June 15, 2010

President Larry Siddall opened the meeting with stories from Amherst A to Z. 

Guests: Roger Webb’s guest was Elinor Crandall, a retired clinical social worker who plays bridge with Roger. 

Announcements:  Ellen Kosmer asked that members who would like to work on school kits for children in need call or email her to sign up.  This committee will meet next week.

      Vivienne again invited club members to join in celebrating her birthday on Sunday, June 20, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm at her home.  Call or email her to let her know that you are coming.

      Michael Greenebaum placed sign-up sheets on a back table for members to sign up to take lunch notes.  As last week’s sign-up sheets yielded familiar names, today Michael suggested that members need to “pay attention to club maintenance,” i.e., the various things that need to be done to keep the club going.  Please contact Michael to affix your name to a date (or dates) on the list of note takers for the coming year, which begins July 1st.

      As the current yearend approaches, Chairperson Ruth Hooke lauded Program Committee members for the outstanding job done this past year in getting speakers for our lunch meetings. 

Ruth Hooke introduced our speaker, Dean Cycon, of Dean’s Beans, who spoke on “what’s going on beneath the surface of your coffee cup.” 

      A compelling aspect of the coffee bean for Dean Cycon is that its production and distribution incorporates all the issues of globalization. 

      Mr. Cycon explained that coffee prices are traditionally set by the futures market, with coffee cultivators dependent on fluctuating market pricing that, in a “down” phase, can yield less return than it costs to produce the crop. He described the cultivators as indigenous peoples in their countries, not part of the mainstream population.  They live in villages that lack a variety of basic amenities. When coffee buyers were approached to improve the lives of the cultivators, their response was to carry out one charitable project here, another there, without involving the villages or training the villagers.

      Formerly an environmental and corporate lawyer, Mr. Cycon and a few others in 1988 formed Coffee Kids, the first organization to meet with coffee cultivators around the world to find out what their needs were. The aim of Coffee Kids, as well as Dean’s Beans (formed in 1993), has been to change the way companies buy coffee.  The question was:  could companies engage with the people in coffee-growing villages and still make a profit?  Could coffee buyers not only structure their pricing to facilitate the growers’ say in their own local needs, but be involved in and train the cultivators to be involved in building a commercial and physical infrastructure in their villages.  In the Coffee Kids’ model, the growers formed local collectives through which they prioritized their villages’ needs and made enough profit to fund them.

      The operations philosophy of Coffee Kids and Dean’s Beans is three-fold: ecological/environmental, in that all product is organic; economic, in their dedication to fair trade and just commerce; and social, in that coffee buyers meet with sellers to come up with a plan for financial and/or physical improvement that the sellers can sustain.  The goal for Dean Cycon and his two companies is to treat coffee sellers with dignity and respect.  Growth is not paramount for the companies, but it is happening.  And so, the answer is—yes, a company can engage in social justice and fair trade and make a profit, as well. 

Your scribe, Jacquie Price