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Now Drinking: [evo]

Not long ago a package of [evo] coffee arrived on my doorstep. “Evo” coffee means “coffee evolved.” It’s a serious fair trade coffee group in Grand Rapids that … “Evo. It?s coffee?evolved. It?s an upside-down take on the value of life in business?beginning with offering farmers more than fair trade and going on to return every drop of pro?t to their communities. It’s simple. It’s logical. It’s a revolution. So grab a cup?change is brewing.” I am grateful for the number of visionary activists who protect local coffee farmers. So I’m happy to urge you to consider [evo].
“At [evo], we desire to see justice in the coffee industry and restoration for its farming communities. It is simply not okay to pay farmers from 14 cents (in Ethiopia) to a $1.26 a pound (fair trade), and look away as they go hungry. A little work and a little creativity and the world can change. Yet, even a better wage isn’t enough. We can do more. That’s why, at [evo] every drop of profit is returned to the farming communities.”
So what does my package of Guatamalan Andres Micro Lot taste like? Very good. Chocolatey with a hint of cherry.

Comments read comments(13)
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Dan Jones

posted November 1, 2008 at 7:11 am

I also believe all people should be compensated justly for what they produce. However, there are inherent and serious problems with evo and fair trade markets. 1) Farmers, who for generations grew various crops on the same land, now only grow one crop year after year, because evo and fair trade markets incentivise them too. This is terrible for farm land. 2) Farmers refuse to innovate through markets or products, creating new items or ways to make money, because they again are artificially incentivised to only grow one crop. 3) The vast majority of global farmers are not owners; they are workers. When the few owner farmers there are are paid artificially inflated prices for their crop, it devalues the non-fair trade crops’ value and causes non-fair trade workers/farmers to make even less money.
EVO and Fair Trade markets incentivise poor farming practices that destroy fertile lands. They reduce innovation and desire to create new products and services possibly in greater demand than the evo crop. They provide “a little” more money for the few owner farmers there are at the greater expense of the vast majority of non-owner workers in the market.
Buying fair trade and evo might make people with more money feel better about the way they consume, but it hurts the market, environment, and workers of the world far more than it helps. If you require supportive material for this view, I can provide it, but plenty is readily available online.

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Jack Kooyman

posted November 1, 2008 at 7:35 am

Unfortunately, there is hardly any purchase we make in our world today–even when we believe we are doing the right thing–that does not somehow have a negative effect in some way. Nevertheless, I think the increasing social consciousness and concern for justice that is taking place today can and will at the very least help people make more intelligent and just decisions than have been made in the past. Shalom!

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Frank Viola

posted November 1, 2008 at 8:34 am

Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to purchase some.

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Brit Windel

posted November 1, 2008 at 9:09 am

Dan i would love some of that info.
i love the premise behind fair-trade but agree with you that it to has its problems.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 1, 2008 at 10:03 am

Yes, I think I’ll look at purchasing some, as well. I love chocolate and cherry hints in a coffee, as long as such does not overpower the coffee flavor.
And great to see the thoughtfulness, sensitivity and creativity here towards fair trade (ref: Jim Martin’s great posting you refer to on Weekly Meanderings today).

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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 1, 2008 at 10:06 am

Dan Jones,
Maybe there’s a better solution, as you suggest, but at least they are working towards a fairer trade. This just suggests to me that the work is not complete.

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jeremy bouma

posted November 1, 2008 at 10:53 am

your welcome :) and thanks again Scot for the help!

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posted November 1, 2008 at 7:09 pm

So Dan or anybody else in the know…..
If fair trade is not the solution, what do you propose as a better plan?
I don’t think it’s enough to critique. I think we also need to look for workable solutions.

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posted November 1, 2008 at 7:35 pm

And Dan, better than Fair Trade is Direct Trade. At least the quality of the coffee comes into the equation. And workers don’t have to join co-ops to get paid, there isn’t essentially a ceiling cap on how much they get paid, they don’t have to pay $10,000 a year to some third party certification body, etc., etc.

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jeremy bouma

posted November 1, 2008 at 7:44 pm

what I love about the fellas at EVO is that they pour nearly 100% of the profits back into the farmer and their community. This community literally bought 100 lbs of raw beans…flew them back with them in suitcases or something back to GR, roast them, sell them, then help invest back into the community.
You asked Tom whats better than Fair Trade. Direct Trade is probably best…or how about what these guys are doing: be the Church!

