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Coffee Farmers: Why An Extra 20 Cents Per Pound Of Coffee Matters

Ashley Gross
From left to right, coffee farm workers Norman Gonzalez, Elio Machado, Marcos Camilo and Erwin Ochoa are seen.

Marcos Camilo of Brazil had never been on a plane before he flew to Seattle this past weekend. In fact, he’d never even seen the ocean. Now he’s seen the Pacific — something he never imagined.

Camilo was one of thousands of people from the coffee industry who convened at a conference to discuss a variety of topics, from roasting techniques to latte art. He was one of four farm workers from Central and South America joined them to pitch the benefits of buying beans that are Fair Trade-certified.

Camilo has worked on a coffee farm in the inland town of Alfenas for 25 years. He started when he was just 13. For the past two years, the farm has earned certification from Fair Trade USA, which Camilo says has made a big difference.

Fair Trade-certified coffee sells for a premium, about 20 cents extra for a pound of coffee beans. Miguel Zamora from the certification group Fair Trade USA says Camilo and his fellow farm workers have used that extra money to set up a childcare center. Before, the mothers who worked on the farm struggled with where to send their kids.

“Now these women, these families can leave their kids there in good care while they go to work in the coffee farm, so that has given them a huge relief. People feel a lot more comfortable and happy about that,” he said.

Zamora says only a small percentage of coffee sold in the U.S. is Fair Trade-certified, but the certification group has been trying to get the word out at this weekend’s conference. To earn the label, farms have to meet certain standards. For example, they have to show that they have safe working conditions, they don’t employ children or slaves, and they don’t use harmful chemicals or techniques that ruin the environment.  

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.