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The cost of Coffee Farming

As millions of cups of Coffee are brewed and served each day across the World, it is hard to fathom the enormous amounts of work that go into harvesting and processing the World’s second largest commodity. Being Coffee Farmers ourselves, we see more of what goes on than most before the fruit gets turned in to the coffee in your cup.

Think about this; how many trees does it take to yield enough cherries to fill a 152 lb sack? Well lets start by saying there are 210 raw (green) coffee beans in an ounce. Yes I did in fact count them! There are 16 oz in a pound so that’s roughly 3,360 beans to a pound. Given that our hand made Aspen Wood Barrels hold 152 lbs of coffee you’re looking at 510,720 beans per barrel! Consider now that you lose 16% of those beans due to moisture loss during roasting and you have 128 lbs of ROASTED coffee per 152 lb Barrel.

Now consider an average coffee tree will produce 2 pounds of roasted coffee per year, and you’ll see you need 64 – 70 coffee tress to produce one barrel of green coffee. Of course the numbers will fluctuate due to bean defects and the development of Peaberry beans which make up about 3-5% of a coffee crop. That is A LOT of coffee considering the work is all done by hand.

I use our Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee as an example since Coffee Farming is our primary focus at Reggie’s Roast Coffee, however, a good percentage of the world’s coffee is produced in third world countries with very demanding and low paying efforts on the part of the coffee farmers. Even being part of a co-op sometimes means the Farmers have to wait a long time to get paid which means those days some may or may not eat and can also lead to further problems if the funds are not there to maintain the fields after harvest.

One of the movements started in the mid twentieth century was Fair Trade among coffee farmers. Intended to educate and help develop a business acumen and prevent poverty from destroying the business the farmers do have. Some of the original principals involved not hiring labor, but using family to operate the farms, no child labor, and of course, “registration fee” of roughly $3200.00. Still this brought about problems referenced here in a blog post last month by Sarah Stanley. There are some interesting discussions regarding the very nature of Fair Trade, some of which are helpful.

Bottom line is, is that even with as much help as they are trying to provide, conditions are less than humane on some Central American Coffee Farms. This is an excerpt from an article from Roast Magazine’s Daily Coffee news from July 17th 2013 which I was shocked to learn. ” Farm workers commonly face unsafe working conditions in coffee fields. For example, not having the right protection equipment for work is very common, especially outside of Brazil. Having to bring your own rain boots, improvised ponchos (using plastic bags), and even your own machetes is very common. In coffee fields where you can find snakes, spiders or fire ants in many places, not having the right equipment can be a tremendous hazard for workers. In addition, not having the adequate training and protection when applying pesticides is a major challenge for farm workers. I visited a coffee farm in Brazil where workers had been properly trained in pesticide application and had all the right equipment. A few of these workers told me that applying pesticides was the worst part of the job. Even when you have the right training and equipment, pesticide application involves significant risks to the workers’ health. Not having the necessary individual protection equipment and training creates very hazardous situations for farm workers in coffee.”

I leave you simply with this when taking the next sip of your favorite cup; how did my coffee get in this cup? I hope you will appreciate a Coffee Farmer’s labor of Love.