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Teacher brings lessons of fair trade coffee to classroom

Business Gazette, MD

During her weeklong trip to Brazil in July, Ellen Georgi asked a fair trade coffee farmer in the field what she should know about Brazilian coffee.

The barefoot farmer wanted Georgi, a social studies teacher at Urbana Middle School, and the other nine American teachers with her to realize how much work goes into making a cup of coffee.

By growing fair trade coffee in the southern state of Minas Gerais, the family was earning a fair price for the coffee and were able to buy more plants and increase their profit, Georgi said in a presentation at the Urbana Regional Library on Monday.

“Because they were able to plant their own trees, they have this hope that their son’s life will be better,” Georgi said to a small gathering of library staff, parents and students in attendance for her lecture, “Fair Trade Coffee — what does it really mean?”

On a screen in front of her, pictures of coffee plant seedlings, farmers, coffee pickers and drying patios helped narrate her journey in understanding fair trade coffee production.

Earlier this year, Georgi had won a national competition sponsored by Sam’s Club, TransFair USA and Café Bom Dia to study how fair-trade coffee comes to market and how fair-trade standards improve social, economic and environmental conditions for farmers and their families.

Fair-trade certification is a market-based model of international trade for products such as tea, coffee, cotton, chocolate, fruit and sugar. Farmers are paid a guaranteed, minimum price for their harvest in exchange for meeting environmental standards, investing in community projects and education, and prohibiting child labor.

The fair trade certification process that coffee producers undergo typically takes years to complete and is done by a third-party, nonprofit organization like TransFair USA.

In Frederick, fair trade coffee is common at stores and coffee shops like The Common Market, Frederick Coffee Company, Giant, Costco and Sam’s Club.

A two-pound bag of Café Bom Dia’s “Marques de Paiva” fair trade coffee sells for $14 at Sam’s Club; a one-pound bag of Starbuck’s “Guatemala Antigua,” a non-fair trade coffee, costs $11.

Zoe Brittain, outreach coordinator for The Common Market, an organic food co-op on Buckeystown Pike, said the store only sells fair trade coffee.

Selling different brands of fair trade coffee fits with The Common Market’s goal to enhance the life and health of the community and the environment, Brittain noted.

Being responsible for the quality of the product includes knowing the condition in which it was grown and its source, she added. Brittain noted that if the idea of fair trade is on people’s minds, they will use it more as a reason to buy such products.

At first, Georgi said she was skeptical and unsure of how well fair trade works. But after conversations with coffee farmers and Café Bom Dia, Georgi is sold on the idea.

“I can’t find the hole in it. I can’t find what’s wrong with it,” she said.

In addition to a guaranteed minimum wage when growing fair trade coffee, farmers also learn environmentally sustainable farming practices and use the profits to invest in education. From her discussions with five local farmers, Georgi noted that fair trade practices are spreading by word of mouth.

Brazil is the largest coffee producer in the world with more than 40 million bags — weighing 100 pounds each — expected to be produced in the next year, according to Georgi.

Café Bom Dia pays a network of 1,000 small farmers in the region to grow coffee on 10 hectares of land each. A coffee plant will produce the cherry, or fruit containing the beans in six years. Pickers will then harvest the fruit on plastic tarps, dry the beans on drying patios and in machines.

Café Bom Dia — which sells its fair trade coffee “Member’s Mark by Marques de Paiva” in Sam’s Club stores—tests, roasts and bags the beans at its factory in Varginha, Brazil, then ships the coffee to various worldwide markets.




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