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From Tree to Cup

Socially responsible coffee

May. 21, 2008
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Coffee: It’s a worthy reason to get out of bed in the morning, a midday pick-me-up and a lifesaver during an all-nighter. Without coffee, our work engines would seize and our creative muscles would atrophy. But before a cup of joe touches our lips, the coffee beans must be picked, dried, hulled, polished, sorted, graded, shipped and roasted. From tree to cup, coffee switches hands along an immense channel of production.

Fifteen years ago, Eric Resch founded Stone Creek Coffee Roasters based on the idea that a business has a social obligation to operate in a manner that honors and promotes its interconnectedness with the world. “Our vision for this company isn’t just about producing a great-tasting coffee,” Resch says. “It’s also about our social contract with our farmers, employees, vendors, customers and our community.”

To celebrate and preserve Milwaukee’s rich history, Stone Creek refurbished a 120-year-old factory at the corner of St. Paul Avenue and 5th Street in 1999. A year later, the Community Coffee program was created to support community nonprofit organizations through fund-raising and donations of coffee and beverage vouchers. In 2005, Stone Creek’s sphere of influence expanded when it began a relationship with Socially Conscious Coffee in Encruzilhada, Brazil.

In the coffee industry, fair trade practices are extremely important due to the drastic economic disparities that exist between countries that produce coffee and those that purchase it. However, within the industry, there are varying opinions as to what constitutes fair trade. In order to be part of the official fair trade model created by an organization like TransFair USA, coffee farms must have certification, pay a certification fee and be part of a co-operative.

“Obviously the TransFair fair trade model is a good one,” Resch says. “But there are a lot of coffee harvesters and family farms out there where that model doesn’t because they’re not part of a co-op.” Socially Conscious Coffee provides a variety of programs and services to improve the living conditions, education, health and environmental and economic sustainability for the most disadvantaged people in the coffee supply chain: the harvesters.

“The TransFair price dictates price at the co-op level, it doesn’t dictate price to a sub-co-op, to a family or a given harvester,” Resch adds. “With our model, we have transparency all the way to the harvester to make sure money we’re paying the farm gets to the people that are actually picking the coffee.”

With the belief that the definition of fair trade should allow for multiple models of fairness and justice, Stone Creek established its own certification called Socially Responsible Coffee. Traditional fair trade coffees fall under that category, but so do other coffees that Stone Creek deems socially responsible, in that they meet social, economic and environmental guidelines at the farm level. Stone Creek doesn’t require farmers to meet every standard they set, but they do require them to meet 75% of the standards, with a commitment to work toward those they haven’t.

Stone Creek Coffee roasts approximately 250,000 to 275,000 pounds of coffee a year for its eight retail stores and its nationwide wholesale customers. On average, different styles of coffee are available at Stone Creek; some are single origin, some are blends. There are roasts and decafs, organic, seasonal and naturally flavored, representing 12 to 14 different origin countries.

What began with one small batch roaster and a store 15 years ago has grown into an influential and conscientious company with a very deep and rich connection to its broader community.


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