By Bob Fish
Michelle and I went to the SCAA show in Boston in April of 2019. It is a coffee industry trade show that we go to in order to stay current on coffee trends. We were tracking down many ideas including oat milk sourcing, powders for root-based beverages, a cleaner label syrup, and anything else that jumped out at us. But the really big mission was to find another Farm-Direct relationship.
We had already sewn up the Zambian Living Hope Farm-Direct deal launched on Giving Tuesday in December, 2019. But, with Living Hope, the total was only 25,000 pounds of coffee. That seems like a lot until you know that BIGGBY COFFEE buys and sells nearly two million pounds of coffee a year. Our goal is that 50% of our coffee will come from Farm-Direct relationships (sometimes called Direct Trade) in three years. So we had 975,000 pounds to go. Whew !!
The show has booths from every coffee producing country in the world. It was a real opportunity to find somebody that we could work with. Two twelve hour days walking a trade show floor can be exhausting, though. And while we enjoy it, it was frankly feeling a little hopeless.
The big booths covering whole countries had the same nameless, faceless feeling that one might have dealing with a coffee broker. Our mission is the complete opposite of that. We want to know the farmer and their family, and how they are treating their land and their people, and what they do for their community.
Towards the end of day one we had narrowed the opportunities down to three. The first was a group from Nepal that was developing a fledgling coffee industry in what is traditionally a tea producing country. The second was a group working in Haiti (by the way Haiti used to produce 50% of the worlds coffee), with a variety called Haitian Bleu. And last was a small, unassuming booth at the end of an aisle worked by a family team representing a farm in Nicaragua. We decided to go back for deeper discovery on all three, but we already knew there was something special about the folks from Nicaragua.
From L-R, Hector and Miriam Morales, their son (also) Hector Morales, and Bob Fish.
The Morales family welcomed Michelle and me to their booth with warm smiles and gracious energy. Right away, we felt their spiritual peace and the confidence they had in their mission. Miriam’s father owns a coffee farm in Nicaragua, and she is helping the family import their coffee to sell in the US. Hector and Miriam own two Cafés in Boston that exclusively use the family farm’s coffee, plus they sell the green coffee to other local roasters.
We asked our standard questions about the environment, treatment and pay of their workers, and of course what the farm is doing for the community. They answered the questions easily, confidently, and affirmatively which is always a good sign. ‘Trust but verify’ is our motto and you know we are ‘boots on the ground’ verify kind of people, so the next question is always ‘can we come see?’
This is where most folks flinch, because if they have been telling us a ‘story’ so to speak, this is where they hesitate. Miriam and Hector just said ‘Yes, of course, we would love it.’ That’s when Michelle and I knew that one way or another we would be doing business together.
People always ask us, ‘how do you find them?’ referring to our farmer relationships. I think it seems hopeless and absurd to others that we could find folks that meet all of our standards for a farmer direct relationship in some far-flung country. Talk about a needle in a haystack. Where do you even start looking for something like that?
Opportunites materialize when you are clear about what your goal is, and it’s the lense you use to look at life. We know our goal: 50% farm direct in three years. After that it just takes curiosity, inquisitiveness, courage, openness, flexibility, and intuition. Frankly, that word-salad is how you find anything in this world no matter how exotic it is. And it might just be a way to find a life with purpose and meaning too.