FOOD

Want to Combat Climate Change and Support Peruvian Farmers? Brew a Cup of Thrive Market Coffee

November 15th, 2019

When we first launched Thrive Market Coffee, we made sure to deliver the highest quality product we could find—working with a local roaster to source organic, fair trade arabica beans that are full of flavor. Now, we’re pleased to announce that we’ve taken our coffee line even further.

We’ve entered a partnership to buy all of our beans directly from a small-scale coffee farming cooperative in Peru that grows its beans using sustainable, regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture cultivates the soil in a way that reduces erosion and conserves water; planting cover crops to protect and enrich the soil; composting to promote water retention and plant growth; and rotating crops to boost soil fertility and crop yield. Farming in this way helps support biodiversity and removes carbon from the atmosphere. The result is a high-quality coffee crop that reflects a pure flavor profile while also helping to combat climate change.

Peruvian coffee cherries

Recently, we sat down with Jeremiah McElwee, Senior Vice President of Product Development for Thrive Market, to hear about his trip to Peru and learn more about our close partnership with this special farming cooperative.

Tell us about this special coffee program in Peru.

We learned about the program through our master roaster, who sources really high-quality coffee beans that are organic, fair trade, and also taste great—that’s pretty rare to find. We initially bought our beans through our roaster, but the idea was always that once we evolved and grew our program, then we would form a direct trade partnership with a cooperative of growers that we could consistently buy from. We wanted to move beyond just sourcing fair trade beans to funding projects that would make a real difference for the community.

When we visited the cooperative to see the operations for ourselves, we were extremely excited. It’s a group of 13 different families who are growing coffee using regenerative agricultural practices. The coffee plants are grown on the side of a mountain, interspersed with fruit plants, bananas, and all kinds of other fruits. The growing techniques help sequester carbon in the soil and the group recaptures its own water. And it wasn’t just the agricultural methods we were excited about, but also the amazing quality of the beans and the deep commitment these farmers have to their community. It’s where they work, live, and where their kids are being educated so they’re very interested in building a better life for the community.

Peruvian coffee collective family photo

The farmers are second- and third-generation coffee growers who are really worried that their children won’t carry on the business. They fear that their children will go to Lima or other big cities and never come back because there aren’t enough people who care about regenerative agriculture and who are willing to pay fair trade prices to make a good living growing coffee.

When I told them how much our members care about sustainably and ethically sourced products, they were thrilled to be able to work with us. I think it’s so amazing that our members get to connect with this passionate community every time they enjoy a cup of our coffee—and each cup of coffee truly makes a big difference for this community.

Describe everything the cooperative does before the beans arrive in California.

Each farmer has a certain number of coffee plants growing on the side of the mountain, interspersed with food crops. When it’s harvest time, they handpick all the coffee cherries and then strip the fruit off the bean. The beans go into these wooden mesh drying racks that are covered with a plastic tarp so that the beans aren’t in direct sunlight, which would make them dry out too fast. The tarp also protects them from rain and moisture. Once the beans have dried, they’re bagged up and shipped to California where they’re roasted by our master roaster.

So there’s no middle man?

Correct. Typically with coffee, large industry players will buy beans on the open market. They’ll find the exact varietal they’re looking for and buy large amounts of it, but they don’t know exactly where the beans are coming from or how they’re grown. They may have a vague idea of the region where it was sourced, or even know the specific farm if it’s a large-scale operation, but it wouldn’t be a fair trade cooperative where the crops are organic and regeneratively grow. In such a transaction, there’s no transparency and minimal traceability. There’s no way of knowing whether the workers and farmers were paid fairly or how the beans were grown.

Peruvian coffee worker drying coffee beans

The difference with our coffee is that it’s all coming from one source. That way we’re able to visit with the growers, shake their hands, talk to them, and spend time with them in their community. We can see that the quality of the beans is closely monitored. The farmers in the cooperative are experts at growing coffee and they also have an amazing facility where they test every single batch for quality and consistency. They reject certain lots if they don’t meet the quality standards required to be shipped to America. And our beans go through the same rigorous process at our master roaster, which is also a high-quality, accredited facility.

Tell us about the community projects Thrive Market invested in while visiting Peru.

Whenever you get involved in single origin partnerships and you’re moving from fair trade to direct trade—meaning you’re agreeing to a price based on a fair market value for that region plus a premium so that you know there’s a living wage being provided—you’re making a huge impact on your partners’ lives. So when we decided to visit their community, we wanted to find a way to partner with them in a way that wasn’t just transactional. We wanted to make them feel like they’re part of the Thrive Market family.

On a personal level, I’m really passionate about spending time in the community and talking to community members and understanding their needs. That was one of the reasons why we took the trip to Peru as a team. We didn’t want to guess what would be most helpful to their community, which often happens to good-intentioned people who are sourcing products from communities in other countries and decide these communities need something we have in America. We definitely didn’t want to take that path. We wanted to spend several days in the community to have a dialogue and better understand the biggest challenges. While we were there, we kept hearing from the farmers that they really needed more drying modules so that they could process the beans quicker and could include more local growers in the cooperative.

Peruvian drying modules

For us, it was a no-brainer. We knew that by providing 20 more drying modules, we would be helping the community and enabling the cooperative to produce more high-quality beans, which will better serve our members. So we committed to helping to fund the materials and labor needed to build out 20 more drying modules dispersed throughout the Region. This is happening now!

What do you want Thrive Market members to know when they’re enjoying a cup of Thrive Market Coffee?

I think it’s amazing is how much difference a cup of coffee can make. The person who’s drinking it is feeling great, waking up, and getting ready to take on the day, but also, that coffee is having a big impact all the way across the world where these beans are grown. In buying Thrive Market beans, our members are creating abundance in a passionate farming community and creating a regenerative supply chain that’s actually helping heal the earth and sequestering carbon in the soil. So, not only are you feeling better, but you’re helping other families thrive and you’re helping the earth heal itself, while creating this virtuous circle for the earth and its people. It’s truly amazing the difference a cup of coffee can make and we’re so grateful to be able to bring that to Thrive Market members every single day.

Try Thrive Market Coffee in two new varieties: Thrive Market Organic Medium Roast Sprouted Coffee and Thrive Market Organic Vanilla Nut Coffee.

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This article is related to: Brand, Eco-Friendly, Educational

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Melinda GrossMelinda writes about health, wellness, and food for the Thrive Market blog. She started her career as a financial journalist in NYC and has written for Where Magazine, Worth, Forbes, and TheStreet.com. When she's not reading or writing, she enjoys working out, sketching, and playing with her daughter and mini-dachshund, Goliath.

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