Building Bridges From Farm to Cup

When we launched Vournas Coffee Trading in 2002 part of our goal was to identify gaps in the grower/roaster supply chain, build bridges between them and in the process become a sort of farm to cup extension cord, not merely just another green importer. We have never been satisfied to just bring in coffee, throw it in a warehouse and simply catalog and sell it—there’s a much larger supply circle at work and for it to function, there has to be the potential and incentive for tomorrow’s yields to be better and more profitable than today’s.

We don’t often do this, but we would like to highlight a recent letter from one of our partners that we’ve received with great reverence which speaks to the strength of our relationships with growers at origin. When we travel to origin, we’re not there to just shake hands, take pictures, pat ourselves on the back and fly home. Our time at the farm is invaluable; it’s our one opportunity to check out what’s happening in the soil, on the tree branches and within the ecosystem. Our objective is always to advise and inform, but never to make blanket statements on what can and cannot be accomplished. In some cases we’ll recommend producing alternate crops like macadamias or local fruits and spices, which may sound unconventional, but in the event of heavy rains, a drought or a bout of roya the establishment of biodiversity can help farmers maintain an income and keep their soil healthy. Often we’ll advise in the expansion of a varietal nursery to provide a future seed stock and determine which coffees fare better for a farmer and their specific terrain. In other instances we will place a farmer in contact with another grower who can communicate those horticultural techniques which have been most effective.

It’s always important to us to make sure that our farmers associate better quality with increased opportunity, and that’s really the ultimate goal of any changes. The farmers are then able to provide any number of options to care for their families and community. Seasonal pruning and worker training programs for example, can lead to better yields—and better wages! In particular when cherry pickers are directed to pick only the ripest cherries, the farm benefits both from improved quality and value. In turn expanded profits can pay for worker housing, worker care, better roads, solar dryers and etc. Perhaps most important is these profits can provide growers with funding for their kids to attend college and, as is often the case agricultural university, thereby securing another generation of experienced coffee growers.