By Bob Fish
In my last post, Fair-Trade: Is There a Better Way, I talked about the evolution of Fair-Trade as an idea, how it works, and why we at BIGGBY Coffee are committed to a new path. By 2023, 50% of our coffee will be sourced directly from the farmer, after which time our goal is to go 100% Farm-Direct.
It takes a lot of time, travel and effort to find farmers who are on a path to sustainable agriculture, providing better lives for their workers, and are doing something exceptional for their communities. But it’s worth it, both for the farmer and for us at BIGGBY Coffee. Why?
We believe that when we have real and loving relationships with the people that are farming our product, the quality of the product will be better. When a relationship grows beyond a simple economic transaction, the motivation to do well and mutually serve each other is compounded. When we intentionally invest personal time in the well-being of others, the care that will be taken on the product that binds us will be immeasurable.
When we source Farm-Direct the assumption for us is that we are developing a lifetime relationship. One of the greatest challenges for a small to medium-sized coffee farmer is that they never know what next year will bring. This is not about crop size, it is about the coffee market, primarily controlled by the coffee C-Contract.
Because of the unpredictability of market forces, the coffee farmer has no idea what price their crop will fetch in any given year. However, with the presumption of lifetime relationship based on sustainable pricing, they can invest in their farm and their communities. That might manifest as housing for workers, clinics, schools, clean water projects, infrastructure, methodology, or equipment. They key is that they know there is a future for their business that can sustain their families and their communities. This ensures a future for us too, knowing that there will be a steady, reliable, and anticipatable supply of quality coffee of which we know the provenance.
Carlos Ferrey in the drying beds at the El Recreo Coffee Estate in Nicaragua, part of BIGBBY’s Farm-Direct program.
Eco-System and Continuous Improvement
No single coffee farmer is perfect in any category of human, planet, or social sustainability, but with a long-term relationship there is the opportunity to work together to iterate, reiterate and continuously improve. We are creating an eco-system of farmers that are spread throughout the world, and therefore diversified. They can be connected in person or through technology to teach, learn, and share best practices, ideas, and values with each other. They are united across continents, culture, language, governments, and religions to find their leading edge of personal growth and understanding, with the shared goal lifting themselves, their families, and their communities to a more meaningful life of purpose and prosperity.
We are interested in working with coffee farmers that would be considered small to medium-sized and come from some of the poorest countries on earth. We want to have impact on people and communities, not on large scale agri-business in already relatively well to do nations.
Cupping with Master Cupper Carlos at the El Recreo Coffee Estate.
The purpose of business is to find profitable solutions to the problems of people and the planet. We can have impact by investing our coffee purchases in the communities that need that investment the most. Communities that love what they do, but may be trapped in a cycle of poverty, not because they don’t work hard, and not because they don’t care, but because of their lack of access to capital, education, health care, and safe social and political systems. They are all already working on the solutions to their problems. They simply need a partner that is willing to be there, with them, always.
A Stronger Business Model
For our friends, franchisees, and their Baristas Farm-Direct is a much stronger business model. It is based on an understanding of product and people that very few coffee shop owners or Baristas have an opportunity to experience. Sure, folks might visit a coffee farm in Costa Rica or Hawaii and think it’s a cool experience. But imagine staying at one of the many farms in BIGGBY’s eco-system of Farm-Direct. Imagine seeing the landscape and the culture first-hand, eating with the farmer and their family, spending time in the fields picking with the workers, helping process the coffee, cupping the coffee, and sharing stories of life. Seeing, touching, and being a part of the product long before it arrives to the store. Imagine the pictures, the depth of knowledge, the confidence in product knowledge and how that would translate into a passion that the staff and consumer could only describe as magic at the café level. The consumer already comes to BIGGBY COFFEE in large part because of its well professed LOVE of people. Extending that LOVE to the source of our product will be a full immersion in the life-cycle of coffee that no competitor could ever match.