5â€³ x 7â€³ watercolor in a 12â€³ x 15â€³ frame, $220
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This week I saw a screening of the documentary film Black Gold. Heine Brothers Coffee, an independent, fair trade chain in Louisville promoted the film screening to shed some light on the economics of coffee (second only to oil as the world’s most heavily traded commodity).
Black Gold is another documentary calling for thoughtful action in our everyday activities verses being blissfully ignorant of the harm we help create through our behavior as consumers. Americans alone drink 400 million cups of coffee per day. Of that $3 for a cup of coffee, approximately $.03 goes to the farmer. Of course that $3 includes the a lot of overhead, nonetheless, coffee retailers benefit disproportionately from the farmers’ crop and labor. One saddening effect of this is the desperate decision of some farmers to replace their coffee plants (which take several years to grow to maturity) with chat, sold as a narcotic drug in their own communities.
Don’t fret! We can still enjoy our beloved drink with a clear conscience. Buying fair trade coffee ensures that farmers are paid a minimum of $1.50/lb of whole beans. This stands in stark contrast to fluctuating prices (sometimes dropping well below $1/lb) set by large multinational corporations for coffee traded in the free market.
After the film, during the Q&A session, I asked who absorbs the cost of paying the price difference for fair trade coffee. A long time Heine Brothers barrista informed me their company paid the difference and, although it has hurt their profit, their customer base has grown because of the attraction of such higher moral business practices.
The Starbucks website claims they are North America’s largest purchaser of certified Fair Trade coffee, although I know they certainly do not exclusively serve it. I read on a blog somewhere that Starbucks had promised to brew a cup of fair trade coffee for you if it was not the coffee of the day. I tried this at a Starbucks inside a Target store and the woman at the counter asked me what fair trade meant. I didn’t have the patience for that explanation. When I went to the sugar counter for milk, I ironically saw a fair trade pamphlet. Clearly fair trade is not a bullet point in the employee training manual.
Click here for a direct link to the Black Gold trailer.