One of my favorite experiences while I was in Nicaragua was touring a coffee farm, picking the berries with the workers and learning all about the process of prepping coffee for sale. I learned the entire process, from the tree all the way to your cup. I think that Mike's blog sums it up best, so with permission...I'm sending you there, because I couldn't do a better job at explaining. He's got some great photos too.
Cafe Journey, from the tree to the cup
I really enjoyed learning about it, and it gave me insight into the inequality of what we value. A coffee harvester in Nicaragua may make $10 on a good, 8 hour day. He or she usually does not have steady work outside of the coffee harvest season, meaning that $10 a day for four months has to sustain them for an entire year. Unfortunately, it seems many Nicaraguans do not have the education to know how to properly budget, so that money does not end up lasting them an entire year, which contributes to their extreme poverty. What struck me the most was reflecting on coffee culture there versus in the US. There, it is their livelihood, and people wait and rely on coffee to ensure they will have money to feed their children. Here it is to some what keeps them moving, but it is the livelihood of very few. Few who are paid well, even Starbuck's employees get health benefits if they are part time, and I'm sure no one makes under $7 an hour. So, we as the coffee drinkers spend on average $4 a cup for this delicious product, and then we throw out the paper and plastic is packaged in and forget all about it. In Nicaragua, they are paid about $1 per 5 gallon bucket of coffee they pick. When I picked, Mike and I shared a basket and in over an hour we only picked half of a bucket. Granted, we are not skilled at this sort of thing, but it was still a timely process. Then, the farmer who does all the work of fermenting, washing, depulping and prepping the coffee still does not make anything in comparison to the coffee shops who sell it.
Perhaps we as the consumer value the coffee we are drinking, and are willing to pay fairly for what it is worth. But the companies who are paying for the product to serve are not sharing the profit fairly. It does not make sense to me that one of the most profitable markets in the US would still leave those producing the product in poverty. I'm no economist, but I'd venture to say that we are not acknowledging the true cost of coffee. Someone always has to pay, like I learned in Economics back in high school, there's no such thing as a free lunch.
Consider it: buying only fair trade coffee products
Unlearn it: that the coffee you are consuming has no consequences to those on the other side of the planet.