Apr 05 , 2020

Christopher Nalley

Organic + Fair Trade

Fair Trade

Years ago when I started roasting coffee, one of the most sobering and disturbing reality check was the concept of "fair trade".  When I would order coffee from distributors the difference in price for raw "fair trade" coffee was marginal or non existent.  Yet "fair trade" coffee was selling for significantly more than even specialty grade coffee.  Thats a deal breaker for me.  The expectation of the program at face value is that the additional cost goes to the farmer.  People rightly rationalise that paying $17.00 +++ for these coffee's that a larger chunk makes it back to the farmers.  I have been to dozens of farms, while some money does makes it back it is minimal at best.  My fear from the beginning was that as the world gets better connected, the reality that farmers and customers were getting ripped off could rock the entire industry and those around it.  The impact could hurt effective grass root non-for profit programs already in place.  In a nutshell, I refuse to prop up a program that exploits the desires of people goodwill.  If people want to help out, the best way are through existing programs like. https://www.unicef.ca/en/search?search=honduras

You can also visit these places and make it into a great vacation.  Our tourism dollar help spread money within local communities and it puts a face on the people behind the product.


This makes me even madder than "fair trade".  I have been to so many farms at this point, the one thing that stood out the most was their crop management.  Farmers have been producing coffee for generations, with this in mind they have their own ways of dealing with sick trees and pest control.  The use of shade and beneficial plants go a long way in maintaining a healthy coffee farm.  The single greatest deterrent for the use of pesticides and fertilizer is cost.  The cost of raw coffee has been low for... well.... ever...forever!  There is certainly outliers but the majority of farms are just scratch out a living.  The use of chemicals from my experience has been the exception.  Farmers just cannot afford the treatments.  It is simpler to cut back the sick tree's or pull them out right.  The same way we rotate crops in Canada is similar on a coffee farm.   

Once again there additional problems.  The farms pay for the certification with the hopes of higher returns. The certification is NOT cheap.  Yet when I buy raw organic + "fair trade" coffees, in many case the additional cost is marginal if at all.  Once again consumers pay a premium for the coffee with the expectation that the farmer is receiving a higher premium.  I know many of my customers by name, I have grown my business by offering a great honest product at a fair price.  I could not look them in the eye, charge them more and effectively lie to their face.  Therefore I refuse to prop up a program that preys on some of the world poorest people.   

Inspections Canada actively monitors chemicals in raw coffee and to date they have not flagged a single farms for being non compliant related to chemical residue.  The certification program is an additional cost that directly impacts the famer, and is a solution for a problem that hasn't existed for a long time. 


These are my first hand experiences from going to farms I encourage that you save your money.  Buy local, then take a trip to these awesome farms.  They are proud to take you around and show you their community.  We could go a long way by simply meeting them.