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Dan Jones

posted November 2, 2008 at 12:59 am

Busy with the newborn all day. For those interested, a great article to check out why fair trade isn’t so fair and other problems with popular food “for” thoughts like buying organic or even buying direct – check out The Economist Article “Voting with your trolley” from Dec 7th 2006. It summarizes very well the problems never mentioned. There are other supporting sources, but if this article doesn’t make one interested in learning more for themselves the total impact of fair trade, than I suppose nothing will lead them to the complete picture. Below are some pertinent quotes:
“The standard economic argument against Fairtrade goes like this: the low price of commodities such as coffee is due to overproduction, and ought to be a signal to producers to switch to growing other crops. Paying a guaranteed Fairtrade premium?in effect, a subsidy?both prevents this signal from getting through and, by raising the average price paid for coffee, encourages more producers to enter the market. This then drives down the price of non-Fairtrade coffee even further, making non-Fairtrade farmers poorer. Fairtrade does not address the basic problem, argues Tim Harford, author of ?The Undercover Economist? (2005), which is that too much coffee is being produced in the first place. Instead, it could even encourage more production.”
“Another objection to Fairtrade is that certification is predicated on political assumptions about the best way to organise labour……Yet limiting certification to co-ops means ‘missing out on helping the vast majority of farm workers, who work on plantations.'”
“…it is an inefficient way to get money to poor producers. Retailers add their own enormous mark-ups to Fairtrade products and mislead consumers into thinking that all of the premium they are paying is passed on. Mr Harford calculates that only 10% of the premium paid for Fairtrade coffee in a coffee bar trickles down to the producer. Fairtrade coffee, like the organic produce sold in supermarkets, is used by retailers as a means of identifying price-insensitive consumers who will pay more’, he says.”
I would also add the problem of local inflation. Inflation is something we will all begin to suffer from soon given how much money is being dumped into the open market while interest rates are forced artificially low, so perhaps this will make sense to some. Take a coffee producing economy: If some workers/farmers are paid a significant amount more for their production than many others of the same profession in their community…what will happen to that money? More likely than not, the non-coffee supporting producers of the economy will raise their prices toward the primary producers (the coffee workers/farmers) since they know more money is available. Higher prices throughout the community is fine for the “fair trade” participants, but the inflationary cycle dramatically impacts everyone else.
Ultimately, I’m not sure how to answer the question asked, what to do about the situation…but I will say this: spending more money is rarely ever a workable solution to any problem in the economy, market, or society. Many times, spending more money actually has a negative impact related to the problem at hand. Unforeseen consequences and negative related impact are often swept under the rug. It’s hard to believe that by putting more money in one person’s hand I could be at the same time hurting several other people, contributing to negative environmental impact, or retarding positive and natural market evolutions.
The price of commodities is not the problem. The problem is the hyper consumption of global commodities by those in the First World. Imagine: if all people that consumed gourmet and specialty coffees (including fair trade) drank Maxwell House for one week and then donated all the money saved directly to ministries and organizations tasked with serving and educating the worker class of the third world…How much money would be available to really change lives? Keep in mind that specialty coffees can retail as much as 3 times per pound that of “store brand.” At $20 Billion spent annually in the US alone on coffee, with nearly $4 Billion of that on specialty coffee…I’d say the number is pretty high…
I’m not saying to not be smarter or more sensitive consumers. I am saying, though, that fair trade isn’t as smart as the global marketers (for example, Nestle Corporation!) of fair trade would like everyone to believe. Sometimes, you the consumer simply spend more to consume, feeling better about your consumption, ultimately making some lives even worse.
The smartest consumption is reduced consumption. The smartest way to help some people is to just help them. If you believe the plight of coffee farmers is unjust, don’t think your continued consumption of artificially more expensive coffee will somehow make their lives better. You’re simply shifting the weight of a burdensome global market from one’s shoulders to another’s. Drink water instead and support causes that move coffee farmers out of that market altogether.
PS. Please forgive me if some of this is incoherent. It’s late, and I have wide open but heavy “newborn eyes” tonight.

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posted November 2, 2008 at 9:41 pm

hello all.
first, thanks for all the great discussion surrounding fair trade, and specifically evo coffee!
i would like to comment about a few things….first, i dont believe in fair trade (this is a community based coffee business, so i say “i” because i may not speak for everyone! although i can say i am an integral part of evo coffee, traveling to both our farmers, picking beans, learning the whole harvest process, developing the relationship, etc…) i believe like many well intentioned things, the long term affect is damaging as suggested by some of you in earlier posts. evo coffee is a direct trade company, and while we are paying better than fair trade, to address the issue of inflated value, we dont just pay them extra money without requiring anything of the farmers. we show them how to increase the value of their crop, so that on the open market, whether we are buying from them or someone else is, their “better than fair trade” price comes with a justifiable value. we do this by educating them on the current value of their coffee, giving us a baseline of improvement (most coffee producers dont even taste their own coffee to ensure its quality) and then giving them resources to improve on it….teaching sustainable farming practices, how to manage their crop better, showing them new ways to sort their beans for higher quality, etc…the price we pay is justified on an open market. (it is a supply and demand issue….the bottom will fall out of the coffee industry, and those farmers that cannot justify their worth, will be left worse off than when they started…however, the supply will diminish, and those farmers that have the highest of quality, will be able to continue to demand a living wage.)
second, i want to share a story of how we have helped….our guatemalan farmer, andres’ uses mostly widows to work his coffee farm. by helping andres’, he has been able to keep work for the widows, who have formed their own coffee company modeled after andres’ farm (40 widows pooling their money buying property, planting, harvesting, etc…) they now produce approximately 1000lbs of green coffee per year. on my last trip, i purchased 200 pounds from them. they used that money to purchase more plants, so they could produce more coffee, so they could more ably take care of themselves. its a beautiful story.
thirdly, our motives are as pure as all of yours. we may not always get it right, but we are trying. we welcome any discussion. please contact me to discuss anything and everything concerning evo, or coffee in general! chad

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posted November 26, 2008 at 9:06 am

Presumably the same concerns apply to fair-trade tea also?

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