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Using fair-trade coffee at fellowship hour helps small farmers

5/1/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A photo is available.

By United Methodist News Service

A typical United Methodist church bring people together on Sunday mornings for coffee hour; but how often do the consumers consider the impact that buying coffee has on the people who grow coffee beans.

Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago decided last February to serve only fair-trade coffee purchased through the Coffee Project of the United Methodist on Relief (UMCOR). The project links congregations with small farmers and their families in Latin America, Africa and Asia through fair trade. This congregation-and many individuals and families in the church-buy only fair-trade coffee as acts of social justice.

Coffee is the world's most heavily traded commodity, after oil. Yet most coffee-growers receive little financial benefit. "The chain of events that leads from the coffee farm to your cup is long and expensive, often leaving the farmer with very little to live on," according to UMCOR's Coffee Project Web page. People in the United States consume one-fifth of all the world's coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world, "but few Americans realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as "sweatshops in the fields," according to campaign literature.

The Broadway church, which describes itself as a diversity driven congregation committed to national and global ministries, joined the project after learning that "growers earn very little for their harvests and are barely able to meet their basic needs."

Most of the world's small coffee farmers reside in isolated villages in the world's poorest countries and sell their coffee through middlemen, who offer the lowest price. At least at least 20 million people live near the equator, eking out a living on coffee. Because of fluctuating prices, the farmers never know what they are actually getting for their crops. "In their struggle just to make a simple living, the producers of a rich crop are often trapped in poverty," according to the project's Web site.

Churches and individuals that participate in the coffee project help small farmers earn a fairer share of income, obtain access to credit and technical support, and gain a trading partner they can trust, a fair-trade organization called Equal Exchange.

Through the project, congregations and individuals are linked with people in other countries because for each case of coffee, tea or cocoa purchased, Equal Exchange contributes to UMCOR's small farmer fund, further benefiting coffee farmers and their families. For every case of coffee ordered, Equal Exchange gives $1.50 for farmer economic development.

United Methodist congregations and other participants enable investment in farm improvements, debt reduction, nutrition enhancement and training small farmers to plan for the future.

Fair trade coffee:
· Gives growers fair price and access to microcredit and technical support, which ensures farmers a fair return for their work;
· Allows growers who are usually in a local cooperative to sell to the United States without the going though a middleman;
· Promotes and encourages sustainable farming practices such as organic and shade-grown agriculture which build a long-term economic base for farmers while protecting community health and the environment.

"Using fair-trade coffee is a small way that we make a difference to educate the congregation so that they will begin to think about who is affected by their purchasing decisions," said the Rev. Kay Hereford Voorhees, associate pastor of West End United Methodist Church, Nashville, Tenn.

A missionary sponsored by West End told the congregation about the project. The 2,047-member church began using fair-trade coffee at the Sunday-morning fellowship hour. The church also made fair-trade coffee and fair-trade chocolate available for members to purchase.

"Global outreach is a hard thing to get your hands on," Voorhees admitted. "In order to make a difference, people tend to think that we have to go on a mission trip but this is a way people can stay at home and make a huge difference in the lives of individuals overseas and in the lives of whole economies overseas."

The global outreach committee at the church is hopeful that in the future, the West End church would adopt a policy of only using fair trade coffee.

More information is available at the project Web site:

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