Why paying organic coffee farmers double pays off for Equator Coffee Roasters
Amber and Craig Hall never started out wanting to make a great profit on roasting coffee. Instead, the married couple aspired to make great coffee that could change the world. This year they are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Equator Coffee Roasters with their 40-employee team. While doing so, they are recommitting to bringing fair trade, organic and locally roasted coffee from their Almonte roasting, café and training centre headquarters to customers across the Ottawa Valley.
“It sounds like a ridiculous business model at first glance, but we pay double the current global market price for our ethically sourced coffee beans,” said Craig. “The reason we pay more is that today’s coffee prices have plummeted below the cost of production for small-scale farmers. 25 million farmers and workers depend on the coffee industry. We believe these people deserve a sustainable livelihood.”
“While we can’t force corporate coffee conglomerates and other roasters from exploiting farmers in developing countries with unfair prices, we are adamant that our farmers and their workers benefit from growing fair trade organic coffee of the highest quality.”
Added Amber, “Accepting the status quo on coffee pricing means farmer families go into deep debt to get their product out while holding on to hope that higher prices next harvest will offset the loss. But history shows that all too often, the impact of debt for small-scale coffee farmers is a deep and daunting hole that takes years to climb out of. Our producer partners deserve better than that, as does the future of the drink we all depend on and love.”
Bucking the status quo on coffee prices in favour of the livelihoods of farmer families in developing countries like Congo, Nicaragua, and Honduras is being embraced by a committed customer community. A sustained sales education program that extends to social media channels ensures that small independent cafes and gift shops to large grocery store chains understand that they are part of making a difference on a global scale.
In addition, thousands of individual Equator coffee shop patrons in Ottawa enjoy nine varieties of coffee (and teas) in Equator’s Westboro, National Arts Centre and Almonte cafés – from the “Mufferaw Jo!” organic dark roast Central American blend to “Congo SOPACDI” single origin beans offering tasting notes of dried dates, nougat, honey sweetness, and a citrusy finish, farmed by a 11,493-farmer organic-certified cooperative in Africa.
“We’re grateful for our all of our customers,” said Craig. “They’ve proven willing to support Equator’s steady growth over 20 years, and we in turn have been able to support coffee farmers and several other worthy causes in coffee-growing regions and beyond.
For example, in 2016, Equator Coffee Roasters was honoured to receive a Best Ottawa Business (BOB) Award for Best Performance in Philanthropy. The award nomination was made by SchoolBOX, one of several charitable organizations supported by the Almonte-based company.
SchoolBOX builds schools and provides educational support materials the coffee-growing country of Nicaragua. Equator Coffee Roasters’ support has so far built three classrooms and funded over 15,000 educational packages. Another classroom build is planned for November 2019. The company also supports:
Love Made Real, to provide homes for orphans, feeding programs and installation of wood stoves and solar lights to improve health and quality of life in Guatemala
On the Ground, for sustainable community development in farming communities in Congo
Coop Coffees Roya Relief Fund, to help coffee farmers deal with the Roya Leaf Rust problem using methods such as re-planting, organic fertilization or intensive organic training programs in Central and South America
Closer to home, Equator Coffee Roasters provides ongoing support to many local community groups, churches, schools, sports teams and charitable organizations. Through the sale of Equator coffee, these organizations retain the profits to fund their programs. Equator also donates thousands of cups of coffee and gives away bags of their beans to help organizations raise money for local causes.
With a business that they noted is “still in its early 20s”, Amber and Craig are motivated to further expand their business and community contributions through fair trade, organic and freshly roasted coffee. In the last 12 months they cut the ribbon on their NAC/CNA café in Ottawa, and doubled the size of their Almonte headquarter building to include a wood-fired pizza oven, training centre and community meeting space. They are also actively mentoring new café owners, restaurants and stores interested in making the world a better place one cup at a time.