In the News

This article was written by Nicole LaPorte and published in The New York Times.

Thrive’s system is among a growing number of innovative business models in the coffee and cocoa industries that are allowing farmers to increase their ownership and profit margins. Divine Chocolate, based in London, is partly owned by cocoa farmers in Ghana, who get a percentage of company profits. Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, based in Davis, Calif., is owned by farmers in Latin America and Africa. After the coffee is roasted in the United States and sold, all profits go back to the farmers.

All of these initiatives have sprung out of fair trade and aim to send the movement in a more significant for-profit direction.

Fair trade “can be part of a fairer deal for farmers,” says Christopher Bacon, an environmental studies professor at Santa Clara University. “Small-scale farmers have historically used fair trade as one of several strategies, including grass-roots organizing, to build stronger cooperatives” that allow farmers “to become active players in the global coffee industry.”

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NCBA CLUSA Member returns to Africa for another Farmer-to-Farmer assignment

mollie feni coop 500 a0e59[Mollie Moisan, far left, joined the Feni Multipurpose Cooperative Society during her recent Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Zambia.]Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers continue to return to the program again and again. This past month, Mollie Moisan, Director of Cooperative Development for NCBA CLUSA member Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, flew to Zambia for her second assignment through NCBA CLUSA’s Farmer-to-Farmer program. Building on work from previous NCBA CLUSA member volunteers who helped to form the Chipata Farmers Cooperative, she assisted the group in opening a bank account and even joined another co-op herself.

After her first assignment last August in Senegal, Moisan facilitated trainings for smallholder farmers in cooperative enterprise development and marketing in Zambia. She worked with Chipata District Farmers Association (CDFA) and three of its member cooperatives, including Chipata Farmers Cooperative—which NCBA CLUSA and CDFA helped establish in 2012 during another volunteer’s assignment—Feni Multipurpose Cooperative Society, and Mwende Cooperative.

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This article was originally published by Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

A Grassroots Student Effort Now Has Even More Impact

Their mission has been to disrupt the coffee industry by providing the most direct connection to growers and to empower every participant in the supply chain. In 2011, three intrepid Stanford MBAs launched Farm to Cup as an online coffee marketplace for farmers to sell their coffee directly to American consumers. After more than a year of growth, last December they merged their enterprise with Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, a farmer-owned distributor of premium coffee, which will allow that organization to accelerate its growth in the online farmer-direct coffee market in North America.

“We’ve been all about partnership from day one, so joining forces with Pachamama, which has an open and collaborative business model, made sense to us,” says Caroline Mullen, MBA ’12, who co-founded Farm to Cup with her twin sister Catha, MBA ’13, and Monica Lewis, MBA ’12, while they were all still in school.

“Pachamama is 100 percent farmer owned,” Caroline emphasizes. “Their boardroom is filled with farmers. They’re making a real impact on the ground in terms of empowering people who work the land with what is really an innovative economic framework. Their model represents the wave of the future, and so we saw them as the ideal organization for us to team up with.”

It was on a trip to Guatemala with the Stanford Center for Social Innovation that the trio was inspired to help farmers to take greater control of their economic lives by fostering an online link between coffee farmers and consumers. The “ah ha” moment came traveling between farms, when they realized that each farmers’ coffee was unique and that they lacked an easy way to market this. “I began to think of all the intermediaries in the supply chain that extract value from the coffee, and then I began to think of how sites like eBay connect the buyer and seller directly,” says Lewis, the organization’s CEO, who worked in the sustainable development arena at the global consulting firm Arup before coming to Stanford. Farm to Cup’s online platform was created to give the consumer the chance to “travel to coffee’s origin” and buy directly from coffee farms.

Upon returning to Stanford, Lewis shared the idea with Michael Dearing, former senior VP of eBay, and Perry Klebahn, former head of sales and marketing of Patagonia and CEO of Timbuk2, both faculty consultants to an entrepreneurism course at the Stanford Design School. “They enthusiastically told me to go for it,” says Lewis, who promptly enlisted the Mullens in forming the enterprise.

The team decided to hire web developers to launch the site and use their own funds to buy 100 pounds of coffee from the As Green as It Gets Cooperative they connected with while on the trip. Simply by soliciting friends, family, and their extended Facebook and Twitter networks, Farm to Cup sold nearly all of its initial beans. The company has consistently offered growers three to four times the fair trade floor price for the beans.

In November 2011, while exploring strategic options and locating others in the coffee space who were treating farmers with dignity and taking a longer-term, more sustainable approach to business, the Mullens and Lewis came upon Pachamama Coffee. Founded in 2001 and based in Sacramento, California, Pachamama is the hub of a worldwide collaborative of 140,000 small-scale coffee farmer-owners in Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and Ethiopia who brand and distribute their best coffee directly to consumers. In 2011, Pachamama launched the first global Community Supported Agriculture (“CSA”) program for coffee, which offers U.S. consumers the convenience of freshly roasted organic coffee, delivered straight to their doorsteps from small-scale farmers.

