Coffee Kids

As a board member for Coffee Kids I was asked to make a few remarks at their annual reception Friday night as part of the SCAA Conference. This is what I said:

I am something of a history buff in general and after 13 years in the coffee industry I like to think I’m an amateur coffee historian. There are so many great stories about coffee and the coffee industry, so many great stories about American coffee over the last 100 years. There’s the story of how German submarines helped introduce Central American coffees to the heartland of America. That’s one of my favorites. There is the story of how WWII veterans helped fuel the growth of instant coffee. There is the story of how coffee consumption peaked in the early 1960s and then declined for over 30 years and the little tiny industry segment that stopped the bleeding. There’s the black frost, the founding of SCAA, the story of how the number of coffeehouses in America grew by at least 50% a year for an entire decade, the story of how coffee once traded below 50 cents…remember that?

All of these stories, in fact, every coffee story begins with the same people, whether we include them in the telling or not. Every coffee story begins with the coffee farmer, the coffee farmer’s family, and the coffee farming community. But when we are talking about people for whom growing coffee is their only source of income, very few coffee stories, almost none, end with “and the coffee farmer’s thrived.” And the coffee farmer’s thrived.

Seems like a simple thing, to thrive. We’re not talking about living happily ever after. We’re not talking about growing wealthy. To thrive is simply to grow and do well, grow and be healthy and successful and “often” but not always says the dictionary, be profitable. But perhaps most importantly, to thrive carries within it the idea of holistic and sustained growth, sustained health, sustained wellness and success. To have a good year is not to thrive. To have a good crop, do well with a few bags at an auction, dig a well, add a patio, see a doctor, all of these things can contribute but none alone equals “to thrive.”

At Batdorf & Bronson we talk about being a 100 year company not so much, I think, because 100 years means much of anything in and of itself, but because thinking in these terms helps us focus on the things that matter to achieve long term sustained and healthy growth…you might even say, to thrive. We work hard on achieving success in very basic business fundamentals. Now the day in day out details of good business practices, the steak without the sizzle, you could say, are rarely sexy. Actually, they are never sexy except to accounting types, which only confirms the fact that they’re not sexy. At Batdorf it is deeply engrained in the culture that we do not sacrifice long term health for short term gain.

I think this is why we have been a supporter of Coffee Kids for so many years and why, if you’ll permit a moment of pride, we are the number one contributor to Coffee Kids in terms of payroll deductions. The individual employees at Batdorf recognize, perhaps instinctively in some cases, that Coffee Kids is a kindred spirit, taking the long view with a focus on meaningful sustained impact and fundamentals that might not always be sexy. Coffee Kids is not looking for stories that end with the building of a schoolhouse. The mission of Coffee Kids, if I can paraphrase, is to help write the stories that end with “And the coffee farmers thrived.”

This is why Batdorf is such a committed supporter, why I have personally been a supporter over my 13 years in coffee and why I jumped at the chance to be a part of the board. When I look back over my own history in coffee one day and the organizations I worked for and tell their stories, which all begin with coffee farmer’s, I want, more often than not, to end the story with, “and, of course, the coffee farmers thrived.”

2 Responses to “Coffee Kids”

  1. Melissa says:

    Your post inspired me to look closer at what Coffee Kids achieves. Coffee farmers deserve all the support we can give them as they labor to produce such a delicious product that we should never take for granted.

  2. Michael says:

    Mike:

    I was in the audience for your presentation and really appreciated both what you had to say and the way you said it. I had hoped to catch up with you to tell you so in person, but lost you in the scrum of SCAA, so I will tell you now: thank you!

    I think what struck me most about your comments was the candor (and courage) with which you offered them. You acknowledged how modest an objective it is to hope that smallholder coffee farmers can really thrive, and recognized how very rarely they do. This alone — this clear understanding of what really goes on at origin after the harvest and source visits end — is noteworthy.

    Thanks again for sharing this perspective.

    Michael

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