What's in your cup?

Trinity University held a conference about fair trade practices on April 2 and 3. (Photos by Laura McKenzie)
What's in your cup?

By Abraham Mahshie

The push for fair trade coffee

It can cost as little as a penny more per cup of coffee to ensure that coffee growers in Mexico and Central America earn enough to support themselves and their families. Over the weekend, concerned students from across the Southwest gathered at Trinity University for the Southwest United Students for Fair Trade Conference to learn about issues of fair trade coffee, including ways to influence the United States' trade policy.

"We're always surrounded by all these issues and it's easy for students to get involved by buying fair trade coffee," explains Courtney Groom, a conference organizer who started a campaign at Trinity to bring fair trade coffee to Java City, the campus coffee shop. Groom also helped to promote a talk by an African coffee grower on campus last fall. "When students actually see someone benefiting their families from this cooperative, they go to Java City and think of fair trade coffee."

"When students actually see someone benefiting their families from this cooperative, they go to Java City and think of fair trade coffee."
Courtney Groom
But Groom realized how challenging keeping fair trade coffee on campus was at Trinity when she returned from Christmas break and found Java City stopped carrying it. "I met with the manager and I agreed to make sure everyone on campus would know what fair trade coffee was," she recalls. That meant writing letters to students, meeting with professors and talking to Java City employees.

Brands like Green Mountain Coffee, Millstone, and Starbucks Fair Trade blend bear the fair trade certified label and pay a guaranteed $1.26 per pound to farm cooperatives - regardless of how low the world market price dips. This amount is as much as two to three times the going rate that other companies pay for coffee, and can help some of the 600,000 Central American farmers to stay on their land and continue to grow coffee.

Where to buy fair trade coffee

Fredericksburg Gourmet
Coffee & Tea

5804 Babcock, # 259

Sun Harvest Farms
(three locations)
8101 Callaghan
2502 Nacogdoches
17700 N Hwy 281 #200

Café Latino
1621 N. Main #9

Growing fair trade coffee also helps protect the environment, as Oxfam's Shayna Harris explains: "Sun-grown coffee uses pesticides, fertilizers, and causes soil erosion that depletes the land." Fair trade coffee is "shade grown" and "bird friendly," notes David Alan of Texas Coffee Traders, who took pride in being the only for-profit member of Friday's panel discussion. Alan explained that by leaving the forest canopy and wildlife in place, the growing process is slower, but yields a higher quality coffee, "You can be for-profit and still be a responsible capitalist."

In the U.S., 12 universities serve 100 percent fair trade coffee," says former San Antonian Xavier Benavides who works with Oxfam and trains students in activism. And the campus movement toward fair trade is growing: More than 300 campuses have fair trade movements.

"With the trade debate, it's always been framed as a debate for the experts with very complicated issues, rigorous economic theory, and students as well as society are excluded from the debates," notes Wilson Pritchard of Global Justice in Washington, D.C., a small group of recent graduates working to promote its Trade Justice campaign.

"Our strength is in teaching students how to be involved in politics, familiarizing them with consumer choices so they can affect these issues directly," adds Pritchard. The fair trade movement threatens to be overtaken by trade agreements like CAFTA." Proposed agreements like the Central American Free Trade Agreement would make it difficult for small cooperatives to compete with large-scale export farmers.

Joe Campe, a senior at the University of Denver, says fair trade coffee on his campus has increased from one graduate café to 90 percent of the school. "There was a fragmented few people who knew about fair trade but no group pushing to get it," he said while sipping on a cup at a breakfast convened for the 39 students registered by Saturday.

Campe organized Students for Positive Social Change at Denver after attending a mobilization training week in Chicago sponsored by Oxfam America. Since then, he has taken his group to a coffee plantation in Nicaragua for an alternative spring break and 15 students made the two-day drive with him from Colorado to participate in the Trinity conference.

"The great thing about this conference is seeing students broaden their horizons outside of the Trinity bubble," explains Pamela Newman, a Trinity alumna who attended the conference. "It's not just four years here, it's the real world and your personal career." •

By Abraham Mahshie


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