Ted has been spending a good deal of time the last few weeks reading and learning about the coffee business. Last Saturday we stopped at a small coffee roaster/shop near Elmira, NY and he chatted with the owner for almost an hour learning about the coffee business and how beans are bought and sold in the US.
This Saturday, he was able to connect with another coffee roaster, this one from Ohio. Paul Kurtz, owner of Hemisphere Coffee Roasters, has been working in the coffee business in Central America for ten years. A little over two years ago, he took a trip to Guatemala with someone from EMM and talked with the Kekchi people about their coffee. From that visit, and Paul’s passion for helping people through direct-trade coffee came this opportunity that we feel called to.
Paul Kurtz is also Vice President of New Initiatives at Rosedale Mennonite Missions and part of the Rosedale Business Group, and as such he has a good background in missions and business. Ted had been planning to drive out to Ohio sometime soon to meet Paul, but Paul happened to be about 3 hours away in PA this weekend for a conference, so Ted hopped in his truck and drove down. They had a wonderful chat about the work Paul has already done in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and his vision for Guatemala. Because of the conference, Ted was also able to meet some of the other people who are part of the plan. It was a great opportunity seized and Ted brought home a book Paul wrote about the story behind the Guatemalan coffee that he roasts and sells: A House Blend.
I had some time today to read this short book and really enjoyed the story. Not only did I learn a great deal about how coffee is processed, but I also got a vision for how big of an effect this project can have. Paul really works hard to follow the principles I mentioned in this post about the book When Helping Hurts. He wants to give farmers a “hand up” and not a “hand-out.” Current practice has up to six middlemen between the farmer and the roaster–each taking their cut. Paul works to cut out most, if not all, of those steps, while encouraging a quality product. He advocates “Direct-Trade” rather than “Fair Trade.” (See this page for a description of direct trade.) His experience with fair trade is that it is not truly fair at all for the average farmer. In the story in the book, between God’s hand at work in Nicaraguan banks and Paul’s work in helping to improve the quality and purchasing the coffee directly at higher prices, the farmer was able to significantly improve the life and homes of his 90+ laborers and now also supports seven pastors that have churches in nearby communities and is looking to add more soon.
Although our situation will be a little different as we will be working with individual farmers rather than an estate with an owner and laborers, the potential for changing lives is still very significant!
Ted is looking into the possibility of going with Paul to visit the Nicaraguan farmer for a few weeks in October and learn more about coffee processing and shipping.
We continue to work with EMM to get through the rest of the long-term application process. Hopefully, we will be able to take some more steps with that this coming week.