Ask any college student what their trick is for getting through a morning class or pulling one of those end-of-the-semester all-nighters, and coffee will most likely be the answer. But while many students can tell you the ins and outs of their coffee shop orders — a skinny, double-shot, whip cream, milk alternative latte, anyone? — how many can tell you about where their coffee actually came from?
The University Ministry is hosting a weekly Fair Trade Coffee Break every Tuesday in April for students to get the chance to enjoy free Fair Trade coffee and chocolate and to gain some insight into how our coffee gets into our cups each morning. The coffee breaks feature conversations about Fair Trade and other coffee-related aspects, like child slavery, sustainability, and advocacy.
Fair Trade is a social movement (and now coffee label) that is dedicated to (and indicative of) trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries.
Resident Minister Ashley Artmann, who came up with the idea for USF’s Fair Trade Coffee Breaks explained: “[The farmers are] the lowest people on the totem pole [in the coffee industry] so Fair Trade makes sure that they get paid more fairly and that there are better labor practices in the industry.”
One way that Fair Trade works is by encouraging manufacturers to buy directly from farmers, instead of from a middleman who profits off farmers.
For Artmann, promoting Fair Trade on campus is a simple and engaging way of raising awareness amongst USF students about the origin of their coffee. “I think that Fair Trade is one of the easiest ways to help support the [coffee] industry because it’s so easy to find, so there’s really no excuse not to,” she said. “I drink a lot of coffee,” said Artmann, who said she likes “knowing that the goods and services I purchase are not only not hurting people, but also actually helping people.”
Katie Dechantz, program manager at the University Ministry, agrees with Artmann’s thinking. “[The Fair Trade Coffee Break] is a great event because the coffee draws people in and there’s great information,” she said.
While Fair Trade Coffee is a cause worth promoting, sophomore International Studies Major Miranda Calderon explained another view of the system. “It’s great to showcase the Fair Trade system,” said Calderon, “[but] Fair Trade isn’t the most perfect system [just] because it’s better than the regular system.”
Calderon, who participated in the Esther Madriz University Scholars’ trip to Nicaragua to study the practice of Fair Trade coffee farming first hand, explained that, while cutting the middle man out may leave more profit in coffee exchange, that money often goes to the coffee farm owner, and not necessarily the farmers themselves. “I would still recommend buying Fair Trade coffee, so that Fair Trade gets the recognition it needs,” said Calderon.
So how can we know if our coffee is Fair Trade?
There are two labels to look out for when buying coffee at the grocery store, Fair Trade International and Fair Trade USA.
“San Francisco is home to a lot of small roasting coffee companies who use Direct Trade, an alternate to Fair Trade where the people doing the roasting work directly with the farmers,” added Artmann.
University Ministry hopes to spark a conversation amongst USF coffee drinkers. “Coffee is just the gateway to the important information,” said Dechantz.
Catch the next Fair Trade Coffee Break Tuesday April 22 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. in the University Ministry Romero Room located in lower Phelan. Don’t forget to BYOM (bring your own mug).