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Thanks for your support, Carrotmobbers!

Last month, we partnered with Carrotmob to raise support for a new sustainability project: shipping coffee on sailing ships from Nicaragua and Peru into Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor.

Shipping coffee – to be continued…

We had an ambitious goal: sell $150,000 worth of coffee in just 20 days. While we didn’t make it to our goal, we have been overwhelmed with your support for shipping coffee by wind.
With your support, we raised over $31,000 through our partnership with Carrotmob – about 20% of our goal. Even though this first attempt didn’t produce enough funding to further our feasibility study to sail coffee – we’re committed to moving forward with the idea.

With Noyo Harbor right in our backyard, shipping coffee and other goods is a tremendous economic opportunity for our community in Fort Bragg, California that we’d like to explore further.This was our first attempt to break the ice around this idea, and in the months ahead, we’ll be determining the next steps to further this project.

What about the money raised?

Thanksgiving’s Ben Corey-Moran meets with Peace Kawomera’s Board of Directors. Photo:, 2008


Per our agreement with Carrotmob, we’ll be sending 15% of the funds raised in the buycott (about $4,095) to our associated non-profit organization, The Resilience Fund, which will use the money for a project in Mbale, Uganda.

That’s where the Peace Kawomera Cooperative is, which has been a partner of Thanksgiving Coffee since 2004. It’s a co-op of Jewish, Christian and Muslim coffee farmers who came together to build peace through economic development.

You might recognize the name from our online store, where we offer as light roastdark roast and decaf coffees from this cooperative.

In the Peace Kawomera coop, coffee farmers and their families cook with wood, in stoves or over open fires, often inside their living areas. Due to the lack of clean, efficient wood stoves, this puts strain on local forest resources and often results in poor indoor air quality.

Nathan Watandena, showing land that was once densely forested. Photo: Ben Corey-Moran, 2008.

The cooperative has an existing climate change adaption project funded by a Dutch NGO, Progreso, that is addressing this challenge by bringing farmers together to plant trees and re-forest the area.

This effort is improving the sustainability of their coffee crops and ensuring the availability of resources vital to the community. We’re committed to supporting this important work – and the Carrotmob funds will be put to work immediately for a new project that builds on this work.

With the approximately $4,600 raised in the Carrotmob buycott, The Resilience Fund will purchase clean, efficient cookstoves for about 70 families that are a part of the cooperative. This will reduce their dependency on local forest resources and improve indoor air quality. The Resilience Fund will continue to raise funds to support this project.

While we didn’t meet our goal of $150k, our experience partnering with Carrotmob, its supporters and our customers has been exciting. The Carrotmob has huge potential to create lasting change, and in fact, already has. Thank you so much for your support!

Join us in San Francisco on Oct. 2 for Climate Change, Coffee + Cheese

Taste & Place

How the climate crisis is changing the flavor of the foods we love.

Join us at a special event about climate change, coffee & cheese in San Francisco. In addition to learning about the effects of climate change, you’ll taste a selection of our seasonally fresh coffees from Nicaragua paired with cheese selections from Mission Cheese. Our President & Director of Coffee, Ben Corey-Moran will be presenting!

Tuesday October 2, 2012. 6-8pm – buy tickets ($12)
18 Reasons (map)
3674 18th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

More about the event:
Climate change is altering the landscape, ecology & weather of food producing regions around the world. It’s also changing the flavor of many of the foods we love. The taste of every craft food is created by a subtle interaction between land, climate, and culture. Climate, in particular, creates a delicately calibrated set of natural factors conducive to production of specific flavors.

This class will begin with an introduction by Calla Rose Ostrander, Climate Change Projects Manager for the City & County of SF, and will feature lectures by our Director of Coffee, Ben Corey-Moran and Mission Cheese’s Sarah Dvorak on the role of climate in coffee and cheese production, as well as a discussion of the social, economic and ecological implications of changing climate to these products and their producers.

buy tickets ($12)

Coffee by wind – a campaign with Carrotmob

This month, we partnered with Carrotmob to raise support for a new sustainability project: shipping coffee on sailing ships from Nicaragua and Peru into Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor!

