This last May I was very lucky to be able to see the impact of Growers First in Honduras. My trip consisted of a combination of education, philanthropy and visits to farms and mills. The programs implemented by Growers First are making a huge impact at the farmer’s level as well as the future for farmers now attending school. This is a brief but very informative interview with Dave Day, Founder of Growers First. I hope you enjoy it. – Andrew Vournas
1) Why was Growers First started?
In 1997 while traveling through South and Central America on a coffee buying trip, I observed the challenges that impoverished farming families were facing. I returned home and started the non-profit organization, Growers First ®. Over the last 15 years, this NGO (501-3C) has utilized agriculture, education, and community networking as tools to help improve the quality of life for impoverished farming families and empower them to become self-sustaining. It has always been my intent to “give a hand up instead of a hand out.”
2) What was the original vision for Growers First? What had you hoped to achieve?
My original vision was to find the best quality coffee, create relationships with farmers and their communities, and to work with them to create long-term sustainability. It has been a major focus to improve the quality of life for impoverished farming families in a sustainable way.
Growers First has accomplished the original goal of developing relationships with farmers and aiding them in improving the quality of life through improved farming techniques, assisting them in getting better prices for their coffee through co-operatives, and aiding in community improvement projects. Moving forward, Growers First continues to work with partner NGO’s to provide community improvement through our 5 pillars of education, agriculture, economics, health, and spiritual. We continue to be an advocate for the farmers and assist them in attaining micro-financing. We also continue to provide agronomist training for farmers so they can attain maximum crop yield and work with co-operatives by helping them find coffee buyers like Vournas Coffee Trading. We provide school supplies and building materials on an ongoing basis, as well as working with churches to help offer Vacation Bible School for farmer’s children and working with partners to distribute wheel chairs in Central America.
3) Who works with and supports Growers First in fulfilling this vision?
Our partners are diverse, but we work with roasters, lovers of coffee, volunteers who have a heart for impoverished farmers, indigenous and U.S. church volunteers. We also work with a number of other non-profit organizations that help to administrate meeting different needs, such as Charity Rallies (car and ambulance donations), health organizations, medical volunteers, agronomists, and many others.
We work primarily with volunteers, but have a small U.S. staff, an awesome staff in Central American countries, and a number of volunteers in the U.S. and throughout Central America.
4) What are the unique qualities or growing conditions of these coffee-growing regions?
All of our farms are higher than 1,000 meters producing very high quality Arabica coffee grown by small batch farmers. These coffees are some of the most unique and flavorful coffees to be found.
5) What admirable characteristics do the people of Honduras and Mexico coffee growing regions possess?
These people possess a passionate love for the land that is handed down from generation to generation. This carries over into the care of their coffee. They are a warm and gracious people. Coffee impacts their livelihood so significantly, and most live on less than $1,500 per year.
6) How have the people of these regions lives become better and more prosperous because of Growers First?
We have been committed to representing the farmers for over 15 years in the market place and connecting them to roasters, regardless of market conditions, and these are long term committed buyers. In addition, the work of Growers First has allowed farmers to increase crop yield and Growers First has provided guidance about how to work together in co-operatives to gain higher prices for their coffee. Many farmers were previously selling to coffee coyotes that only paid them pennies per pound. In addition, Growers First has worked to meet needs identified by the community leaders to provide vehicles, medical care, rebuilding or repairing schools, providing books and supplies, clean water, access to micro-loans for farming needs, and work with local churches to provide care.
Growers First® mission is to strengthen the value chain by assessing the needs of a remote farming community, then working to develop community cooperatives on behalf of the farmers, training farmers in agronomy to enable them to radically increase their crop yields, and working with various non-profit partners. Villages are being transformed into sustainable farming enterprises, with long-term socio-economic and environmental conditions associated with healthy and thriving communities. This creates traceable transformation through sustainable systems, which provide significant income to family farmers, along with health, education, spiritual, social, and environmental improvements.