We’re talking organic fair trade coffee with Steve Izzo from Orinoco Coffee & Tea in suburban D.C. Steve’s been in the coffee trade for years and has real hands-on experience with the fair trade market and the growing role of organic. Steve, how deep are your roots?
Steve: I’ve been deeply committed to organic fair trade coffees for most of my career. For me, it’s visceral and it’s taken me across the globe from Guatemala to Kenya. I know that coffee production is labor intensive. I’ve met the workers on the steamy hillside farms of Central America. For the little guys, making a living can be an awesome struggle. I’ve seen it. The organic fair trade movement lifts them up.
How do you measure fair trade’s impact?
Steve: It’s awesome. Today, almost half of the world’s coffee is still produced by small farmers. That’s why fair trade products, in general, and organic fair trade coffees, in particular, are so important to the lives of many. As coffee vendors and drinkers, we can all give back! We can make a difference.
Yes, but how do you measure it? Can you be a little more granular? (pun intended).
Steve: Here’s how it works. The farmers do the heavy lifting, but unfortunately have always been at the back of the line, behind local middle men, shippers, distributors, and marketers – yes, like me – who roast, package, and put the coffee on the store shelves.
Many people take a cut. But under fair trade and organic licensing, today companies like Orinoco Coffee & Tea ensure that a fairer piece of the pie goes to growers.
What are the dollars and cents?
For every pound of fair trade organic coffee we buy, almost two dollars is guaranteed to be returned to the grower. Subsistence farmers in Central America or Kenya are doing better and the steady improvement is significantly due to the fair trade movement and expanded opportunities – and prices – provided by going organic. In a word, organic is cost-effective. The two go hand in hand.
And the history of the movement, Steve?
Steve: Fair trade, it’s not just for coffee. It started with handmade products after WWII and with organizations like Ten Thousand Villages. Anyway, as the popularity of organic grew and the results of fair trade became a force in the market, change has come to subsistent farmers – people whose villages I’ve visited and whose crops I’ve inspected. The key to their future, as well as our own, is certified fair trade coffees, certified organic coffees, and responsible merchants like Orinoco who are building for the future.
And what’s that future?
At coffee retailers like Orinoco Coffee and Tea we invest in coffees certified by Fair Trade USA (whether conventionally grown or organic) and we sell organic beans which are thoroughly vetted and come up to the highest natural agro standards. About 60 percent of our coffee stock is conventional and 40 percent organic. But the balance is changing. I’m seeing more organic as supply struggles to keep up with demand and we will probably see organic and fair trade coffees eclipse the conventional coffees in the future. Coffee is the pillar of the fair trade movement and Fair Trade USA now impacts more than 45 countries and has paid farmers more than half a billion dollars in the past two decades. That’s a lot of beans.
As you can tell from this interview, the staff of Orinoco has a passion for the programs to give back to the very farmers that provide them with the materials they need to give you that wonderful brew. If you would like to learn more, visit www.fairtradecertified.org or shop our organic coffees, and make a purchase that gives back.