Carrotmob is a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to advancing sustainable business practices through positive incentives. This is Carrotmob’s first large-scale campaign – and we’re proud to partner with them to advance this project. Here’s how it works:

“In a Carrotmob campaign, a group of people offers to spend their money to support a business, and in return the business agrees to take an action that the people care about. We are called Carrotmob because we use the “carrot” instead of the stick.” – from the Carrotmob website

Since virtually all coffee is grown within 1,000 miles from the equator, green coffee is currently shipped from its origin on large container ships, which burn bunker fuel, a low-grade diesel that emits vast amounts of smog-forming pollution and carbon dioxide. We receive these shipments from Oakland, California and drive our beans to Fort Bragg to roast and bag for our customers. We’re interested in being the first company in modern times to ship coffee by wind – lowering our carbon footprint and setting an example for the coffee industry.

Will you join in this effort? Visit

If the Carrotmob campaign generates $150,000 in coffee sales during its 20-day run, we will have enough resources to begin to pursue our dream of shipping coffee by wind. Our first step will be to conduct a feasibility study to assess the costs, efficiency and risks involved in transporting our coffee beans on sailing ships – it has to make economic and environmental sense if we choose to move forward with shipping coffee on sailing ships. If it does, we’ll plan our maiden voyage.

Our maiden voyage would bring a load of green coffee from Nicaragua straight into Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor, a 6 week roundtrip.

If the maiden voyage proved to be successful, we’d also ship coffee from Peru, an 8 week roundtrip, carrying some if not all of our annual purchases from these origins.

If the campaign doesn’t reach the $150,000 goal, the funds raised for this effort will be directed toward The Resilience Fund – our nonprofit social venture that funds sustainability projects in coffee-growing regions.

We strive to do our best for people and the planet while sourcing and roasting our coffee – through our direct trade relationships, investments in infrastructure and training, our fair trade and organic certified coffees, and by creating long-lasting relationships with the people, communities and ecosystems that are touched by our coffee business.

We’re constantly searching for the cleanest, most efficient distribution system to source our beans and get roasted coffee to our customers. This partnership with Carrotmob is the latest in this effort.

For more information or to support the campaign, visit

Why Thomas Keller Is Wrong About Chefs’ Social Responsibility

Why Thomas Keller Is Wrong About Chefs’ Social Responsibility

Whether He Likes It or Not, Global Warming Is Changing the Taste of Food

(Cross-posted on Earth Island Journal)

By Ben Corey-Moran

In its May 15 “Dining & Wine” section, The New York Times broke the seal on a simmering controversy in the world of fine dining: What responsibility, if any, do chefs have to promote sustainable food systems? In a discussion with celebrated restaurateurs Thomas Keller (of California’s French Laundry and the New York restaurant Per Se) and Luis Aduriz (of Spain’s famed Mugaritz), reporter Julia Moskin asked how these top chefs view their obligations to protecting the environment. The article headline said it all: “For Them, a Great Meal Tops Good Intentions.” As it turns out, these guys would rather keep it simple and not worry about the complicated stuff: where food comes from, what makes great food great, and the reality that we are facing the loss not only of great food, but the culture, ecology, and social fabric that creates it.

“With the relatively small number of people I feed, is it really my responsibility to worry about carbon footprint?” Mr. Keller said. “The world’s governments should be worrying about carbon footprint.”


Both Keller and Aduriz view haute cuisine as a seamless fusion of pleasure and art. They are united in the belief that their responsibility as chefs is primarily to create breathtakingly delicious and beautiful food — not, as some of their colleagues (like, most prominently, NYT food writer Mark Bittman) think, to provide a livelihood for farmers who practice more sustainable practices, to preserve traditional culinary arts, or to help check global climate change by reducing food miles. The idea of promoting more environmentally sound agriculture is the driving force behind the “farm-to-table” philosophy that many high-end restaurants have adopted. But it seems that such ideals are an afterthought at the most rarefied levels of cuisine.


Over at Grist, Twilight Greenway offers a muscular critique of why Keller’s and Aduriz’s cavalier attitude is short-sighted. “If we lived in the 19th century … then you could just focus on making your brilliant food (it would probably be served to royalty) and someone else would do the driving, someone else the laundry, and so forth.” But in the era of climate change and global resource depletion, the it’s-not-my-problem mindset is “not just irresponsible — [it is] destructive.”


