Fair trade coffee is the mission of this Georgia business

fair trade coffee in Americus, Ga.
The pickup trucks line up outside Café Campesino in Americus, Ga. Major coffee sellers now see the marketing advantage of the fair trade label but only a small fraction of their sales are fair trade. Café Campesino is 100% fair trade.
fair trade coffee barista

Karen Montano

PIONEERS IN FAIR TRADE COFFEE

Karen Montano greets visitors to the coffee shop with a cheery “!Buenos Días!” Her customers don’t miss a beat. “!Buenos Días, Karen!

Guadalajara? Oaxaca? Ixtapa? Nope. Americus, Georgia.

 

South Georgia may be an unlikely place to find pickup truck drivers in flannel shirts sipping socially-conscious, environmentally-friendly, organic, fair trade coffee, but that’s the morning routine at Café Campesino.

The owners of the coffee shop believe it’s the first organic fair trade coffee roaster in Georgia. The cooperative formed by Café Campesino’s co-founder Bill Harris is thought to be the oldest organic purchasing cooperative for green coffee beans in the nation.

The idea began when Harris visited Guatemala in 1998 on an good-will mission sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, another Americus institution. He learned that Guatemalan coffee farmers were paid a pittance for beans they produced due to prices assigned by the New York Coffee Exchange.

Harris decided to circumvent the coffee exchange. He bought 40,000 pounds of beans and sold them directly to roasters in the eastern United States, paying the farmers a higher price. Later he formed Cooperatives Coffee, a buying group of 23 local roasters in the U.S. and Canada. Cooperatives Coffee procures beans directly from farmers and growing cooperatives in Latin America, Ethiopia and Sumatra.

Fair trade is the golden rule

Harris describes fair trade as “business by the golden rule, treating others as you would hope to be treated.”

There’s more to fair trade than paying the farmer a fair price. The cooperative provides harvest financing by advancing at least 60% of the funds months ahead of export and it treats farmer with respect. For example, farmers are trained how to negotiate prices. “Instead of being a price taker, the farmer becomes a price maker,” Harris says.

Café Campesino is located in World War II quonset hut near the railroad tracks in an warehouse district of Americus. Stepping inside the cafe you feel a sense of purpose and an inviting sense of place that begins with Karen’s pleasant greeting in Spanish.

One day between Christmas and New Year’s I sat alone at a table, trying to be unobtrusive, and observed a group of local men discuss the real estate market, the healthcare exchange and holiday activities.  Each time the door opened and a patron entered it was clear that almost everybody knows everyone else at Café Campesino.

When the table of menfolk left a group of women took their place, laughing and sharing family stories and New Year’s plans.

There are tables and chairs in the front room and sofas, lounge chairs and books in the back room — and lamps like those in your grandmother’s parlor.

Sounds are soft inside Café Campesino and the lights are not bright. It is in a few words a warm, welcoming and homey place.

Bill Harris was a pioneer in 1998 but nowadays the major coffee sellers see the marketing advantage of the fair trade label. But only a small fraction of their total beans sold are fair trade. Café Campesino is a 100% fair trade business.

“We’re the real deal,” Harris says.

When he bought that first 40,000 pounds of coffee beans Harris got in his own car and drove up and down the east coast cold calling on roasters, looking for those who were willing to invest in his dream. Capital has often been hard to come by. “It can be lonely at times to have a business committed to more than just making money,” says Harris.

I would add it’s a nice kind of loneliness.

You can support Café Campesino and the farmers they support by buying coffee from their website. Ten percent of the sales of the Special Blend Medium Roast goes to support Georgia Organics.
Cafe Campesino
Café Campesino in Americus, Ga., is a friendly place where everyone seems to know everyone else.

5 Responses to Fair trade coffee is the mission of this Georgia business

  1. Buddy March 18, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    Doug, as usual, interesting and informative.

  2. Vicki March 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    I did not know about this company. We have been ordering organic coffee online from Ruta Maya in Austin. They return a solid chunk of their profits to the native coffee farmers in Mexico, which I totally endorse, and their coffee is awesome. Thanks for sharing, Doug – I look forward to sampling these beans and helping support this Georgia business.

  3. John Robins March 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    Touching uplifting story, Doug. The warmth of the coffee shop is certainly captured in the accompanying photograph. Fair-trade is a great concept. The notion of “fair trade” is, I’m happy to say, gaining traction in Oz. Bill Harris had guts & foresight.

  4. Celeste Bracewell March 19, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Love this story. Any day now I expect to see a cousin in one of your photos. I’ve bought favorite pieces of art from Vietnamese, Bangladesh and Thai Fair Trade artists. Each came with a personal story about the artist/crafstman. I wish I could find my notes about the impact on world economies (and ours) re Fair Trade. If I run across them, I’ll send you a copy.

  5. Pat Aaby March 20, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Delightful writing that makes you think. You are a rare gem, Doug!

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