Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
Coffee is as much a part of our culture as beer and baseball. But the work it takes to get coffee from tree to coffee-maker doesn’t get much attention. I recently learned about how coffee beans are processed at a presentation at Irvington Presbyterian Church here in Indianapolis. The Presbyterian Church encourages local churches, such as Irvington Presbyterian, to support a just marketplace through programs like the Presbyterian Coffee Project, coordinated by Melanie Hardison. Pastor Bob Heimach and Craig Shaw from Irvington Presbyterian Church joined Melanie and others on a trip to Nicaragua to see how the coffee promoted by the Presbyterian Coffee Project is grown and processed. I won’t go through the whole process here (it took an hour to explain it at the church and they still left a few parts out). Suffice it to say that it is a laborious process that involves picking and cleaning coffee cherries, separating the cacao bean from the fruit, and drying the beans in their moist local climate.
Conventional coffee is grown in areas of cleared rainforest and farmers are consistently cheated and under-paid by coffee-buyers, aptly called coyotes. The coffee beans are subsequently bought and sold among multiple middle-men, each of whom, earn a profit. Those who lose out the most in the conventional system are the farmers. Fair trade essentially eliminates the middle men, thereby offering coffee growers higher premiums on their product. Certain fair trade companies like Equal Exchange, (these are the companies, which buy coffee beans directly from farmer cooperatives) require that the coffee trees are grown in an environmentally sustainable manner.
When we choose fair trade, we are choosing to support small coffee farmers, who are growing an environmentally sustainable crop. To make things more complicated, there is not just fair trade coffee. There is fair trade chocolate (my favorite), tea, bananas, and more. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but it is best to use fair trade as a resource to guide us when we decide where to spend our dollars. It’s hard to be perfect, but buying coffee (or chocolate or tea or bananas) with a fair trade seal ensures that we are consuming products that are in-line with our ethics. The presentation on fair trade coffee was a gift to me; my cup of coffee is now meaningful in a way that it never was before, as I think of all the hard-working hands that have touched it. Imagine if we fully appreciated the hard work that brings us all of the things we consume. It could be a moment of prayer or meditation, or a hearty “Thank You” before we consume.