Even if Keller and Aduriz feel entitled to dismiss the moral responsibility to care about the farmer behind the ingredients that sustain their art, there is one simple reason why they should care about the environment in the twenty-first century: global warming is changing the way food tastes.

Whether it’s the distinctive briny tang of sourdough bread in San Francisco, the subtle florality of a raw cheese, or the complexity of a great coffee, climate creates flavor. And when the climate changes, so will the tastes we have come to expect — and not for the better.

Take coffee, the crop that’s been the source of my livelihood as the Director of Coffee at Thanksgiving Coffee Company for nearly 10 years. As temperatures warm, coffee fruit ripens more quickly, producing a less complex flavor. The articulation of flavors becomes muddled, and the essential balance between juicy citric acidity, body, and flavor loses dimension. After harvesting, and during processing, the yeast that predominate in a particular growing region (much like the yeast that gives San Francisco sourdough its distinctive flavor) interact with the fruit’s sugar, and transform flavor in the same way that yeast develop the flavors of great bread, cheese, wine, and beer. These yeasts, dominant in particular regions because of their suitability to that climate, are out-competed by rival strains more adapted to the new norms of humidity and temperature. As temperatures warm and climate shifts, the delicate choreography of factors that combine to produce great coffee changes. We are losing the distinctive flavors that we associate with the micro-origins and appellations that coffee lovers cherish. A look at the menu of Keller’s Per Se (warning: sticker shock may occur) reveals a long list of ingredients — cacao, cheese, wine, bread, fruit, vegetables, and, well, pretty much everything — whose flavor, like coffee, is changing because of our changing climate.

As Neelima Mahajan described in the Spring 2012 edition of Earth Island Journal, for coffee farmers in Uganda climate change isn’t some kind of academic concern. It’s happening now, and it’s threatening coffee crops, farmers’ livelihoods, and the area’s ecology. I’d like to invite Keller and Aduriz to visit the farmers of Peace Kawomera, a Ugandan Cooperative I work with on the Mount Elgon region featured in Mahajan’s article. There they would see coffee in the flesh and the efforts, led by the 560 family farmers of Peace Kawomera and supported by Thanksgiving Coffee Company and The Resilience Fund (a project of Earth Island Institute), to develop front-line buffers against the dislocations of climate change. Through simple initiatives such as tree-planting and watershed restoration we are boosting farmers’ resilience to shifting weather.

For the farmers of Peace Kawomera, and others like them, the almost-clinical phrase climate change doesn’t begin to describe the brutal reality they are facing. My friend  and Peace Kawomera founder JJ Keki speaks of the climate crisis as a threat to his whole way of life. Perhaps a visit to Keki’s farm would awaken Keller and Aduriz to the responsibilities they possess as persons of influence.

As leaders of the culinary world, these chefs need to remember that their skill in the kitchen depends on their relationships with farmers, ranchers, fisherpeople, and all other agricultural producers. Honoring those relationships is not only key to a sustainable food system, but in fact is the only path to the subtle gifts of flavor that make a great meal.

Ben Corey-Moran is the President of Thanksgiving Coffee and serves on the Advisory Council of The Resilience Fund, an Earth Island Institute-sponsored project that helps coffee farmers adapt to global climate change. Lean more about The Resilience Fund at



New Project Supports Climate Change Adaptation in Uganda

We happy to announce that our partners at the Peace Kawomera Cooperative have just received notice that their climate change adaptation project has been approved for funding by the Dutch NGO Progreso! This exciting news comes on the heels of three years of hard work developing a community-based plan to protect coffee production, and ensure sustainable livelihoods through the diversification of income, restoration of the local ecosystem, and increasing levels of food security. With deep gratitude for the support of Progreso, the leadership of Peace Kawomera, and the support from our loyal customers, Thanksgiving Coffee would like to raise a toast to what it means to live in a world where we are all connected, and where we invest in and enjoy the rewards of shared responsibility and mutual benefit.

Please read below for a description of the project, written by Peace Kawomera’s Chief Agronomist John Bosco Birenge.

Project Introduction

Peace Kawomera is a coffee farmer cooperative located on one of the slopes of Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda, near the city of Mbale. It is farmer owned and run by the management staff and Board of Directors. It started in 2004 dealing mainly in coffee production while selling it to their sole buyer in the USA Thanksgiving Coffee Company.

