Article: A Decade of Crop to Cup

Written by Cafe Campesino on May 1, 2008 in Article, NEWSLETTER |
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By Jimmy Foglio

In 1998, an inspired Bill Harris Jr. used a home equity loan to finance the first container of coffee for Café Campesino. Today, a dynamic and progressive Fair Trade team is embarking upon its ten year anniversary, where impact and legacy are by design measured in the transformation of lives and local economies, rather than dollars. Now, as we look to expand with a new café, the aim is to maintain an “uncomplicated kindness,” and remain true to the principles upon which we were founded.

In his fourth year as president, Tripp Pomeroy reminds us of a simple business model, which filters back to fair trade and the golden rule.

“It’s coffee, not an organ transplant,” grins Tripp, dapper in a white button down, nestling into an amber lobby sofa. “The owners have a commitment to healthy growth, while serving farmers and the public; customers would agree that we have grown — and want to grow — not to become a brand, but to keep our identity, to maintain our grassroots.”

Hearing the word “growth” should not cause alarm among Fair Trade purists. Equal Exchange, for example, has shown the ability to increase sales while maintaining their principles. Equal Exchange has had an average annual rise of 24% since 1990. All the while, according to worker-owner Rodney North, they continue to “maximize social contributions, not profits…with attention to capital structure, bylaws, [and] personnel policies. (1) This means more fair trade, happier producers and better relationships.

We treat people as they want to be treated,” Tripp nods, “and provide unusually great coffee.”

Tripp became involved with Café Campesino after spending several weeks “locked in a cabin” with Bill and his brother Lee, where the emphasis was business approach, rather than profit.

“It was a vehicle to become myself again; there was no catch, no having to read someone, just a kind ‘win-win’ method.” Tripp acknowledges a constant thrill in that, a decisive verdict on human nature that is validated by customers, vendors and partners.

Along with the opening of the café, which is slated tentatively for mid-June, Café Campesino is taking part in the internationally recognized celebration of World Fair Trade Day. On May 10th, Café Campesino will host a coffee break, which will be part of a worldwide event that is aiming for the Guinness Book of World Records with a goal of 3,000 participants.

World Fair Trade Day was founded by Sofia Minney, and this year’s theme of ecology will bring together 70 nations belonging to IFAT, from the recycled metals of Madagascar’s La Maison to the locally sourced palm rib of Indonesian’s APKRI.

While this is an event that will range greatly due to its diverse participation base, some of the focus will be on how to promote Fair Trade dialogue, the benefits of going organic, reducing environmental waste, and strengthening community building — there are even fashion shows and soccer games being scheduled.

But the vision to create a soccer game in the name of Fair Trade seems near pedestrian when juxtaposed with the foresight of Bill Harris. Forever unassuming and cerebral, Bill calmly discusses the opportunities forthcoming in the future.

“As we look into the next ten years, we know there will be so many opportunities. Just like this business sort of landed on us and sprouted,” he explains, “we are open to following ideas and doing what feels right for everyone involved; this is about being in a business that honors everyone on the chain.”

And that chain could lead to “other fair trade products, or even other locations,” Bill acknowledges. Yet he’s perfectly willing to admit that we don’t have the next decade figured out – and that’s part of the fun.

Endnotes: (1) Equal Exchange Annual Report, available at www.equalexchange.com/2004-annual-report, p.10; Rodney North cited in Jacqueline DeCarlo, “Fair Trade,” Oxford: OneWorld Press, 2007, pp. 75-76.

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