Making a Difference at the Coffee Center

Although many people have heard the term “fair-trade” coffee, they often don’t understand the term’s meaning or the issues involved in growing and selling coffee beans. Every church has a pot of coffee going on Sunday morning; here are two groups making an international difference with every cup.

Trading Up

“The fair-trade designation is available only to small cooperative farming ventures, and guarantees the growers and workers receive a fair wage,” says Troy Jackson, senior minister at University Christian Church (Cincinnati, Ohio). “It also requires reinvestment of some of the profits back into the community. Many of the large plantations without this label exploit their workers.”

In 2003 University’s Rohs Street Café became the first coffee shop in the city to offer only fair-trade coffee. In 2004 Jackson and the café manager visited a missionary in Guatemala and met coffee farmers working there; from that initial visit the church has moved beyond fair-trade to direct-trade.

“A direct-trade relationship means you’ve met the people growing and harvesting the coffee, built a relationship with them, and purchased the beans directly from them,” Jackson says.

In addition to paying above fair-trade prices for these beans, the church also works with the farmers to procure processing equipment.

“Like any raw material, a lot of the profit in coffee comes from the processing,” he says.

Today the direct-trade partners produce beans called La Armonia Hermosa, or “The Beautiful Harmony,” and UCC organizes annual trips for members to visit and work on the farms.

“But it’s not dependent on us,” Jackson says. “These farmers are growing some of the best coffee in the world and learning how to process it. They now have a commodity they can sell at a profit even if our church disappears tomorrow.”

He also points out that a church doesn’t have to establish an overseas work to take steps toward more just coffee purchases—a small increase in the coffee budget can go a long way. Buy fair-trade beans, connect with an existing direct-trade organization in your city, or even e-mail Jackson about buying The Beautiful Harmony beans unroasted—just visit the church’s Web site.

Bean Counters

More Than Coffee helps more than one or even two groups of people.

By buying coffee beans from only fair-trade certified farms or directly from Christian farmers, the organization supports farmers and their communities with good wages. By allowing churches, schools, youth groups, and other nonprofits to sell the beans and keep 20 percent of the proceeds, More Than Coffee helps worthy groups raise money. And by donating the other 80 percent to mission work, organizations like Powell (Ohio) Christian Church (of which More Than Coffee is a nonprofit subsidiary), Haitian Christian Outreach (Mahomet, Illinois), Lifeline Christian Mission (Westerville, Ohio), and several others receive additional support.

Nick Lamatrice, an entrepreneur in Columbus, Ohio, began the ministry after a 2007 mission trip to Haiti introduced him to a missionary from Canada who funded his work through coffee sales.

“For each $10 bag of coffee a ministry sells, $2 goes directly to their work and $8 goes to the missions More Than Coffee supports,” Lamatrice says. “People can buy the coffee from our Web site and choose where they want the $2 to go. We think people will buy the first bag because of the story and the second because of the great taste!”

Although many church, school, and even community sports organizations have taken advantage of this fund-raising method, the list of ministries receiving the remaining 80 percent is much shorter.

“We care about the mission of both groups, of course,” Lamatrice says, “but we pay a great deal of attention to the goals, purpose, and doctrine of the missions agencies we support.”

Lamatrice doesn’t drink coffee—“God has a sense of humor,” he says—but hopes More Than Coffee will continue to grow.

“None of us gets to choose where we’re born, but we can all choose who we help,” he says. “I take no salary from this and don’t plan to; I just see the tremendous potential for coffee sales to fund humanitarian work.”

Jennifer Taylor, one of Christian Standard’s contributing editors, lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Read her blog at www.

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