Since then, coffee production has been increasing alongside farmgate prices to cooperative members.  The cooperative has begun to diversify to other cash crops like vanilla and cocoa, all of which grow as intercrops within the main coffee plantings. The farmers are now grouped into 25-member Farmer Field Groups, totaling 63 farmer groups in all.

“We thank you for purchasing our coffee. The price you pay enables us to send our children to school.” — Mrs. Florence Namaja Wabire.

Though farmers have been growing these crops, they seemed not to realize the negative effects of their other activities on the environment. In 2010 coffee production plummeted, as did food production. There is also growing awareness of the negative impacts of climate change which include increasingly unpredictable differentiation between wet and dry season, increasingly intense rains and flooding, longer and prolonged dry periods, as well as subsequent changes in the local ecosystem. Additionally, the is a growing awareness of the more localized negative impacts caused by farmers’ activities such as:

Stone quarrying

Deforestation for cooking/charcoal production

Brick making and firing

Bush burning

Poor disposal of wastes i.e. in water streams and bodies.

The above few mentioned activities have affected not only cash crop production but also have a huge and significant negative impact on food crops.  Specifically these activities have lead to deterioration in soil fertility, and have affected water quality in the area’s watershed.

It is expected that the impacts of climate change will continue to disrupt local weather patterns, both extending dry periods and intensifying wet periods. The impact of these erratic changes in weather will make it difficult for farmers to plan and manage their farms, and it will increase the likelihood of losses due to drought, flooding and landslides, and disruptions in the normal crop cycle of coffee.

Project Strategy

Farmers Eias Hasalube and Hakim Aziz beneath the canopy of Mr. Aziz's restored coffee farm.

Given the above, the farmers are searching for strategies they can employ to adapt to these changes without sacrificing their livelihoods.  This is happening at the time when farmers are anxious to reap a lot out of their coffee due to its regaining reputation on the international scene, increasing market price and increasing differential and quality premium through the specialty coffee market and the good price from US-based Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a buyer since 2004.

The above-mentioned activities of environmental degradation are mainly driven by economic need arising from high rates of unemployment locally.  Therefore, this project seeks a two-pronged strategy to increase the value and production of shade grown coffee, and interventions to fortify the ecosystem against the impacts of shifting weather by planting valuable grasses in swale formation, increasing the intercropping of strategically important shade trees in coffee plantations, and reforestation of hill tops and ridges to create a conducive micro climate for coffee. This fortified ecosystem will be better able to protect coffee from severe rains because of increased canopy cover, and will be able to reduce erosion by controlling runoff. Additionally, through the selection of appropriate shade trees, the project will increase the production of high-mulching organic matter which will improve soil quality, a critical step towards improved coffee quality and production, as well creating habitat for the biological control agents here referred to as natural enemies of the pests.

Agro forestry provides additional sources of income especially from sales of fruits from the planted trees, sale of harvested grasses from swales, sale of firewood and of seedlings from the nurseries to other communities.

Agronomist and project leader JB Birenge demonstrates simple construction of living barriers used to control erosion.

This will also reduce the gap of unemployment and improve on food security for the area’s farmers by increasing the diversity of foods immediately available to farming families.  Protecting and restoring the environment will reduce the impacts of climate change, enhance biodiversity, and improve on ecological systems which are all aimed at improving coffee production and food security.

The project will be built around a package of incentives designed to facilitate and inspire quick uptake in action by individual farmers. The methodology will be driven by the established network and practice of the Farmer Field Schools. Led by the project manager, a team will create local seedling nurseries and begin the process of educating individual farmers through the FFS groups. After an 6 month period, the leading farmer in each FFS group (determined by objective pre-established criteria around tree planting, swale construction, soil and water conservation) will be given a female goat. These goats produce manure which is high in nitrogen which can be incorporated back into the fields for improved soil fertility. After an additional 6 months the next leading farmer in each FFS Group will be rewarded a goat based upon the established criteria. These goats will be expected to reproduce so as time goes on, the kids will be given out to other members who come second, i.e. responsibility will be upon farmers to know that if such a farmer`s goat kids, the offspring will be expected to be designated by the project to the next recipient farmer. This process of review and award will be conducted 4 times (6, 12, 18, and 24 months. It is estimated that the project will need to purchase 252 female goats (63 FFS Groupsx4 cycles) to get the inventive program off the ground and to a point of self-sustainability.

