Understanding Our Farm Gate Coffee Program

Our Farm Gate Coffee program aims to pay farmers a fair price for coffee in a direct way.

Farm Gate Coffee is the name we give to Sweet Maria’s and Coffee Shrub’s direct trade coffee buying program. Farm Gate pricing means that we have negotiated a price directly with the farmer or association “at the farm gate,” that is, without any of the confusing export and import fees. The prices we pay for our coffees are above Fair Trade minimums, and with our Farm Gate coffee we can easily verify that the good price we pay makes it to the people who do the work, and are responsible for the great cup quality of our coffee.

Farm Gate is a simple principle that allows us to pay coffee producers premium prices directly for their top quality coffee, which hopefully leads to reinvestment that improves quality even more in the future.

Raking natural coffee at the Guji Highland processing facility in Shakiso
Raking natural coffee at the Guji Highland processing facility in Shakiso

We guarantee that Farm Gate prices are 50% over Fair Trade (“FT”) pricing, but often they are 100%+ more that FT minimums. We support FT, and continue to offer FT lots. Fair Trade is a co-op certification – that is, it does not allow certification for small independent farms – it is for co-ops only. We do support coffee co-ops, but they are often not what consumers might think. There are many excellent co-ops, and many that are large, powerful, corrupt, and mired in bureaucracy.

We sometimes buy from farmer’s cooperatives and associations, and are selective with whom we work with ensuring that the premiums we pay go to the farmers. You might be surprised to know that this often isn’t the case. Fair Trade may certify that the co-operative received a FT price, but it does not guarantee the men and women who produce your coffee reaped those benefits. Also, Fair Trade isn’t based on the quality of the product, so in many ways it has a commodity mindset at its core, that coffee is coffee, just like corn is corn.

Harvesting coffee in Kiambu country, Kenya
Harvesting coffee in Kiambu country, Kenya

On the flip side, bear in mind that FT is a global standard, is verified by certifiers that make regular (if infrequent) visits to the coops. We don’t have a third-party certifier. Instead we substitute our direct involvement at ground level in the buying process with farms, and we know what they received if we are paying them through a middle-person. In this scheme, exporters and importers have a changing role, offering a service as logistics coordinators (and an important one at that) rather than coffee resellers.

Any coffee bought off an importer/broker list does not qualify for Farm Gate, and we do still buy some coffees that way because they are good quality. That doesn’t mean we don’t make sure they’re ethically sourced. It just mean we did not negotiate the business ourselves, and so transparency stops there. There are very few cases where a payment could not be traced back to the initial farmer payments.

Sorting freshly fermented coffee parchment in the shade, Sidama
Sorting freshly fermented coffee parchment in the shade, Sidama

Please enjoy our Farm Gate Logo with the knowledge that it doesn’t cost 10¢ to put it on a coffee bag, the FT advertising fee on top of all other fees, that goes to Transfair USA.

Photos from the Farm Gate. This collection of travel pictures are in no particular order, and we plan on adding more as we go! Click on each to read the context and travel year.

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