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Caffiene with a conscience
February 18, 2007 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Just Coffee is a vertically-integrated coffee cooperative with a mission to provide the training and resources to create a sustainable small-scale international coffee company fully owned and controlled by the coffee growers. Could they also provide a model solution for the immigration problem?
posted by carsonb (17 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
According to Mark, "Just Coffee is unique because the actual coffee growers are participating owners in the toasting, distribution, and all business aspects."

How does this scale beyond a few families?

It is cool that the growers are learning to organize themselves. They may find that building their company out of families is very limiting.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:32 PM on February 18, 2007


This is very interesting. I ordered some coffee. Thanks.
posted by JamesToast at 6:56 PM on February 18, 2007


awesome. thanks.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:27 PM on February 18, 2007


Could they also provide a model solution for the immigration problem?

I guess that depends on how much coffee you drink.

How does this scale beyond a few families?

There's no practical limit to the size of a co-op. But the politics gets insane after the first 25 people or so. ;-) Seriously, though, there's no reason there can't be thousands of co-ops supplying corporate coffee distributors. It's the way the milk industry in the US still largely operates.
posted by dhartung at 7:36 PM on February 18, 2007


"Thirty-five families from Chiapas are in the co-op," Cifuentes says. "They're not all my family, but many of them are."

I just thought that quote should be presented. Thirty families in one coffee production business is quite a logistical accomplishment, it's not "just a few families." I would hope that the internal politics of such a co-op are more horizontal and less dysfunctional and hierarchical than the corporate "families" we have in the US. If so, that's thirty families with business training--isn't that the "workforce education" we so often clamor for in the United States as the solution to our chronic poverty here?

This article has an interesting spin on the old idea of a solidarity economy. As quoted, Ben Bernanke and his Davos ilk could care less about the social dislocation and cultural disintegration that is integral to corporate globalization. Advocating coffee co-ops as the "solution" to the "problem" of illegal immigration is the logical end of work towards promoting social awareness of the negative social effects of neoliberal trade policies. Coffee co-ops, Textile collectives etc., like this one are no doubt the fruit of decades of work at building alternatives to these disruptive policies.

For the longer term, American thinkers and some governments have been working at was to incorporate this critical social information into the economic data directly, so that it's not necessary, as it is with current "markets," for consumers to spend tremendous energies investigating the social or ecological implications of economic choices (often to find that there is no choice with known, good implications).

The original idea of "market" exchange came from the economic activities of a place where producer and consumer met face to face, and haggled prices within a social context, with social arguments. Solidarity economy strategies generally seek to replace that social context into a world where global economic exchange has meant erasing it.
posted by eustatic at 7:47 PM on February 18, 2007


*working to incorporate
posted by eustatic at 7:49 PM on February 18, 2007


It sounds like a great idea and I'm going to order some.

This is the real meat:
The large enterprises can force prices down, and most growers have no choice but to sell to coyotes for "40 or 50 or 60 cents a pound."

With Fair Trade coffee, "fairer traders" buy the raw beans from the growers for about $1.25 to $1.50 a pound, he says, a good step up. But Just Coffee is what he calls "Fair Trade Plus." The co-op does the "roasting, packing and selling--where the profit comes from--and ends up netting $5 to $6 a pound,
I wish they would just emphasize "social justice" rather than religion and immigration (but then they do have to thank their initial backers).

Also with the good publicity they are getting, they really need to update their website © 2002 (done in a 1990's style), to include their current status, their good press, and to remove some inconsistencies - e.g. on the coffee page they say:
Just Coffee is made from 100% Arabica beans ... Does your morning cup of coffee ever taste a little like roasted rubber? This is often a description of coffee from some Robusta type beans.
while on their ordering page they say:
Just Coffee sells several different varieties of coffee. We have Arabica, Robusta and an Arabica/Robusta mix.
Considering all the charities that have been helping them, at least one of them should have have somebody that can clean up and update their web site.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:12 PM on February 18, 2007


Cafffeine = good, Alkaloids = bad America del Sud.
posted by longsleeves at 9:41 PM on February 18, 2007


Whoops, above the ordering page link should have been ordering page.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:45 PM on February 18, 2007


I wish them the best, but have to admit to some worries.