Nathan Watadena points to land that is targeted for reforestation and restoration.


Peace Kawomera’s livelihood is coffee produced on the slopes of Mt. Elgon between 1300 – 1700 meters above sea level.  They are farmers whose staple foods are cereal crops but also keep some livestock they have diversified to vanilla and of recent though faint cocoa plants.  But in amidst all these, farmers have realized the effects of climate change and how it is affecting their first crop which is coffee.

A survey conducted with 12 farmer groups noted that rains come late, and are now more erratic where  by the rainy and dry seasons are harsher than ever, this has made it difficult for them to cope with the increased un employment rate which has led to youths making mud bricks for money, stone quarrying, cutting trees for timber and firewood to burn bricks all these leaving coffee plants in the bare environment. Therefore, this project must protect the farmer’s livelihood.  This will ensure sustainability of coffee production, food security and better understanding of the ecosystems that work hand in hand.


1      Ensure long term sustainability of coffee farming with focus on quality production.

2      Improve biodiversity

3      Improve on food security.

4      Improve on water quality (water sheds).

5      Improve on soil quality.

6      To create a sense of responsibility towards environment.

7      Educate farmers on positive and negative impact of various economic activities

Diversify economic activity and income generation through promotion of environmentally preferable activities

Video Feature: 2012 Sustainability Award

We’re honored that our work in Rwanda is being recognized by the Specialty Coffee Association of America with the 2012 Sustainability Award. We’re also excited about the power of this story, and creating projects like it with every single farm and cooperative we call a partner. The future of specialty coffee hangs in the balance; climate change poses very real and serious threats. We also have the ability, through our relationship-based trading model, to invest, collaborate, support, and ultimately, protect the future of coffee for us and for the farmers who grow it.

2012 Sustainability Award

This article is written by Alexandra Katona-Carrol and appears in the April issue of Chronicle, the SCAA’s monthly magazine. 

This year, the SCAA’s Sustainability Council is proud to showcase the 2012 Sustainability Award project winner, Responding to Climate Change: Building Community-Based Reliance. The project focuses on sustaining the production of high quality coffee in the face of climate change. It pilots a set of proactive interventions that faces the reality that some degree of climate change is inevitable, disruption of supply is likely, decreases in quality are expected and on-the-ground defenses need to be built to protect specialty coffee production.

The project is unique in that it was developed in a collaborative effort between Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a U.S.-based roaster, and the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, a long-time supplier, with the specific goal of ensuring the future viability of this successful trading relationship. The project is funded by PROGRESO, a Dutch NGO, and administered by Rwandan Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a Rwandan NGO. The collective goal is to establish a pilot project that would allow for refinement of methodology, metrics and funding strategies, which will then be replicated throughout our supply chain, and beyond.

The introduction of practices that increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of the 1,818 farms of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are a central goal. Specifically, the actions of the project create targeted defenses against projected increases in temperature, pests, irregularity in rain and drought, shortened ripening and quality loss, and the resulting loss of specialty coffee. As such, the project deploys a set of widely recognized best practices around shade intercropping, erosion control, and watershed conservation, in response to site-specific climate change risk assessments, thereby creating targeted defenses against these new threats to production.

The project’s strategy revolves around the goal of enhancing resilience: the ability of an ecosystem to withstand extremes in weather without diminishing its productive capacity. To develop this resilience, the project targets a set of interventions designed to protect topsoil by preventing erosion, decrease farm temperature by developing shade canopy, increase soil fertility by introducing nutrient-fixing trees and leaf litter, and reduce the risk of drought by increasing aquifer absorption. Broadly put, it seeks to increase the value of ecosystem services by increasing the quantity, quality, diversity, and distribution of beneficial components of the ecosystem.

To date, the project has achieved a return of one tree for every 13 cents ($23,220 / 175,542 trees). This is a high return on investment in reforestation projects and is made possible by the demand-driven methodology of the project. This return is also exceptionally secure: many reforestation efforts are successful at planting trees, but because they have been subsidized, most trees end up as firewood or fences long before they begin to offer ecosystem services. Because of the project’s focus on education, tree planting and ecological restoration in this project is driven by farmer demand for the long-term services provided by trees. The project was developed in response to concerns from the Cooperative’s members around the impact of climate change. Similar concerns are shared by farmers around the world and can serve as the starting point for replication of this project, in particular, its methodology.

