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New Trade Model Connects Fair Trade Coffee & Farmers to Consumers Through CSA

On April12, CoffeeCSA.org launched a community supported agriculture model that allows consumers to subscribe to regular deliveries of roasted coffee from specific family farmers. It is the world’s first project to directly connect consumers with 140,000 small-scale coffee farmer entrepreneurs in Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Ethiopia. All CoffeeCSA coffees are Organic and Fair Trade Certified, hand-roasted in small batches, and available on the CoffeeCSA website and at over 100 independent cafés and cooperative grocery retailers.

With global coffee prices rising and small-scale farmers struggling to keep their farms afloat, the coffee world is ready for good news. Today CoffeeCSA.org (www.CoffeeCSA.org) launched the world’s first coffee CSA, connecting America’s coffee lovers with coffee farmers around the globe via the web. A new model for people who want to get closer to their favorite daily beverage, CoffeeCSA skips the supermarket, sourcing directly from farmers who grow the world’s finest coffees, offering monthly deliveries of roasted coffee direct from the farm to members’ doorsteps.

With micro-lending models such as Kiva.org gaining popularity, CoffeeCSA.org goes one step further by allowing CSA subscribers to fund, purchase and consume the finished product directly from the farm entrepreneur.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a burgeoning national food trend in which thousands of America’s small farms and artisan food producers are supported by CSA consumers who are so passionate about direct farmer relationships that they become stakeholders in a farm’s harvest. These food lovers go beyond the farmers’ market to buy weekly, monthly or annual shares in local, seasonal fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat, dairy and even seafood.

But coffee is not grown locally, and conscious consumers had no real direct access to the product or the personal stories of individual growers. By offering CSA subscriptions to independent, family-owned coffee farms, CoffeeCSA gives coffee lovers the opportunity to invest in and enjoy the harvest of small-scale coffee farmers, helping them earn more money and preserve family farms for future generations. 140,000 farmer-owners grow coffee for CoffeeCSA on small farms whose size ranges from from one to 10 acres.

“For people who treasure their coffee experience, CoffeeCSA is a powerful way to make a direct connection to the farmer,” said Thaleon Tremain, CEO, CoffeeCSA.org. “Subscribers secure their own personal share of a specific coffee harvest and support an individual farmer who works hard to grow the finest single-origin coffee available today. This is a real relationship, and a commitment which goes far beyond a label on a bag.”

Small-scale coffee farming is financially risky. Direct relationships with American coffee lovers can ensure stability for growers who struggle to cultivate a sensitive agricultural crop in a volatile global market.

“I am proud of the coffee I grow, and I am proud that I make my own independent decisions as a coffee farmer.” said Catarina Yac, coffee farm owner from Santa Clara Laguna, Guatemala. “But I also like to learn from other people. I look forward to connecting with Americans who buy my coffee!”

The online service is easy to use and offers varying levels of purchase commitment. CSA shares start at $19.99 per month for 2 pounds of fresh-roasted coffee, with flat-rate shipping of $9.99 per box. 2 pound, 5 pound, and 10 pound CSA boxes are available. Membership requires only entering an email address and name, and can be canceled at any time with no obligation. Subscriptions are flexible with options to select a personal farmer from a specific region or “bundle” of featured farmers from multiple origins including Ethiopia, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico. Monthly deliveries are standard, with options to customize timing and delivery locations. All coffee is fresh-roasted in California and shipped directly to subscribers. Members can choose to receive regular email updates from their farming family.

All CoffeeCSA.org offerings are double-certified Organic and Fair Trade, with labels guaranteeing environmental stewardship and transparency in accordance with prominent third-party certification systems.

CoffeeCSA subscriptions are also available on LocalHarvest.org  (www.LocalHarvest.org) America’s leading organic and local food online resource. Local Harvest maintains a definitive and reliable “living” public nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets, and other local food sources.

About CoffeeCSA.org

CoffeeCSA.org (http://CoffeeCSA.org) is a community supported agriculture model that allows consumers to subscribe to regular deliveries of roasted coffee from specific family farmers. CoffeeCSA is a project of Pachamama, http://www.pachamama.coop, the first global cooperative of coffee farmers, consisting of more than 140,000 small-scale farmer-owners in Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Ethiopia. Founded in 2001, Pachamama is the largest farmer-owned co-op based in the US and is the only coffee company to use sophisticated information technology that lets coffee farmers tell their own stories to consumers. This authentic connection with consumers is unprecedented in the coffee industry, empowering farmers to differentiate outside of the commodity crop model and deal directly with consumers. All coffees are Organic and Fair Trade Certified, hand-roasted in small batches and available on the CoffeeCSA website and at over 100 independent cafés and cooperative grocery retailers. Twitter: @CoffeeCSA Facebook: CoffeeCSA

5 Comments

  1. Moka

    Not to be a nag, but this doesn’t look like CSA at all.

    If you pay a fixed price for a fixed amount, then it’s just pre-buying. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, why not call it for what it is?

    After looking through the website, the whole thing looks like a regular California-based coffee business taking pre-orders but dressing things up like a cross between kiva and CSA when it’s neither, so it comes across as false and opportunistic.

