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Saturday, August 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


A cup o' joe that's making a difference

Seattle Times business reporter

Some people take their coffee with cream and sugar. Others want their brew to include a heaping spoonful of principles and politics.

For those with a well-developed coffee conscience, the bean purveyors have a bag for almost every cause. There is coffee grown with environmental sustainability in mind, and coffee that improves the lives of farmers in developing countries. Seattle even has companies that sell coffee to raise funds for noncoffee-related charities.

The possibilities abound, partly because coffee touches so many people's lives. Last year, coffee exports worldwide totaled more than $9 billion, making it one of the world's largest cash crops, according to the International Coffee Organization.

Stacy Marshall founded her roasting company, Grounds for Change, on the idea that such a gigantic market could be used to make positive changes. For about $8.95 a bag, Grounds for Change sells coffee that is certified organic, fair trade and shade-grown — a coffee certification trifecta that is rare but growing.

Caffeine with a conscience

These are popular certifications for coffee drinkers with an eye on global sustainability:

Organic: Beans must be grown on land free from synthetic pesticides and other prohibited substances for three years. In the United States, organic coffee is certified by the USDA, which accredits third-party agencies to do inspections.

Fair trade: TransFair USA requires importers to pay about $1.26 a pound for regular coffee and about $1.41 for organic to fair-trade cooperatives. The co-ops keep some of the money, but TransFair says farmers in fair trade co-ops earn three to five times more than they would by selling coffee through traditional systems.

Shade grown: Growing process protects rainforests from clear cutting and provides habitat for birds. Certification varies and is not available in all countries, but one U.S. certifier is the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Marshall's Poulsbo-based company works toward change in other ways too, giving at least 1 percent of sales to environmental causes as a member of the organization 1 Percent for the Planet, a Newburyport, Mass.-based nonprofit network of companies that do the same. Her roasting company uses renewable energy through Puget Sound Energy's green power program, and the energy company gives its customers Grounds for Change coffee as an incentive to join the energy-saving program.

Grounds for Change's best-selling coffee from a single origin is Cafe Femenino, a brand that supports women growers in Peru, paying them 2 cents per pound above the fair-trade price. Peruvian fair-trade cooperatives are paid $1.39 a pound for organic beans.

The Cafe Femenino brand is a collaboration between 700-some women growers in Peru and coffee importers Gay and Garth Smith in Vancouver, Wash.

Two years ago, the Peruvian women — who are part of a larger cooperative — asked Garth Smith whether he could sell their coffee separate from the men's.

His wife, Gay, decided to work with the women, many of whom are abandoned or abused by their husbands. Together they created the Cafe Femenino program, which also requires roasters to give at least 5 cents per pound to a women's crisis organization or to the Cafe Femenino Foundation.

The foundation distributes grants to women and children in coffee-producing communities around the world. Last year, $1,500 went toward books and other school supplies for 600 girls in Peru. This year, the women growers are requesting money for four projects — a small animal breeding project, seeds, a microlending fund and kitchen remodels.

Companies with a cause

Grounds for Change

Founded: February 2003, by Stacy and Kelsey Marshall

Number of employees: 5

Causes: Organic, fair trade, shade-grown coffee; member of 1 Percent for the Planet; Green Power Program with Puget Sound Energy; roasts private label coffee for the Seattle Audubon Society and Save Our Wild Salmon

Where you can find them:

Organic Products Trading Co.

Founded: 1989, by Gay and Garth Smith

Number of employees: 7

Cause: Imports organic and fair trade coffees, including the Cafe Femenino brand produced by women in Peru and other countries

Where you can find them:

Cafe Humana

Founded: 2004, by Jim Meyers

Number of employees: 1.5

Cause: Helps schools and charities raise money by selling coffee; plans to put profits toward global sustainability projects, including education, research and conservation; aspires to nonprofit status

Where you can find them:

Motivo Coffee

Founded: 2005, by Julie Bodine and Kelsey Diller

Number of employees: 2

Cause: Helps nonprofits raise money by selling coffee

Where you can find them:

"They cook on stone outdoor stoves that are so low to the ground that the women have to bend over all the time," Smith said. "They want to raise the height of their outdoor stoves, and they're calling that kitchen remodeling."

Smith is expanding the Cafe Femenino program to include women growers in Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Bolivia.

Closer to home, two Seattle companies are using coffee to raise funds for schools and charities.

Two students at Seattle Pacific University recently launched Motivo Coffee, a company that helps charities sell coffee online. The nonprofits can also buy the coffee directly from Motivo to sell themselves, but so far the dozen or so charities that have signed up have chosen the online sales route.

The charities, which include the Tacoma Rescue Mission and New Horizons Ministries in Seattle, receive $2.50 for every $10 bag that is sold online through a Web page that Motivo created for them.

Motiva has raised $400 for nonprofits in its first few months, but co-founder Julie Bodine said she hopes to take the program nationwide after she graduates in December.

Jim Meyers, a Seattle-based freelance photographer, does something similar with a coffee brand called Cafe Humana. Over the past two years, he has sold the coffee to raise money for hundreds of schools and other groups across the country.

Eventually, he wants Cafe Humana's profits to go toward education, research and conservation projects dedicated to environmental sustainability.

The first money will go this year to scholarships for students traveling to developing nations to work on sustainability issues, and to an organic coffee farmer in Costa Rica who is preserving 250,000 acres of land, primarily rainforest.

His company's motto: "Why just make coffee when you can make a difference?"

Seattle Times researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company



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