September 25, 2003

Talks Brewing on Fair Trade Coffee

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The Cornell Dining Committee held its first meeting of the semester yesterday, focusing in part on efforts to serve only fair trade coffee on campus.

Often growers are forced to sell coffee beans at prices that do not cover production costs. The fair trade system is one that assures consumers that importers pay at least $1.26 per pound of coffee, a price that is significantly above the national average of 50 cents per pound, according to, a fair trade advocacy group.

Though fair trade coffee is only one of many issues for the dining committee, the Cornellians involved have succeeded in setting a precedent for student initiative in the area of fair trade.

The dining committee is newly headed by Michelle Fernanades ’06. Also in attendance were June Feller, operational manager of the Ag Quad; Victor Younger, general manager for Retail Dining; Colleen Wright-Riva, director of Dining and Retail Services; Jessica Brown ’04, fair trade project leader in Roots and Shoots; Tomer Malchi ’04, who is involved in fair trade initiatives and other dining officials, concerned students and club presidents.

Younger explained, “I hope to bring fair trade coffee to the campus all-you-care-to-eat facilities,” which currently lack such a product.

This is a challenge, he said, because not only is it necessary to find companies large enough to support Cornell’s needs that utilize fair trade practices, but Younger also hopes to upgrade quality. Currently, Seattle’s Best Fair Trade Coffee is available in Central Campus venues, such as Trillium, Sprinkle’s and Olin, but there is no fair trade coffee available in North or West Campus.

Seven possible vendors, all of whom use fair trade practices, were surveyed for taste, aroma, profile and other specifications. The two finalists are Pura Vida, a Seattle-based company, and Paul deLima, a company located in Syracuse. Brown of Roots and Shoots thinks that both are highly respectable choices, but sounded particularly impressed with Pura Vida because, she explained, “they donate 100 percent of their net profits to children in coffee-growing countries.”

Tomer Malchi, treasurer of Students Against Sweatshops and member — and former president — of Cornell’s Organization for Labor Action, described why students should understand what fair trade coffee is and why it is important: “It can help eliminate poverty in poor countries.”

“We need Cornell to offer [fair trade coffee] in every venue on campus, not just on Central Campus,” he stressed.

A new company is needed to supply Cornell’s needs because Seattle’s Best cannot keep up with the demand that supplying North and West would place on it, he said.

For areas of high-quantity need such as these, he said, the campus has to buy pre-brewed coffee, or “liquid coffee,” which Seattle’s Best does not offer. Smaller campus vendors can use “drip” coffee and brew the coffee themselves. The new contenders, Pura Vida and Paul deLima, offer both liquid and drip form.

Wright-Riva expressed cautious encouragement that though campus fair-trade goals have not yet been reached completely, “we are moving in the right direction.” She assured Brown that she will definitely see results by the time she graduates in May.

The next step, Younger said, is to invite the two new retailers back to campus and invite students to hear their presentations and sample their products. He aims for the event to occur Oct. 1 but anticipates that a later date may be necessary. If students will be able to attend, the information will be announced on posters and on relevant electronic mailing lists.

To thank Younger for his help, Brown presented him with a thank-you certificate, and he and Wright-Riva in turn thanked her and the other students for bringing the issue of fair trade coffee to their attention.

Tomer finished positively: “Places like Collegetown Bagels are already 100-percent fair trade coffee — so we know it’s possible.”

Archived article by Lauryn Slotnick