Connected By Coffee is a really big story about the past and the future, greed and altruism, suffering and joy, hopelessness and hope. At its heart are the voices of the farmers who grow and pick the worlds coffee.
Over a billion cups of coffee are consumed each day, yet the farmers live in poverty. How can that be? To get to the root of this issue, our film will take two journeys. One is the 1000 mile trip we took from Mexico to Nicaragua to speak with coffee farmers. The other takes us through the last 500 years of the intertwined histories of Latin America, of coffee and of trade itself – both unfair and fair.
The first Europeans that came to the Americas saw the land as a vast source of wealth and resources. But instead of working and trading with the native people, they fought, killed, enslaved and exploited. The story of coffee production is a microcosm of this resource grab. Some of the first coffee barons used slaves to plant and harvest their coffee, and even today many coffee farmers are stuck in a cycle of debt and poverty that makes them essentially economic slaves.
Coffee and other commodities created huge fortunes for some, while the majority lived in poverty and misery. People began to stand up to demand change. The resulting revolutions, civil wars, and horrible atrocities are a sad chapter in this fight for social justice and peace.
Social movements sprang up to right historical injustices. Small-scale farmers began to empower themselves and work together by forming cooperatives to share resources and support their communities. Instead of exploiting the farmers as those in the past did, visionaries across the world worked to find ways to help them. And this wasn’t through aid, but by finding a worldwide market to trade their coffee. That movement is what we call fair trade today.
This will be the historical backdrop to the journey we took from one coffee cooperative to another. Two of our main characters are Matt Earley of Just Coffee Cooperative and Chris Treter of Higher Grounds Trading Company. Both men have dedicated their lives to trading coffee equitably with a commitment to their relationships with coffee farmers. We’ll combine their voices with those of many other fair-traders to dig into today’s issues. We’ve interviewed many leaders from forward thinking organizations such Fair Trade Federation, Equal Exchange, Fair Trade International, Fair Trade USA, Small Producer’s Symbol, Fair World Project, and more. One of the people that inspired us the most is Jonathan Rosenthal, co-founder of Equal Exchange and executive director of Cooperative Coffees, who told us, “To me fair trade as a term is fairly new but the values and the struggles of fair trade are thousands of years old. My goal is that someday people will look back and say can you believe that people allowed others all over the planet to live in total misery or poverty?”
We’ve reached the halfway point of our Kickstarter campaign and we have a long ways to go. But we’re really grateful and inspired by the support we’ve received. Your donations will help our small team tell this big story and help cover the expenses of making the film. It’s a huge task, but we’re thrilled to be a able create a tool to educate and inspire. From myself and rest of the Stone Hut Studios team, thank you!