Creating a market for Third World farmersIn recent years, the global price for coffee has been at an all-time low, resulting in desperate circumstances for small Third World farmers and plantation workers. Luckily, the rising tides of gourmet coffee drinkers in America can help by choosing fair trade coffee.

The fair trade designation guarantees that farmers receive a fair price for growing and harvesting their crop. Indianapolis coffee shops and grocery stores have only recently noticed a demand.

Nora Spitznogle, general manager of CATH, said that they have been selling fair trade beans for several years, but only in the past few months have customers been asking for it by the cup.

“I wish everything could be fair trade,” she said. Spitznogle said that they brew five different coffees per day, and she is considering making one of them fair trade. She is also looking into making their house blend fair trade.

Based in Oakland, Calif., TransFair USA and its partners are responsible for certifying fair trade coffee. Their label guarantees that importers paid a minimum price of $1.26 per pound ($1.41 for certified organic) and helped finance production costs. TransFair USA also certifies tea, cocoa and fresh fruit.

According to the TransFair USA Web site, conventional coffee supplies are controlled by large producers and transnational corporations who reap profits while paying plantation workers and small farmers next to nothing. Fair trade cooperatives help farmers bypass conventional supply. Cooperatives also reinvest in the communities, building schools and improving health care.

“To me this is a social justice issue,” said Greg Foote, a retired high school English teacher from Indianapolis. He became interested in fair trade through friends and family who know people in Nicaragua.

Foote hopes the market for fair trade will grow in Indianapolis, and as a concerned consumer he has been spreading the word to coffee retailers. Being a good neighbor, he said, and giving farmers the opportunity to make a decent living is what fair trade is about.

The Monon Coffee Co. in Broad Ripple always has one fair trade coffee on its brew bar, said owner William Powell. Fair trade is the way things should be, he said, but not all varieties are available with the designation.

“There are some countries that don’t have fair trade growing situations,” he said, “and, in order to get the whole breadth of coffees from around the world, it’s difficult to get everything fair trade.”

For some gourmet shops, bean quality is the most important thing. Mary Johanns, owner of the Stanton Coffee Co., a local coffee roaster, said that the coffee they purchase is sometimes fair trade but not always.

“When we purchase coffee we don’t look at it as being just fair trade,” she said. “We try to get the best coffee out there.” Specialty grade coffees are sold at a premium, Johanns said, and, in some situations, farmers are being paid more even if it’s not designated fair trade.

Lee Granger, owner of The Coffee Corner, always has fair trade beans for sale, but what they offer by the cup varies from day to day. For many customers, she said, fair trade is a selling point.

“Some people will go to certain coffeehouses because they know there’s fair trade there,” she said. Growing coffee is a lot like wine, Granger added, and farmers’ lives are interwoven with the coffee they produce, so helping farmers is always beneficial.

A coffee’s origin — who produces it and how — can be difficult to determine. The best way for consumers to know coffee is fair trade is to look for the label or ask the person behind the counter. The majority of fair trade coffee — 85 percent — is also certified organic.

Kroger, Trader Joe’s, The Good Earth in Broad Ripple and Wild Oats in Nora sell varieties of fair trade certified coffee. Wild Oats also stocks fair trade bananas and will soon have fair trade pineapples. Global Gifts on 86th Street sells coffee and a variety of other fair trade goods, including clothing, soap and pottery.

Some churches have also begun to serve fair trade after or before services. St Paul’s Episcopalian Church recently ran an ad in NUVO, offering a “free cup of fair trade coffee” on Sundays.

Fair trade coffee is more expensive. CATH’s Spitznogle said that it generally runs about a dollar more per pound. The increased cost per cup is only a few cents. So, for only pocket change, coffee drinkers can help create a viable market for hard-working Third World farmers.

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