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In search of an ethical bean

The News Leader, VA

STAUNTON — Whether it’s a hurried cup on the way to work or a mid-morning pick-me-up, coffee is a staple beverage around the world.

And to support the roughly 26 million, often poverty-stricken, workers whose livelihoods depend on coffee’s cultivation, local merchants are buying Fair Trade Certified and other socially conscious coffees.

A coffee that is Fair Trade Certified ensures the farmer who grew the beans is paid a fair wage for his or her work. Cranberry’s Grocery and Eatery owner Kathleen Stinehart buys FTC coffee whenever it’s available.

“It’s just something that supports third-world development, and it appeals to people who don’t want to be just supporting big, greedy corporations,” she said.

Other shops like Coffee on the Corner and Daily Grind carry FTC coffee, some exclusively.

But according to Melissa Scholl, co-owner of Lexington Coffee Roasting Co., a Fair Trade certification is just one of the socially responsible measures coffee distributors can take.

“Fair Trade Certified coffee is a wonderful program, but it’s only part of the answer,” she said.

According to Scholl, FTC has its limits. In addition to the fee farmers must pay to qualify, Fair Trade applies only to farmers who own less than five acres of land.

That’s why Lexington also offers Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee, which considers the welfare of the farmers, their workers and the land around them.

“(The farm) has to provide fair wages, decent housing, access to health care and education, and there has to be access to clean water,” Scholl said.

In addition to FTC and RAC, Lexington also provides relationship coffee, which assures that a portion of the sales goes to improving conditions at the farm or town where the farmer lives.

It also allows distributors to negotiate a price based on the quality of the beans.

Lexington Coffee Roasting Co. has been recognized as one of the top roasters in the country, placing in the top five of the Roasters Guild of America’s Roaster’s Choice competition in 2006 and 2007.

Its dedication to improving the quality of life for the world’s coffee growers makes it a popular distributor for local businesses.

“As a small business owner, that’s how you change the world,” said Blue Mountain Coffee owner Sarah Butterfield. “I have the ability to make change, because I’m not Starbucks. The only way I can do that is to be socially conscious of what it is I’m selling.”

“These (coffee beans) are picked by some 16-year-old girl in the tropics,” said Josh Micah Akin, owner of Micah’s Coffee in Waynesboro. “If I only have to pay $1 more for a pound of coffee that is putting an education in her hands and a pension one day, it’s worth it to me.”

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