“Bella Tica Organic Coffee” – Fair Trade Up and Close by Renee Travel.

Fair trade is a lot more than some dirty stinky hippy hemp jewelry sold to you at a make shift farmers market by a dude who mistook too much patchouli oil with a shower. Fair trade is also about a lot more than coffee, however for me the first time I heard anything about fair trade was directly related to coffee and specifically the working conditions that coffee farmers were exposed to.

Years of capitalism and globalization has led to ridiculously low costs of food, clothes, home goods, furniture, technology, raw materials and a multitude of other goods and commodities. While we all love a good deal, some is paying for it in one way or another. With clothing for example, textiles manufacturing is primarily made in countries with cheap labor and loose to no labor laws around working conditions. This basically means, if you work in a factory that makes clothing you are often a child or a very young person making less than the equivalent to $2 a day. Your hours of work will be long and spent in a hot, sweaty factory with bosses yelling at you to work faster and denying you a bathroom break. At the end of each day, you barely have enough for a bowl of rice, let alone anything else like clothes of your own, health care, education or retirement for when you get to be older. The alternative is no job and starvation.

More often than not a good deal for us comes at the expense of another human being. In 2011,  I had the opportunity to do a Service Learning Project in Costa Rica with the University of Utah. The trip was packed with activities designed to be educational, fun and service to some some rural areas outside Santa Elena a town at the foot of the Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve. The program nailed just that. While I understood the concept of Fair Trade before I went on this trip, that idea about that changed completely when I met the people who grew, dried, roasted and packed my beloved favorite morning beverage.

One day which was more education and leisure, we spent some time in nearby San Luis. We went to an organic coffee farm called La Bella Tica (The Beautiful Costa Rican Lady).  It was on a large plot of land that was granted in part of a government project to provide agricultural opportunities very poor people. To say the least, this had worked out incredibly well for this family who had really flourished with this opportunity. We took a tour a tour of the farm and saw the many plants grown throughout the farm all organic of course, they roasted, packaged and distributed straight from their home.

They had a method of producing was something kind of unusual that I had never heard of previous. Normally, when one harvests coffee, they pick beans off the planet when they are red indicating they are ripe. This is where La Bella Tica’s process for typical coffee and their “cafe natural” stop being the same. “Cafe natural” where they use a method in harvesting the bean in the red pod and rather than pull the bean out of the pod, cafe natural dries it in the casting. The casting has this sweet gelatin like coating called mucilage. When you dry the bean in the mucilage, the bean makes a coffee that is naturally somewhat sweet in flavor. This is a bit of a niche market. Le Bella Tica dedicates 8% of its totally crop to this method because it takes up significantly more space to dry, twice as long to dry and carries a greater risk of molding over. None the less, this makes a damn fine cup of coffee.

Oldemar Salazar and his family uses this niche market for cafe natural to diversify a very competitive coffee market in the area. All the farmers in the area are driven very hard to provide low prices to distributors.

Sometimes, they barely make a profit. While La Bella Tica does participate in a cooperative, they also supply consumers directly. When you buy a bag of coffee from them they will charge $8 for a 1lb bag for their cafe natural which is amazing when you consider that you will pay upwards of $5 for a latte at hipster central Stumptown Coffee, albeit delicious  http://stumptowncoffee.com/processing/natural-process/  that uses similar styled beans. Its also really great that the family is so welcoming, nice and clearly grateful for every opportunity they have gotten to get a leg up in this world.

To top all that, they distribute their coffee in bags that are made of recycled paper from a group of ladies who used a micro credit loan to start a shop making stationary, gift bags, coffee bags and other paper goods out of old paper and used cardboard from the community. I also met these women and visited their shop, so seeing them supported by another wonderful local company just warmed my heart even more.

While I recognize that coffee and paper products in Costa Rica are only loosely connected to Gays in Uganda in that coffee, micro credits and government initiatives universally impact people’s lives. Hopefully, the personal experience offsets the geography.