Farmer’s Markets: Questions Asked, Part II

Here we go. Hope you enjoy.

Is this coffee organic? Fair Trade? Shade Grown?  

    Certifications are great … sometimes. The idea behind certifications is that some kind of consistency and accountability are present to ensure that what the farmer/producer is providing you is actually what they tell you it is. We’re afraid that what certifications have become is an excuse for consumers not to think. 

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     Many consumers see a shiny sticker and think “Whew! It’s safe to buy”. What we’ve found is the average consumer doesn’t even know what the certification is certifying. We have as many customers asking if our coffee is “Free Trade” as much as they ask if it’s “Fair Trade”, thinking it’s an interchangeable phrase. 

      This is not a Fair Trade bash. We think Fair Trade is doing some things very well, and some things not so well. We carry Fair Trade certification and occasionally have FT coffees available for purchase. What we’re trying to say is that Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Certified Shade Grown and all the like are simply not an end all be all of ethical purchasing. We have purchased and carry coffees that meet and exceed standards of these certifications, but the farms choose not to carry them due to cost or restrictions on who can be certified. 

 Here is an interaction we had at a market last week: 

 “Are these coffees all Fair Trade?” 

“Fair Trade and better!”

“Better? What could possibly be better than Fair Trade?”

(insert above explanation)

“Really. But how am I supposed to know that?”

      How indeed? All the customer has is our word as a roaster. We know what we’re doing, but the consumer has to have faith in us that we are telling the truth. It takes time building trust and faith and consistency in your community for your weekly consumer to realize you actually do know what you’re talking about. And if the consumer is a visitor coming in for the weekend, we have one opportunity to share and get our message across in an clear, concise, and passionate way. It’s a challenge to be sure. It stretches us and tests us. It also makes us better and forces us to step up and be that base of knowledge for the consumer.

 Is this all you have?

     Farmer’s markets are reintroducing people to the idea of seasonality. It’s a beautiful thing, and also frustrating. We are just as guilty as any of wanting a product out of season, not finding it from local farmers, so going to the store to satisfy our craving. The world is getting smaller; we don’t have to wait till summer for figs anymore, we can just buy some from where figs are in season and have been shipped across the world to the local grocery store to get some.

     Perhaps we speak out of turn, being that we sell a product that is not produced in any state in the US except Hawaii. But we are selling the dried form of the coffee seed, not the fruit itself so we feel there is a little leeway for us to make an argument. 

     Still, coffee is a seasonal fruit. Fresh shipments of the most recent harvest of Brazilian coffees are making their way to our ports right now. We are currently out of our Brazil Bob-o-Link waiting for that shipment to come in. We have been waiting in anticipation for the newest crop of our El Salvador Malacara B to come in. We have been without it since February. People are getting antsy. 

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Yellow, orange, and red coffee varietals from the Malacara B Farm

 

     Green coffee is a sturdy product. The shelf life is fairly long provided it is kept in climate controlled condition. But there is a loss of quality as time goes by. We try to be very conscious of providing coffees from only the most recent crop of. Sometimes that means we go without. Sometimes we only have five coffees spanning three continents. The horror of it all.

This isn’t all you do, is it?

     We try not to burst a blood vessel at this one.  Again this can be a misleading question, so there is grace. Sometimes the questioner means, “Is this one farmer’s market all you do for a living?” We have been asked on more that one occasion if this market, the one blocking the entire street so no traffic can pass, happens everyday all year round. It’s a fanciful idea. For sure, the idea of a seven day a week market where to can go anytime during the day and get fresh produce picked by the farmer (who also mans the booth) and freshly roasted coffee (sold by the roaster) sounds absolutely delightful. We would by all our groceries at such a market. Alas, time and space do not permit such a thing. One day. 

Sometimes the question pertains to the occupation in general. “There’s no way you can provide for yourself just selling coffee”. We’d like to think that there is, as it is what we do. But the consumer sees the lone individual standing behind a table selling one cup at a time. They don’t see the wholesale side of the operation, the online sales, the other markets. The fifteen hour workday that makes all those things happen … plus one cup of coffee at a time. 

How have we failed in coffee (indeed in many occupations) to share with people exactly what goes on to provide this service to the public? Who’s fault is it, ours? Theirs? Both? 

The above may sound to you as a rant. This is not a rant, but a serious reflection on how we communicate, where our communication has succeeded, where it has failed, and what we can do to bridge the gap of knowledge in an atmosphere of understanding, compassion, and love. Peace.

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