    It wasn’t until I saw mention that it’s 100% owned by the farmers that things looked a little different. But even there, without much information about that, and some questionable/false “facts” (like, ‘Fair Trade has historically meant 25% of the coffee retail price goes to farmers’), I’m left unconvinced that this is anything more than a gimmick.

    Cleaning up the bad information, more acurately describing what this actually is, and providing more information about the company structure and how farmers benefit would go a long way.

    Finally, from the article, “with global coffee prices rising and small-scale farmers struggling to keep their farms afloat…” how does that make any sense?

  2. Dear Moka,

    Thanks for your interest in coffee farmers! To address your questions and accusations:

    1. Yes, this is a definitely a CSA program.

    2. We invest “pre-payments” into financing next year’s harvest. That’s what CSA’s do!

    3. Not sure how this is “opportunistic”. Is it “opportunistic” for farmers to sell their own coffee for a change? I think it’s a smart business for farmers!

    4. What don’t you understand about “100% farmer-owned”? Follow the links in the About Us page to learn more about the company’s organizational structure.

    5. Coffee farmers are still struggling and higher market prices don’t necessarily result in more farm income. It cost more to produce coffee today, meanwhile yields have been falling due to climate change in many regions. Our farmers are finding it hard to stay in business.

    6. Do you propose a more direct way to connect farmers and consumers? Do you offer any solutions?

  3. Moka

    Hey, thanks for taking the time to respond.

    1. With a CSA, consumers purchase shares in a harvest (it’s in this very article), which means a farmer decides to sell a certain number of shares and then each shareholder/consumer is entitled to a corresponding percentage of the harvest to the shares they purchased. So if the farmer decides there’ll be 100 shares for the harvest, each share is entitled to 1/100th of the harvest. In this way, the risk of a bad crop and the reward of a good crop is spread out. The model reduces volatility for the farmer and gives him/her capital to invest in the farm and better plan income.

    Pre-buying is something different. It’s not necessarily inferior (in some cases, it could even be better), but it’s simply not CSA. Pre-paying for something doesn’t mean you have “shares”, it means you’ve paid in advance for a good or service. There’s no sharing of risk (or reward) at all.

    2. That’s great, but so do a lot of things. Any farmer could independently decide s/he will only accept pre-payment (if enough customers were willing to go for it), but that doesn’t mean his/her farm is set up as a CSA.

    Even within normal Fair Trade certification (FLO/Transfair kind anyway), a producer coop’s entitled to receive 60% advanced payment on a contract. The coop may choose to invest it in its members’ harvests, but that doesn’t make Fair Trade certification 60% CSA.

    3. I think I was pretty clear about what I meant by appearing opportunistic. It’s up to you if you want to do anything about that appearance.

    4. Farmer owned is clear enough, and it sounds great. But, while the idea of coops is great, and many coops function more or less how they should, a lot of other coops don’t. For example, it’s not uncommon for coop management to hold all of the power even though, technically, the coop is owned by its members. This can happen even in relatively small coops in the same community.

    Now, Pachamama is apparently a US-based coop belonging to 140,000 small-scale coffee farmers in five other countries spread across three continents.

    So it begs the questions, exactly how are these farmers’ interests represented? How much control do they actually have over the coop? If the benefit of membership is 100% of the profit, just how profitable is CofeeCSA, and what is that profit divided by 140,000? If the value is more about investment potential through pre-selling the coffee, then how many millions of pounds does CoffeeCSA have to pre-sell in order for there to be any significant invstment in the members’ next harvests? Is this even remotely likely? Does/could ownership of CoffeeCSA ever bring the farmers any additional value beyond what they could expect through a regular sale, Fair Trade or otherwise?

    The links in the About Us section don’t even begin to scratch the surface here.

    5. Fair enough, at least for those who’ve lost harvest. But coffee prices have increased by a lot in a relatively short period of time. Wouldn’t they have been struggling a lot more two years ago? Furthermore, prices are bound to decline to some degree in the foreseeable future, which means they’ll be in rougher shape again and more than they are now, no?

    6. It’s interesting that more directly connecting farmers and consumers is the goal. In light of the above, I’d have assumed they’d be maximizing farm revenues, diversification, opportunities, alternatives, etc.

    If those really are the goals, then there’s no harm in asking how this model or any other gets you there, is there?

    Look, at the end of the day, what you do is your business. But I’ve been involved with, and very supportive of, coops, Fair Trade, small-scale agriculture, etc. for a long time and it took me less than five minutes to go from being intrigued by your story to being pretty skeptical.

    I suppose that leads to three possible conclusions:

    1. You’ve got a real communications problem on your hands because I have to think I’d be in your target demographic. And/or,

    2. Good intentions or not, the reality of this doesn’t come close to meeting the lofty language of the sales pitch. And/or

    3. I’m a crazy person who doesn’t know what s/he’s talking about.

    Take your pick and good luck.

  4. Moka

    By the way, the above are all rhetorical questions.

    Don’t feel as though you actually have to answer them… maybe just give them some thought.

  5. Thaleon

    Thanks for your feedback, Moka.

    Our CoffeeCSA.org website is brand new and it’s not perfect. We strive to make improvements everyday and to create value for our farmers.

    Thank you for your concern.

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