to market.

Securing a base price for coffee – Coffee prices worldwide are at an all time low.  This has been tragic for families all over the world who make a living producing coffee.  So Transfair has set a floor price for beans (currently at $1.25 per pound) that allows farmers to create a sustainable way of life.  Fortunately this is bringing many families out of poverty.

I first really began to seriously consider the importance of fair trade after hearing a podcast by John Sage, one of the cofounders of Pura Vida Coffee, from an address he gave at Stanford University (iTunes Store, search “How Do You Take Your Coffee?”).  John explains a lot of what I wrote here, but then follows it up with a concrete example.  He tells the story of a woman that was part of a cooperative in Central America that Pura Vida buys its coffee from directly and the difference that Fair Trade has made in her family.  They flew this particular woman up to a conference they were hosting at a university in Seattle and the woman was able to tell  the college students her story.  She told them that because of fair trade prices they were now able to take their children out of the fields and put them back into the classroom and that perhaps one day her children would have the opportunity to sit where those college students were sitting.  Wow!  That is the power of discretionary purchasing.  By simply buying coffee for a couple dollars more than what we would normally spend we are able to help families across the world take their children out of the coffee fields and put them where every child belongs, in a classroom.  We are able to help families take the first steps out of poverty and into a sustainable way of life. 

Please, listen to the podcast I listed above and further educate yourself about the benefits of Fair Trade and begin to help make a difference!  We can make a difference – we just have to make the choice (but now that you know, aren’t you making a choice either way?).

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My Dream

Can you believe that at the beginning of June Amber and I will have been in Florida for two years!  We left Arkansas in 2007 to come be a part of what God was doing at Crosspoint Church in Spring Hill, FL.  For the past two years Amber and I have served as interns (1 yr for Amber and 2 for me) and Amber has been an office assistant (for the past year).  My internship is over at the end of this month andwe decided that it was time to move on.  Not to leave Florida, but not to spend another year as an intern.  I won’t be dropping out of Crosspoint, but maybe fulfill another role that I will get to later.

Anyways, so what is next?  For those who may not know, Amber and I do not envision ourselves staying in Florida longer than another year.  We plan to stay until next June because I can teach and Amber can continue as a marketing director.  But after that…

 I have had an idea/dream that has kept growing over the past few years.  Three years ago I wrote the outline for a missions program for Crosspoint.  At the end I mentioned that I would like to start a coffeehouse to support missions.  Well, that last part has stuck with me and has always been in the back of my mind (or in the pit of my stomach) since we have been here and has morphed and changed along with me. 

So that is my dream – to open a non-profit coffeehouse!

Those who know my wife and I know we have always been passionate about missions.  I have also become much more globally aware of poverty, disease, and human injustice.  I am convinced that these issues are close to the heart of God and therefore should be close to my own heart.  There are so many great organizations and people out there bringing peace, love, and transformation to those in need and I want to be able to come along side them and support what they are doing.  I think that capitalism has the power to do this.  Therefore I want to start a business that will use its profits to make a difference in the world!  To support orphanages, clean water initiatives, microfinance organizations, and local foodbanks and shelters.

I want this business to be a coffeehouse for a lot of reasons!  First, I love to serve people.  I love to meet new people and hear their stories and make them feel welcome.  My dream is for this coffeehouse to become a third place (1st place is home, 2nd is work) where people come for friendship andconversation.  Second, I have fallen in love with coffee!  The bean itself has an incredible ability to transform communities.  Through fair trade (and other certifications which may be even better) coffee growers are slowly coming out of poverty, able to take their children out of the fields and put them back into classrooms.  I also love the drink itself.  There are so many layers and complexity to it.  Third, I love music and art, even though I suck at both!  I want to be able to support local artists by connecting them with customers and helping to spread their message.  Last, I do not feel called to a traditional ministry role, but I still feel God’s calling on my life.  I still desire to see God transform those I meet and want to connect them to His mission in the world.  In a coffeehouse I will be able to do this.  To make relationships and discuss God with people I form relationships with, what many refer to as incarnational ministry.

