"Fair Trade" coffee at the College
Without knowing it, you may have supported an industry that pays their producers less than the cost of production for their goods, and pockets millions of dollars in revenue by failing to pass these savings onto consumers. Big coffee corporations have allowed their producers to live in conditions of extreme debt and starvation, earning less than a dollar a day despite working 14 hour days, so they can turn a larger profit.
However, also without knowing it, you may be supporting the solution. Recently, there has been growing demand for fair-trade coffee, coffee that maintains an equitable relationship between growers and buyers. Coffee sold with the fair-trade label means those beans were grown on farms that pay decent wages to their workers, while providing important social services like healthcare, education, and housing, and that the coffee was purchased at or above prices established by the producers. It also assures consumers that the crop was grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, and under the natural forest canopy, which maintains vital habitat for migratory birds. And thanks to Bowdoin Dining Services, you can drink this higher quality product at Thorne or Moulton Halls, or in the Café.
Bowdoin began buying "Eco-Preserve" coffee from their supplier, Downeast Coffee, about two years ago for use in the Smith Union Café. About a month ago, these coffees were introduced into Thorne and Moulton Dining Halls on a limited basis, about one night a week. Although the coffee costs a couple dollars more per pound, Purchasing Manager Jon Wiley believes that it is important for Dining Services to remain committed to sustaining our environment and supporting fair trade growers. He hopes to someday be able to find room in the budget to buy only equal exchange coffee, but for now is happy to be "getting the ball rolling". Fair trade coffee is available at no extra charge in the Café, and can be purchased there by the pound for $9.25, which is below what you would pay in a grocery store.
As of now, Bowdoin offers three types of Downeast Coffee's Eco-Preserve coffee. The first is from the Quequeisque Estate in El Salvador. This farm was left by Walter A. Soundy in his will, to be carried on as a non-profit trust. Profits from coffee sales benefit orphans, the sick, the elderly, and other impoverished peoples of the state of La Libertad. Another coffee purchased by Bowdoin is Malinal Shade Grown Altura from Mexico. This coffee is grown on a former German hacienda, 4,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of an extinct volcano. The third type of coffee offered is the Campesino Blend, a combination of many Eco-Preserve coffees.
Eco-Preserve coffee goes beyond simply buying from organic free-trade farms. According to sales representative Larry Lemelin, Downeast Coffee donates twenty-five cents for every pound of fair trade coffee sold to Coffee Kids, an international non-profit organization that works to support children and their families who live in coffee-growing communities around the world. Coffee Kids sponsors fundraisers and events, using profits to provide education for children, loans to allow women to open businesses, and health care workshops for indigenous communities in countries in Central and South America.
Downeast Coffee hand-roasts several hundred pounds of coffee weekly, in small batches of about twenty-five pounds, according to Mr. Lemelin. The Eco-Preserve coffees are purchased directly from the source, eliminating middleman costs, allowing the growers to receive up to twice as much for their product. "Downeast Coffee is trying to be environmentally responsible, and by buying a Maine product, we are helping to close the loop both locally and internationally. This means a higher level of quality for students," says Mr. Wiley. Downeast Coffee is located in Portland, and encourages students to come in for a tour and free samples during the week.
So far Jon Wiley says there has been a positive response from the student community regarding the new coffees. He hopes to offer some free samples in the Union to raise awareness in the Bowdoin community. The Bowdoin campus goes through over ten thousand pounds of coffee a year, so the dining staff realizes the importance of offering a quality product. Mr. Wiley reminds the students that Dining Services continues to use unbleached napkins and to-go cups, and encourages everyone to "train themselves to break habits" and bring their own mug to the dining hall.