October is Co-op Month and that’s good timing for us. As we look back on our first 20 years, we marvel at and appreciate the critical role that co-ops play in our entire supply chain. Here in the Twin Cities when we were just a fledgling coffee company with Paul Bunyan-sized dreams, food co-ops were some of the first to believe in us—and to offer space for our beans in their bulk bins. Fast forward two decades and those same food co-ops are still purchasing and brewing our beans in their stores, traveling with us to countries of origin, and sharing our vision of paying a fair price to farmers for organic coffee.
That initial vision has grown, yet our commitment to our coffee farmers is still at the heart of what we do. From our first shipment, we paid coffee farmers fairly, demonstrating that it is unnecessary to undercut producers to have a financially stable business. As we grew and needed more coffee beans, we came together with a handful of like-minded roasters to form a cooperative importing company called Cooperative Coffees. Together, members of the cooperative pool our buying power and import coffee beans directly from the producer co-ops around the world.
Over the years, we’ve come to recognize more strengths of our cooperative—beyond just a buying club, we’re a network of like-minded businesses trying to be good community members at home and supporting our producer partners in countries of origin. Cooperative Coffees has hosted farmer-to-farmer trainings in Sumatra, Honduras, Peru and Guatemala, connecting our farmers to their peers around the world. These exchanges help producer organizations refine organic growing techniques and improve cup quality while combating the staggering consequences of climate change. We are humbled and inspired everyday by our experiences and conversations with coffee producers.
The final link in our supply chain, or the first, depending on how you look at it, is our producer cooperatives. These organizations make it possible for small-scale coffee farmers to get organic certification, to process their coffee and add value—providing the scale needed to export coffee and eliminating middlemen. Over the past two decades, coffee cooperatives continue to develop their members and farmers. Second generation growers now train in agroecology—the latest in organic agriculture. Coffee cooperatives build quality control labs, allowing their members to understand the value of their own crops—and, by taking control of their quality, continue to fetch a better price for their coffee. In regions where municipal services are few, the cooperatives also provide basic infrastructure from water to roads, schools to health clinics.
And that’s why, when we think of fair trade and cooperatives, they’re forever entwined, the one supporting the other all along the supply chain. This October, let’s raise a mug to co-ops—and to the coffee that connects us all.