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Fair Trade Plus

Madison Magazine, WI

The values of good, clean and fair that form the foundation of the Slow Food movement embody founder Carlo Petrini’s vision for the preservation of regional cuisines and food traditions. The vision also includes the critical element of biodiversity, but it reaches its apex when it includes the diversity of human resources as well. It is Marco Ferrero’s passion and commitment to that diversity that makes his Pausa Café project so significant.

There are a lot of sustainable food projects around the world right now and many are expanding our definition of the term. But every once in a while a project is truly visionary, like Pausa Café. Using coffee grown in the local cooperatives of the Huehuetenango highlands in Guatemala and roasted by specially selected and trained inmates at the Le Vallette prison near Turin, Italy, Pausa Café (“coffee break” in Italian) combines support for small, local producers of high-quality coffee who were often getting less than the cost of production for their crops, and an under-valued potential workforce to meet the need for a marketable niche product in Italy and elsewhere-artisan coffee.

Marco Ferrero is the creator of Pausa Café and a coordinator of the Huehuetenango Presidium. The former coordinator of non-government organizations in Guatemala for the Italian foreign affairs office, Ferrero could have been satisfied with creating just another fair trade coffee enterprise. Instead, he extended the boundaries to support another essential social goal, employment training and careers for a population typically underused and undervalued. The beauty of the Huehuetenango project is that the Presidium is providing training for the growers to improve their product, as well as expanded markets for the coffee. Ferrero wanted to support the project by importing the beans to Turin where they could be sold there, including at the new public market, Eataly. What he needed were people to roast the beans and eventually run the coffee shops. He found them in prison.

It’s a typical inmate profile: lack of skills, the stigma of being in prison, and an uncertain future. “The prisoners are poor because of stigma,” says Ferrero. “They are ‘losers.’ We show them they can make excellent coffee, so they are not ‘losers.'” We met Mr. Giacomo Baglio at the Café across the street from the prison. He was formerly one of six “guests,” as he puts it, of the prison who have been trained by the master roaster hired by Ferrero. He exudes the confidence of a man with skills and a taste of success. He beams with pride as he talks about Pausa Café. He was a mechanic before his crimes landed him in prison, a job he would have likely returned to had he not been “kidnapped,” he says, smiling, by Pausa Café. It’s clear his life changed as a result. But this is serious stuff. Baglio proved himself a perfect candidate for the job. But Ferrero says another inmate in the program declined-for now-to participate fully in the project, unwilling to commit to a clean life after leaving prison. “He said he ‘hadn’t decided yet,'” says Ferrero, who gives the man credit for the knowledge while making it clear the program is only for those who are ready. And why not? Ferrero’s record is perfect: six inmates have gone through the program and not one as re-offended. It’s remarkable the project commands such respect.

Ferrero is hoping to expand the project, which was part of the reason we (with our colleague Rossana Strunce), met. “Don’t just find a market for our coffee,” he tells us, “do another one.” And while he sees value in the prison model that has both enriched his project and contributed to his success, he is enthusiastic about the suggestion that people with disabilities might also fit the vision. Which says more than anything else about the importance of Pausa Café, a micro-enterprise that completes the picture of good, clean and fair.

Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to genuinearticles@madisonmagazine.com.


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