Going Beyond Conventional Fair Trade to Invest in the Future of our Partners

Each year, Higher Grounds recognizes the hard work that our flagship coffee partners at Maya Vinic do to harvest the beans that many of you drink.  We believe we are only as strong as our partners. With that in mind, years ago we set up a system: we send the co-op a 15-cent social premium per pound on top of the fair trade/organic price that we pay for their coffee. We send them these funds to be used for co-op improvements. In the past, that money has been used to buy land, build a restaurant, supply their own cafe, and purchase a new motor for their truck. All of these projects help the co-op move forward as an organization and put more money into the hands of the growers.

Last year we purchased 36,356 pounds of coffee from Maya Vinic. With the extra 15 cents per pound, the co-op earned $5,453.50. At their general assembly this year, the membership of the co-op agreed to put it toward their macadamia project.

So next week, 14 of our friends at Maya Vinic are piling into a van owned by our dear friend and collaborator, Julio. They’ll head south 8 hours across the mountainous terrain of Southern Chiapas, crossing the border to Guatemala and heading to the shores of Lago Atitlan. There they will spend two days in trainings, learning about the use of the macadamia tree as a shade crop interspersed in coffee fields at the Valhalla Experimental Station. (Valhalla seeks to reverse global warming, assist indigenous people in developing self-sustaining agriculture, and educate the public about the environment by planting trees.)

What’s more, all of the macadamia seedlings grown from seed without grafts, meaning that their genetics are all unique. This is important, because as the UN has noted, nearly 75% of the world’s gene pool has been lost forever in the last 100 years, mostly due to large-scale agriculture homogenizing the crops in order to ensure uniformity.

The macadamia tree project has three very tangible outcomes: it will provide much needed shade for in the coffee fields, important for maintaining biodiversity and bird habitat; provide another source of income for the farmers; and help combat global warming. According to Vallhalla, “For every pound of nut meats, one pound of carbon is taken out of the air. The macadamia tree converts sixty-three cubic feet of carbon dioxide and releases 55 gallons of water vapor into the atmosphere every day.”

At the end of their training, the farmers will return home with 200 pounds of seeds to be used in their nursery and to be given to farmers.

After 10 years of partnering with Maya Vinic, nothing makes us happier than to see concrete examples of how our work together is making a difference both for the environment and the growers who dedicate their lives to providing us with a great cup of coffee.

[Chris Treter, chief instigator at Higher Grounds Trading Co. and a founder of On the Ground]