With a single (albeit growing) source of supply, a bad frost or worse -- a broca or blight problem -- could wipe out everything from the farm gate to the retail side. I hope they're banking a big chunk of proceeds for a rainy day, and I hope they have a really good nursery program. I think they'd do well to put as much emphasis on getting their green coffee to U.S. markets as they do roasted... they lose some of the "value-added" dollars, but diversify themselves a bit more.

And I hope someone offers them some lessons on intellectual property. "Quality taste for you. Quality of life for farmers. Now that's a Fair Trade." is a catchy slogan... and one that I believe belongs to TransFair USA (the U.S. Fair Trade certifier.)
posted by deCadmus at 9:48 PM on February 18, 2007


Max Havelaar is a fair trade coffee that distributes all over Europe. [Background on the name] And a flowchart that Just COffee could aspire to.
posted by pwedza at 1:09 AM on February 19, 2007


This is kind of silly. It's just attempting to move back to an older model for the sake of 'sustainability', but if every group of farmers did this, each of their products would be anonymous, and there wouldn't be any sort of quality, or environmental control. There would be no way to know whether an individual co-op was following organic certification requirements or dumping tons of pesticides on their beans. There would be no way to know if each co-op was real or not. You know.

They're basically taking all the efficiency that you get with large-scale operations and throwing it out in order to capitalize on marketing hype. Think about it, if the money comes from roasting the coffee, and they have roasting equipment, why not just buy coffee beans and roast them and sell those? Speaking of which:

With a single (albeit growing) source of supply, a bad frost or worse -- a broca or blight problem -- could wipe out everything from the farm gate to the retail side.

Sure, but they could just buy bulk beans, roast 'em, and sell 'em without ever telling anyone, right?

Seems like a dumb idea. A more efficient system would be for farmers to be given stock in larger companies that do distribution, marketing, etc. I think that's how "Florida oranges" and other large co-ops work.
posted by delmoi at 6:34 AM on February 19, 2007


Max Havelaar is a European analog to the United States' Transfair USA. They are certifying organization working in the context of FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International.)

Just Coffee is rather specifically rejecting Fair Trade as their model in favor of a direct from farm gate to consumer model... an approach that's fraught with challenges.
posted by deCadmus at 8:20 AM on February 19, 2007


> It's just attempting to move back to an older model for the sake of 'sustainability'...

No, it's an attempt to move to an older model for the sake of 'profitability'; more specifically, to profit (and keep those profits close to home) by taking a few links out of the value chain.

Whether it's *sustainable* is another question altogether... I fear it's probably not.
posted by deCadmus at 8:25 AM on February 19, 2007


Hmm. I thought they were this Just Coffee, but they're not.
posted by Floydd at 12:18 PM on February 19, 2007


Hmm. I thought they were this Just Coffee, but they're not.

Nice link, Floydd, thanks. I'll check that site out. This is from their sidebar:

We are not affiliated with the coffee grower cooperative Just Coffee based in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas Mexico--though we share many values and goals.
posted by carsonb at 10:01 PM on February 19, 2007



Whether it's *sustainable* is another question altogether... I fear it's probably not.


The problem is that no one really knows what "sustainable" means, especially not economists.

The regular meaning is that, all other things equal, could this land be farmed for coffee as it's done now for the forseeable future? or would it be "farmed down" and become increasingly dependent on fossil fuels like the farms of the green revolution?

But with the climate changing, oil prices wavering, oil supply windling, who knows how long farming coffee in the tropics for people in the temperate zone will remain something possible, or worthwhile.

I have a problem with many things that are branded "sustainable," but as long as it means "less dependent on fossil fuels" I'm for it.
posted by eustatic at 8:16 PM on February 20, 2007


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