Dear Friends and Family,
Many of you may already know about the new documentary project that Chelsea and I are producing, called Connected By Coffee. I’m so excited about the story that we have to tell. It’s both sad and hopeful, simple and complex. And it’s a BIG story. Many have asked us questions about the film. It’s a complicated subject, and it takes time to explain, so if your’e short on time, I encourage you to simply watch the short video we created for our Kickstarter campaign here.
Most of us drink coffee, A LOT of coffee. I’m sipping my second cup of the day as I type this. But how many people truly think about where their coffee comes from? Did you know that the coffee bean is actually the pit of fruit called a coffee cherry? (Or that you can eat the fruit!??). The world consumes 1.4 billion cups of coffee each day. Think about that for a second – 1.4 billion! And the crazy thing to me is that each one of the coffee beans is takes to make those cups is hand-picked. Hand-picked by farmers who work incredibly hard, yet usually live in desperate poverty. Farmers who typically make less per day than we spend on one cappuccino….
Our story goes much deeper than this sad fact. We are seeking to show the roots of a system that allows so much suffering to exist at one end of a supply chain. As a start, we have to back up at least 500 years.
The first Europeans that came to the Americas saw the land as a vast source of wealth and resources – from Gold to Silver to Sugar to Bananas to Coffee. The problem for the Europeans was that the land was already inhabited. But instead of working and trading with the native people, they fought and killed, enslaved and exploited. The story of coffee production is a mircocosm of this resource grab. Some of the first land owners used slaves to plant and harvest their coffee. Later, indentured servants were used (who’s plight was little better than slaves), and even today many coffee farmers are stuck in a cycle of debt and poverty that makes them essentially economic slaves.
Did you think about any of that last time you drank a cup? Me neither – not until I started to dig into this history, and journeyed to meet many, many coffee farmers.
Now, if I ended things right there this would be a rather depressing tale, wouldn’t it? Another story about greed and corruption that leaves you questioning the future of mankind. But that’s not where it ends. It get better. But first it gets worse.
The burgeoning world-wide popularity of coffee created huge fortunes for some. A very small population who controlled coffee and other commodities became massively rich while the majority of the people lived in poverty and misery. The wealth and power of the ruling classes and the disparity between them and the peasant class continued to grow. People began to stand up to demand change. The revolutions that resulted, and often-times counter-revolutions, civil wars, and horrible atrocities are another sad, but inescapable chapter in this story.
These struggles that the people of Latin America faced are beyond the reality of most of us. And yet they didn’t lose their hope or humanity. And here’s where it gets inspiring. In many places, the farmers realized that in order to pull themselves up, they needed to work together. They formed cooperatives to join small farms together in order to share resources and profits and to build their communities. Worldwide people started to understand the injustices of the past, and visionaries among them realized that they could help these people, not by giving them aid, but by helping them have a market to sell their products in an equitable way.
These are the conditions that created the movement we now call Fair Trade. I find it to be very uplifting how many people are committed to helping right historical wrongs and work to support rather than exploit these farmers. Fair Trade connects us with those who grow the coffee we drink (and the handicrafts we buy, and chocolate and sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fruit, flowers andmore) and gives a simple tool to take action. Is Fair Trade perfect? No – it’s not and most everyone involved will admit that. It’s no magic bullet. And there is large divide at the moment in philosphy over the future of the movement. This film will touch on that, for sure. But one thing is often lost in this debate – the voices of the farmers.
And that’s where our film will center itself – around the stories of these farmers. Our journey through Central America will serve as the narrative train to tell this complex history and to show the truly inspiring work that is being done across the world to use coffee as a tool for change. We’ll focus on four coffee cooperatives that we visited and where we made friends. Each has a unique struggle and inspiring story that could easily be the focus of an entire film. And these are only four examples of a world-wide movement of farmers connecting themselves with the global community.
So, there you have it. It’s a storyabout the past and the future, greed and altruism, suffering and joy, hopelessness and hope. It’s not easy to sum up succinctly, but our challenge will be to tell the story simply and in a way that resonates with our audience. We want people to know what goes into creating their cup of coffee, and to be inspired about how by using their buying power responsibly they can make a difference for the farmers.
In order to support our small film team and make sure we can tell this story properly, we’ve set our fundraising sights on an ambitious goal – to raise $30,000 in 30 days. That’s a mountain to climb, but I’m optimistic that we can do it. If you feel inclined to help us, it’s easy to contribute at our Kickstarter page here: http://kck.st/16NFsx4 We’re so appreciative of any contribution, and sharing that simple link with your friends will go a long ways towards helping us!
We’re so grateful for the support of our community that allows us to create independent documentaries. Last year’s, The People and The Olive would not have been possible without over 100 people who believed in the power of ‘Films for a better world’. Now, I just can’t wait to finish this next film.
Thanks for all the support!
Tweetable blurb: A new film needs your support to show the stories of the world’s coffee farmers and how fair trade can help them! kck.st/16NFsx4