I have thought about this for a long time and have a whole lot more swimming in my head.  If you would like to know more then stay tuned because I will have plenty of posts to come on the coffeehouse.  You can also contact me and I would love to discuss it with you.  This summer I plan to apply for non-profit status and write the business plan, so please hold me accountable to that!

Finally, please keep Amber and I in your prayers.  When I sit and think about it I feel completely overwhelmed.  But I know I have to keep trusting God and continue to pursue this without abandon!

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Chris Guillebeau and Traveling Around the World

Chris Guillebeau has been “challenging authority since 1978”.  His blog/website, The Art of Nonconformity, chronicles his adventures around the world and is full of encouraging material to conquer your dreams.  Chris has never had any sort of traditional employment.  After college (I think) he joined a volunteer organization in Africa.  Now he has an audacious goal of visiting every country by the time he thirty something (I believe he is currently at 130/192).  He makes a living selling products on his website and finding ways to squeeze airline miles out of credit card companies! 

I first came across Chris because I was searching for entrepreneurship blogs.  Somehow I ended up coming across his free manifesto, A Brief Guide to World Domination  (which, by the way, is excellent).  Chris has a lot of great material on his site for entrepreneurs and for people who just want to live differently.  Also, I love to read his travel journals.  We also share a love for one of the coolest cities in the world, Hong Kong!

I encourage anyone to check out his blog and his free materials.  Also check out his products for purchase, but he will tell you not to buy them unless you actually need them. 

So, in the spirit of world travel, here are the top 10 places I would like to visit in the world (not really in order):

  1. South China Tour – Hong Kong, Guilin, and Sichuan Province – been to South China before but not to Sichuan or Guilin.  And Hong Kong is the coolest place on earth!Guilin
  2. Eastern Europe – I really don’t have much of a desire to visit the popular areas of Western Europe.  Instead I would rather explore the cities of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
  3. Bora Bora, French Polynesia – is this pick too turisty?  Oh well, from the pictures it looks like one of the most beautiful islands in the world! Bora Bora
  4. Whistler or Kamloops, B.C. – Been to Vancouver, but that is on the edge of the Canadian Rockies.  Next time I want to go deeper into the beauty of British Columbia.
  5. Cape Town, South Africa – My friend Chris will not stop bragging about how beautiful this city is.  I love cities that are limited by their geography and Cape Town definitely fits that description.

    The city is pinned against Table Rock Mountain in the distance.

    Cape Town is pinned against Table Rock Mountain in the distance.

  6. Nepal – A country that rises from 3,000-29,000 feet has to be interesting and beautiful!
  7. Botswana – I would love to see the great animal migration when the Okavango Delta floods (it looks great on Planet Earth!).
  8. Appalachian Mountains – I have seen pictures of the beautiful balds on the Appalachian Trail and will one day camp on one!
  9. Maldives9.  Maldives – Hey, they could be gone in my lifetime.
  10. 10.  Jordan – Would like to visit Wadi Rum and the amazing city of Petra.

What are the top places you would like to visit?

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Changes

I will be making some changes to the blog.  I haven’t been around for awhile and the lack of consistency has finally annoyed me to the point that I am going to do something about it.  Also, I will be changing the content of the blog and try to become more focussed on what I write about (but no promises!).  So here is a list of what to look forward too:

  • Name – I know, this one doesn’t seem very big, and it isn’t.  Perhaps this one won’t change but I would like to find a name for the blog other than my own.  Any suggestions?
  • Consistency – I will start posting something every Monday and Thursday.  I may post on other days but I am going to try to commit to posting on those two days every week.
  • Content – because of a few things that I will explain in a future post (probably next week) I am going to try to focus my posts on three things:  God/faith/church, coffee, and non-profits.  That is not to say there will be no posts on music or books because that would be impossible!
  • Widgets – I joined Twitter this week.  There are just too many people on there now that I want to follow and it seems that more and more information is being passed on Twitter.  So on the side I added a Twitter widget and it will keep my messages that I post everyday.

Hopefully this will keep things more interesting!

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