Thanksgiving Coffee Company is also in the process of developing a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, The Resilience Fund, to finance similar projects throughout our supply chain. The recognition garnered by this award will strengthen the fundraising efforts of the new organization and create up to eleven additional climate change adaptation projects throughout our supply chain. Though this project will focus directly on Thanksgiving Coffee’s supply chain, the goal is to help articulate strategies that can be employed by other companies in their own supply chains. It is important to note that the trading relationships typically require less than 20% of a Cooperative’s production, so there is a large quantity of coffee available to other industry partners that will benefit from these works.

The project’s strategy integrates a demand-driven methodology that creates a set of incentives to catalyze a “race to the top” whereby farmers are seeking to implement the identified best practices. The ultimate goal is to secure the supply of great coffee for years to come, and to prove that though climate change threatens to destroy the supply of our industry’s coffee, we can invest in long-term solutions that defend farmers, their farms, and their production for years to come.

Alexandra Katona-Carroll has been in the specialty coffee industry for over five years. She has worked for SCAA and works part-time as the programs manager at CQI. She is the founder of a new company, Sensaay, which is dedicated to the promotion of specialty coffee, craft beer and fine tea.

Fair Trade & Climate Change

Depending on who you ask, one of the most important international meetings of the year is taking place in Durban, South Africa. COP 17 as it’s known, short for the “Conference of the Parties” is a gathering of signatories of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, informally known as the “Earth Summit”. Tucked away in all of that terminology is the fact that this is the place where the world gets together to talk about what it’s going to do about climate change. And, one hopes, take action.

Again, depending on who you ask, there is a lot to hope for from this conference, or there is little hope that much will come out of it. Signaling a shift away from international commitment, last week Canada announced that it would withdraw its membership from the Kyoto Protocol, a cornerstone of global climate policy, albeit a failed effort. Canada’s move sends a clear signal that Kyoto and its emission reduction targets is failed. Before we get too critical of Canada we should remind ourselves that the United States never even signed on to Kyoto in the first place.

Leaders of faith, including the Pope and Archibishiop Desmond Tutu are speaking clearly about the need for dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand, and develop adaptation strategies that give farmers in the third world a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, developing countries are moving forward in an effort to reduce emissions—in fact, according to a recent study conducted by Oxfam International, they are set to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at a much greater rate than the wealthy countries of the world.

But besides the diplomatic wrangling and multilateral agreements, what does COP17 mean for farmers?

Recently, the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) published a letter titled “Adaptation Measures Must Work for Farmers” which highlights the need for a substantial and coordinated approach to funding adaptation. Adaptation in this context means moving beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby future increases in global temperature. Here, adaptation refers to the need to support farmers in the face of climate change, and to develop holistic solutions that will allow them to buffer themselves and their farms from changing weather that threatens their livelihoods.

In our own work, we’ve launched a pilot project with our partners at the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in an effort to define best practices that will help keep farmers on their farms, producing great coffee, for generations.

For more on this topic, see the link below for a great collection of voices from the grassroots. Stay tuned for more news as COP17 progresses as wraps up.

 Fair Trade in Africa





A Visit to Guaya’b, Guatemala

A few weeks ago we got an email from a man who introduced himself as Kieran, a guy from Vancouver BC who was riding his bike through Central America and wanted to know if we could help him connect with our partners at the Guaya’b Cooperative, in Guatemala. Last week Kieran visited Guaya’b, and by his account, had a great time. Here’s a bit from his blog, which you should visit to read the story in its entirety, as well as see some of his photos.


Not far across the border in Guatemala is the remote town of Jacaltenango. I hoped I’d be able to visit two co-operatives there, and as it was ‘only’ 50 km off my main route I gambled on getting lucky when I arrived. Yes it was only 50 km, but the uphill climbs more than made up for the short distance.

I had a little time in the town at the weekend to track down the Guaya’b office and then I dropped by on Monday morning to see what I could find. I ended up spending six days in the town as I felt I got very lucky with both co-operatives.Jacaltenango is a small, remote town up in the highlands. It is perched high above the Rio Azul with a number of smaller communities dotted around the surrounding hillsides at various degrees of precariousness.

