Green Scene: Taking fair trade to a new level

DeKALB – When you choose your morning cuppa joe, you probably do not consider how you are impacting the way companies do business or if those who work on the other side of the planet to produce your beverage are being paid a fair wage.

But maybe you should give it a second thought. Coffee is the largest U.S. food import, and the second most-traded commodity after petroleum.

Non-fair trade companies are known to exploit farmers and children for labor while depleting the land on which the coffee is grown in order to maximize profit. In contrast, fair trade companies must adhere to sustainable ecological agriculture practices, which include reducing the use of chemical fertilizers, preventing erosion and protecting forests. This ensures that the land will be usable for farming in the future.

The idea of fair trade is social responsibility as well as sustainability. Farmers are supposed to be paid a “fair” wage to produce a sustainable, quality product to bring their families out of poverty.

But if you ask fair trade farmers, you will find many are still living in poverty, caught in a market they have little control over and producing a fragile crop their families cannot eat. Some might say that “fair trade” is only “slightly less unfair trade.”

Just Coffee is trying to change that. According to its website, it has “concocted a plan to overthrow the neo-liberal coffee menace and to make fair trade live up to its name.” Just Coffee is a worker-owned cooperative that pays its workers a living wage and health care benefits. It also pays coffee growers well above the minimum fair trade price, since the cooperative found that fair trade prices have failed to keep up with inflation. The cooperative is 100 percent transparent, and places all of its contracts and financials on its website so you can see for yourself where every dollar goes.

The House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, offers Just Coffee brand by the cupful. You can buy Just Coffee beans to brew at home by the pound at Duck Soup Coop, 129 E. Hillcrest Drive or a special blend, Ride Away Roast, at North Central Cyclery, 534 E. Lincoln Highway, both in DeKalb.

As the manager of the House Cafe, Matthew Clark, told us, “Every dollar you spend is a vote.” Vote to support local businesses, fair wages for farmers and sustainability.

Green Scene is written by Renee Kopulos and Linda Yates, members of a citizens group working with the City of DeKalb Citizens Environmental Commission. The group will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, in City Council Chambers in the DeKalb Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb. Contact them at, with “Green Scene” in the subject line.

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