Tag Archives: poverty

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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Highly Recommended

Just wanted to give you two recommendations:

outliers

  1. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – This is the first book I have read by Gladwell and was thoroughly impressed!  Outliers examines our underlying assumptions about success.  We often think that people are successful because of hard work and/or talent. Gladwell would agree that is certainly part of it but far from a complete picture of what makes certain people successful.  In a book that examines everything from 19th century tycoons, Canadian hockey, and even his own personal story, he argues that success has as much to do with lucky breaks, cultural heritage, and even what generation an individual is born as it does with natural ability.  I read this book in a week and cannot wait to pick up Gladwell’s first book, The Tipping Point.
  2. Slumdog Millionaire – Incredible!!!  100% deserving of the Academy Award for Best Picture!  I am really excited about this new wave of foreign films coming into the US.  SM does a great job of displaying the gap between the wealthy and poor and the lack of human rights in different areas of the world (in this case India).  Excellent film!

Slumdog Millionaire

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Contrasts

Ask anyone who has been there, or even seen pictures of Vancouver, and they will tell you it is beautiful.  It is called the City of Glass and is perfectally framed by a backdrop of mountains to the north.  Obviously, I would not be one to disagree with that claim; however, there are other parts of Vancouver that are not quite as beautiful.  On Sunday, September 28th, we headed to the downtown eastside (DTES) to discover a part of the city that has become both famous and notorious. 

We began the day with a great lunch in Chinatown.  It is not everyday that I get to eat steamed dumplings!  Then we proceeded to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park for instructions on that day’s activities.  The park was quiet retreat that honored both one of China’s great 20th century leaders and the significant Chinese heritage in Vancouver. While we were there we gathered together and Amy Hunter (a Nieucommunities staffer) split us into groups of three and gave each of us a map.  For the next few hours we were to follow the map around the city to experience its diversity and culture through sights, sounds, tastes, and even smells (and there were many!).  Colletta was grouped with Amber and I and our journey began going back into Chinatown.  If you want to follow our exact route you can follow it on Google maps.  We went up Pender St., turned left on Gore Ave., left on E. Hastings, right on Abbott St., left on Water St. all the way to Canada Place.

Building in front of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park

Building in front of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park with the City of Glass rising above.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park with the City of Glass rising above.

The three of us probably spent 45 min. to an hour going up Pender St.  We had a blast!  It was so much fun going into the little Chinese bakeries and finding interesting and delicious things to eat.  Gateway to ChinatownI found steamed buns in one (actually in many), something that I would eat for breakfast every morning when I went to China.  Amber bought a puff pastry that she got everywhere because it was huge, flaky, and covered in powdered sugar! I do wish I had a picture of that!  Colletta got one of the best Chinese deserts I had ever tasted.  It was sort of like a canoli, only it had a lot of almond in it and it was dipped in chocolate on one side.  The areas was very busy and full of locals and tourists alike.  One thing that I did notice that stood out to me was that it seemed the local Chinese population was quite elderly.  It didn’t seem like there were many younger people in the area.  Perhaps they have moved to different areas of the city.  In any case, it was just a curious observation.

Nothing could have prepared me for what came next after we turned from Pender onto Gore and then onto Hastings St.  I have been to several poverty areas or areas of higher homeless rates in the U.S.  The one that comes to mind the most is New Orleans.  Now in pre-Katrina New Orleans the homeless population mixed in pretty well with the popular business areas.  For instance it was well known that there were many homeless people who hung out around Jackson Square, but it was still an area that was vibrant with tourists and businesses.  There was very little seperation between the two.  In other cities there is usually a transition to the poorer areas of town before you get to them.  Nothing like the stark contrasts that we experienced that day in Vancouver.  As soon as we left vibrant Chinatown we entered East Hastings, an area that is quite the opposite.  Where there were many Canadian Chinese, there was now, only one block over, very little.  Instead the streets were filled with hundreds of men or women living a very different kind of lifestyle.  Either homeless or addicts or mentally ill, and unfortunately some combination of the three.  The air reeked of marijuana being smoked openly, we were even offered it twice that day.  There were no businesses open (granted it was Sunday, but I contrast that with Chinatown which was still very busy regardless of the day) and the buildings were obviously not in good condition.  That morning we had talked about what it meant for us to submerge into a culture the way that Jesus did in the particular culture of his time.  I will always remember Amber’s question as we walked out of that area:  “How do we submerge into that?”  I still ask myself that, how do we live incarnationally among such a culture?  I don’t quite know, but thankfully there is an organization there trying to do just that.  Jacob’s Well is a ministry that Nieucommunities partners with quite a bit that brings the Kingdom to an area that is in desperate need of forgiveness, love, and acceptance.
Bringing the Kingdom to the DTES

Bringing the Kingdom to the DTES

Once we reached Abbott St. we turned left and after only a block we were back into lively Vancouver.  Not even a block outside of the poverty that we had just walked a Ferrari passed us by.  We had entered Gastown, a historic and touristy area of Vancouver.  The place was amazing with its historic buildings and brick roads.  So we finished out our map at Canada Place beyond Gastown where all of the cruise ships take off.  So what began in an area of lively business finished in an area of lively business. 
Charming, Historic, and Wealthy Gastown

Gastown

But I just couldn’t believe the stark contrasts in between.  I have just never been to a place like that before, where only one block separates poverty and wealth in such black and white terms.  We were given a time
Discussing God's presence in the DTES at Victoria Park

Discussing God's presence in the DTES

when we were suppose to meet back together at Victoria Park.  Talk about coming back in a different mood. 

Victoria Park

Victoria Park

A couple of the girls were still crying because of what they had witnessed that day.  It was incredible, but we had to keep asking ourselves what is God doing here?  And realizing that God loves these people, he loves them more than we ever could!  The whole time in the back of my mind I kept hearing the song God of This City.  “And greater things are still to come in this city.”  And we made that our prayer.

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