Guaya’b is a coffee and honey co-operative comprising more than 400 members. It produces 100% Fair Trade products though its coffee is both conventional and organic. They have organic (US & European), Fair Trade (FLO-Cert) and “bird-friendly” (Smithsonian) certifications. Mayacert are a national organic certification body but Guaya’b export all their coffee. Most of the members are indigenous Popti’ with the rest mestizos. Guaya’b exports all its products to Europe and North America. In organic coffee, the European and North American coffee are kept separate. All coffee exported is ‘oro’ (green) beans. Conventional coffee predominantly finds its way to Spain. The honey is produced primarily for markets in Austria, Germany and Belgium.

Lucas Silvestre is the President/Manager and he was very happy to let me get an insight into the Guaya’b operations. Manuel, who oversees quality control, took me to the bodega (warehouse) where I was able to see coffee and honey processing operations and one of the Guaya’b coffee nurseries.

Click here for the full story. 



Recognizing the Underpaid Work of Women


Although it could be argued that coffee (unlike money) actually grows on trees, the truth is that many hands and much hard work is required to produce and sell coffee. Understanding the importance of this work is one of the cornerstones of our relationship-based business model: by respecting the farmer’s craft, offering premium prices for quality, and building long-term commitments to each other, we create a win-win business for ourselves, and for our partners at origin.

Natividad Lopez Garcia, Reina Isabel Quintero, and Flor Rodriguez, founding members of SOPPEXCCA’s women’s cooperative.

One of the hands that touched your coffee this morning belonged to the farmer who planted, pruned, and harvested your coffee. When we picture fair trade, we mostly picture this person—and for good reason. In many respects, our efforts to build a more just and sustainable coffee trade have focused on empowering these farmers. There are, however, other hands that care for your coffee, and for years, these workers have been left on the margins. We’re working to change that, starting with our partners at the SOPPEXCCA Cooperative in Nicaragua. There, on the sunny foothills of Jinotega’s mountains, a cooperative of 42 women has come together in search of a sustainable future.

These women are coffee sorters. During the harvest, they spend 8-10 hours each day drying, sorting, and bagging coffee SOPPEXCCA has bought from its member farmers. Day after day, from October through March, these women ensure that coffee is evenly dried on large cement patios, hand-sorted to select out any imperfections, and stored by lot, farm, and farmer in a complex but completely traceable system. The work of these women is critical—it’s equivalent to the work of a cellar master in a winery, carefully tending to the slowly maturing product and sorting out imperfections.

According to Fatima Ismael, SOPPEXCCA’s General Manager, these women were organized in a cooperative so that they could overcome their history of poverty and marginalization. “The world of coffee, from producer organizations, to industry, to various certifications has analyized from a human perspective the equity and justice of coffee supply chains. There is an ongoing struggle towards conditions that enable sustainability of producers and a chance to overcome poverty and marginalization. One forgotten sector is the workers—predominantly women—who sort farmer’s coffee once it has reached the cooperative’s dry mill. These women have been an invisible part of the chain, in essence, they are harvest the harvest, improving quality through sorting and care, but their work has been marginalized.”

Since 2010, the 42 employees of SOPPEXCCA’s coffee mill have been organized in a cooperative to help overcome his history of poverty and marginalization. This women’s cooperative has created a matched-savings program to help its members begin their own business once the harvest season ends, it has built and supplied a member-owned grocery store that offers basic stables at cost, it has offered cervical cancer screening and treatment to its members, and it has created an initiative to transition cookstoves from wood to clean-burning stoves that can use chaff produced by coffee milling for fuel. Funded by a $10,000 loan comprised of contributions from SOPPEXCCA and Thanksgiving Coffee, this cooperative and its members are pushing our business model forward, improving quality, and ensuring that everyone behind the production of a great cup of coffee benefits from our business.


When asked what the cooperative means to her, Sayda Rios explains the savings she and her fellow members see when they shop at their grocery store. “We buy in quantity at the wholesale market in Matagalpa, direct from the distributors. We go there, with a list of the items members want to buy, and compare prices from the various sellers, then we negotiate, and get the best possible prices. By the time we’ve come home, we’re saving 30-40 percent on groceries, compared to the prices we use to have to pay at the local store.” She concludes by pointing out the change that these women have made in their lives. “By joining together we’ve managed to make our lives better.”

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