Supporting marginalized farmers

A guide for supporting marginalized coffee farmers.

Specialty coffee can be a financial lifeline for coffee producers.

But oftentimes only the wealthiest farmers grow and sell it.

Let’s support the world’s poorest farmers get a better deal by buying from roasters who support them directly.

Which roasters can I buy from to support marginalized farmers?

A list of roasters who work exclusively with marginalized farmers:

  • Farmers First Coffee - USA: Purchase coffee directly from a handful of Peruvian and Honduran farmers
  • Kaffee Batavia - Germany: Purchase coffee directly from ASNIKOM\, a small coffee cooperative in Flores\, Indonesia
  • Vega Coffee - USA: Coffee roasted by the same Nicaraguan farmers who grew it
  • Hilo - Germany: Purchase coffee directly from marginalized Colombian farming families
  • Cafe Juayua - USA: Purchase coffee from small Salvadoran farming families

Know a roaster who should be on this list or believe one should be taken off? Email me

A list of roasters who source some of their coffees from marginalized farmers:

  • Pachamama Coop - USA: A US-based roaster owned by an international collective of small farmers
  • Thrive Farmers - USA: Purchases coffee from many small farming communities in Central America\, but also a non-marginalized Guatemalan farmer
  • Rebel Bean - Czech: Purchase coffee from a coffee community in Peru and purchasing coffee processing equipment for them
  • Mayorga Organics - USA: Purchases coffees from Latin America with a focus on long term relationships with small to medium sized farms
  • Bocca - Netherlands: Coffee mostly sourced directly from Ethiopian farms and cooperatives
  • Utopian - USA: Purchase some of their coffees year-on-year from certain marginalized producer groups in Chiapas\, Mexico and Cauca\, Colombia
  • Boston Stoker - USA: Purchase some of their coffees year-on-year from a marginalized producer group in Santa Barbara\, Honduras

You can also purchase coffees  roasted by coffee producers themselves.

What’s the problem?

The majority of coffee farmers today cannot cover the costs of running their farms because the coffee price is cripplingly low. But, some farmers are able to thrive because they have been able to grow high quality specialty coffees. However, you need a lot of money to both grow and market high quality specialty coffees. This means millions of coffee farmers are excluded from running financially sustainable coffee farms. We can change this by choosing to buy from coffee roasters who partner exclusively with marginalized farmers.

Why are the barriers to enter the specialty coffee market so high?

Producing high quality coffees costs lots of money. A coffee producer needs the latest technical information and the money to invest in agricultural inputs. Many coffee producers earn less than $10 a day, often don’t finish high school and can struggle to buy medicine when their children get sick. Assuming a farmer has grown quality coffee, finding a buyer is also hard. They need to speak English and travel to coffee consuming countries. This costs money, funds they don’t have in the first place.

Why is it a problem specialty coffee has high barriers to entry?

Imagine you’re in a specialty coffee cafe and you’re scanning the wall of coffee bags deciding which you’re going to buy. Whichever coffee you choose, the odds are that you’re paying a high, financially sustainable price for the farmer. But unfortunately the vast majority of coffee farmers never had an opportunity to get a spot on that wall. Many of the coffees on the wall will come from a large farming business with European and American origins. Because they’re getting good prices, they are incentivized to produce more and more coffee every year.

How do I know who’s a marginalized farmer and who isn’t?

Get your phone out and Google the farmer’s name. If their website looks as glossy as a Disneyland brochure, you can rest assured they are not marginalized.If it’s still not clear, explore their social media presence and ask yourself: “if this farmer wasn’t growing coffee, do they seem like they could have a corporate career in the USA?” Marginalized coffee producers don’t have that option. If you would like to know what this looks like in practice, here’s an example ‘investigation’:(Fast forward to 9:44)

I’m still unsure. Help!

If you’re still unsure, ask yourself whether this is a coffee company that prioritizes marginalized coffee producers.Oftentimes a conversation with the owners goes a long way to answering this question.Here’s an example conversation from the Filter Stories podcast where Host James Harper explores a roaster’s sourcing philosophy.(Fast forward to 12:10)

Where can I learn more about marginalization?

To get a fuller understanding of the issues, you could listen to two series from the Filter Stories podcast. Big and Small in El Salvador. This episode contrasts two producers side by side and their journeys trying to find coffee buyers. One comes from historical wealth, the other is more marginalized.

Is your coffee building Trump’s Wall? This episode explores the history of El Salvador and its relationship to coffee. We confront massacres, wide inequalities and the specialty coffee you drink today. We see why it’s so difficult for most Salvadoran farmers to survive in today’s coffee market.

Who are you and how can I contact you?

I’m James Harper, a specialty coffee professional and journalist. I’ve worked for roasters big and small and kept running against the same problem: nobody knew where our coffees actually came from. So I went off to uncover the reality and discovered uncomfortable, hidden truths. Armed with these stories and a background in storytelling, I started the Filter Stories podcast to help coffee drinkers understand how their morning cup of coffee impacts tens of millions of people. Please get in touch with me by sending me an email. I will put together responses to all of your questions and create an FAQ.

Start listening to 4) Just Friends? America's love affair with coffee
Start listening to 4) Just Friends? America's love affair with coffee