When Monica decided to lead another start-up endeavor and Caroline joined the impact investment fund Armonia in Connecticut after both graduated from Stanford in summer 2012, the team realized they needed more support in handling the day-to-day tasks of the organization. After several months of due diligence and talks, Farm to Cup and Pachamama shook hands, finalizing their agreement in November. The trio will continue on as advisers to the organization through the end of 2013.

In structuring the deal, Farm to Cup benefitted from the legal advice of a former classmate, an attorney at a local start-up focused law firm, and one of his colleagues there. “It’s a testament to the wonderfully supportive nature of the Stanford community,” reports Catha.

“The farmer-direct business model is a powerful alternative for small-scale producers and consumers of the world’s most coveted crops. Farm to Cup’s successful web-based platform fits well with Pachamama’s goal of selling coffee in the most direct way possible. This is a smart move for coffee farmers,” said Thaleon Tremain, Pachamama’s CEO.

“They have great logistics and operations, so this merger will allow them to increase their customer base and expand their social media component,” affirms Catha, now in her second year at the Stanford Graduate School of Business while also working part-time at Personal Capital, a wealth management startup in Silicon Valley. “As we see it, our ‘baby’ will now live on in a better form.”

Caroline notes that the experience should be an inspiration to all Stanford MBA students who want to make an impact even while still in school. With just a good idea and very little money, the three women were able to launch an enterprise that had real and sustainable results.

“It’s amazing how little external capital was involved in this entire exercise,” she says. “We didn’t go to investors to raise funds; we simply worked off our own savings, equity from the farmers themselves and were helped by business school colleagues who provided support and advice and, of course, our consumers who bought the product. We think such collaborative business models have real potential to make an important impact in the global economy.”

– Marguerite Rigoglioso

This article was published at Daily Coffee News – Roast Magazine.

Sacramento Cooperative Serves as Coffee CSA Storefront

A new Sacramento, Calif., coffee company is hoping to survive using a simple but appealing business model — selling beans as a community supported agriculture (known as CSA) storefront.

With no cafe or in-house roasting, Pacha Coffee, located in Midtown Alley, boasts of selling 100 percent “farmer-owned” beans to its customers. According to numerous reports, the cooperative business sells the beans, which are roasted in nearby Fort Bragg, and returns the profits to the coffee farms from which they came.

Sacramento Bee food writer Blair Anthony Robertson suggests the coffee coop is the latest in a series of community-minded coffee businesses that have served to revitalize Sacramento’s specialty coffee scene:

As we have reported in weeks past, Sacramento has come of age as a coffee town – Insight, Temple, Chocolate Fish, Old Soul, Naked Lounge and Broadacre have raised the bar for quality coffee and made us expect excellence when we go out for coffee. The high standards have a ripple effect. I’ve noticed Java City has upped its game. And Starbucks and Peet’s are trying to create a look and feel that is more like the independent shops (though the Starbucks near our house still doesn’t carry demitasse cups and serves espresso only in a paper cup).

This article was written by Alan Henry and published at

Join a Coffee CSA for Fresh Beans on Your Doorstep Every Month

Coffee Beans

There’s more to coffee than pre-ground grocery store blends, and if you’re ready to explore it, consider joining a Coffee CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) The CoffeeCSA project connects coffee lovers around the globe with small-batch farmers who ship monthly batches of beans directly to them.

Buyers can also select specific farmers to support or types of coffee to buy through the program. If you like your coffee traceable, shade-grown, certified organic, and fair trade, CoffeeCSA can meet those needs. If you just want fresh coffee mailed to your door from farmers who grow it for a living, the service works just as well. Photo by Stirling Noyes.

This article was published at in April 2011.

coffee csa from Ethiopia

Sustainable-minded eaters already know where to score the best and freshest produce: from a farm’s Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Subscribers receive a weekly or twice-monthly “share” of just-picked greens, squash, berries — you name it. Recently, similar models have sprung up for seafood, honey, dairy and flowers.

Coffee, however, is the antithesis of this feel-good model. Several middlemen work the long, arduous route between the coffee farm to your personal coffee brewer, which is several thousand miles and usually across continents. Typically, buyers import beans in their non-roasted form from a cooperative of coffee farmers, and then sell them to you — roasted — via a cafe or a grocer. By the time those beans are roasted and retailed, a lot of time has passed. And it’s rare you know anything about the farm on which they were harvested.

Today, a new coffee CSA (it’s actually called Coffee CSA) debuts as a project from Pachamama, a global cooperative of coffee farms. Though there are somesmall coffee CSAs around the U.S., the scale of this project is much larger. Each month, Coffee CSA subscribers receive a delivery of just-roasted coffee beans sourced from independent family-owned farms around the world. Not only do you know the farm’s name, you have access to photos, videos and stories from the farmers, putting serious street cred into your morning cup of joe.

You can also request to receive email updates from the farm family, allowing you to get to know more about their lifestyle and livelihood. About 140,000 small-scale farmers in Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Ethiopia and Guatemala are linked with the project, and they work on farms ranging from one to 10 acres. All are certified-organic and Fair Trade certified too.

And since the beans arrive on your doorstep, you’ll always have an early morning cup of joe at your fingertips.

Photo: YouTube