We’re working hard to open a new location. But as I’ve been thinking about more coffee and a second CREDO I stumbled on something I wrote several years ago as we were getting started. It’s still true: it’s important for you to know that I’m not a crusader or some sort of zealot. I just started to think about how I was living, and how I could help to improve the quality of life in my new home.
Earlier I heard about a friend of a friend who was trying to pay small scale coffee growers a living wage. He would roast the coffee and sell it at his bagel shop. My friend suggested that I buy some, or even help him sell it. But I sort of dismissed the whole thing. Mostly because I didn’t want to start caring–there are a million things that aren’t yet as they ought to be. It almost felt disingenuous or idealistic to pick one issue to take a stand on.
But, like I said, now I was starting to think about how I was living. I started thinking about the systems I was complicit in just by being a consumer. Everything from clothes to cars, toys to tomatoes to coffee.
All the coffee beans in your grocery store come from somewhere. They’re all grown by somebody, and I was starting to think that with my purchase I was sanctioning whatever process the company used to get them to me. So I started to think, “man, I worked hard for my $10. I’m going to spend that on coffee, should I just give it to whichever company has the coolest bag?” Remember, I’m no zealot. I’m just starting to think.
Then that friend of my friend comes to mind again. I mean, there are a million things that aren’t as they ought to be in the world. But maybe this was one small way I could reject my tendency toward apathy and avoid being complicit in a broken system.
So I just did it. I started buying it myself and encouraging everybody I could saying, “I know there are a million things that aren’t as they ought to be, but don’t let that keep you apathetic. Buy this coffee instead of that one.” It got to the point where we wanted to open a coffee shop so people could make a choice for impact with each cup. Before we did, we wanted to meet the growers, so we flew to Guatemala. Before I knew it, we’re in Guatemala meeting the families and seeing their fields.
We were at the highest elevation of the whole trip. It was cold, and foggy because the town was shrouded by clouds. We had just helped the principal of the village school set up a computer, and were showing some families how to use the water filtration systems we brought with us. The friends who came with me had gone off someplace. So I stood in the one room house with people I couldn’t talk to and watched the kids run, play and laugh. I listened to the spanish instructions, and a lady brought me a mug of coffee. As I stood their, drinking coffee, watching the kids I felt somehow a part. I mean, I know I’m not a member of their family but somehow, I am. Our shared interest in that coffee providing for those kids and that village makes us a community.
Later, we came to one point where you had to bend down and walk carefully. The plants were growing pretty close together and formed a low sort of arch. We stepped slowly over the muddy ground and passed between the coffee plants single file. As the five of us walked through that small little farm on the side of a mountain in Guatemala I felt in the moment and content.
It’s not that I felt so at home in the mountains, or wanted to become a farmer. It’s just that in that moment I was so happy with the person I was becoming.
On one level I felt a long ways from home. 12hrs, 3 plane rides, immersed in a different language and cultural norms. But as Samuel led us through his plants and explained some basics of growing coffee on the side of a mountain on the few acres he inherited from his father, I realized Samuel is a friend of a friend of a friend. He’s not that far removed from me, and he’s just trying to make a living for his family the best way available to him. He’ll sell his coffee once a year and live on the little bit he makes. In that moment I realized that I was becoming the sort of person who goes out of his way to buy from his friends and pays them fairly, and I liked it. When you like the person you’re becoming, it’s easy to be content.
So I was enjoying what the process of meeting the coffee growers was doing in me, but that doesn’t mean I was always comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, the people were super friendly, even hospitable. There was definitely a mutual respect and interest. But that doesn’t mean that it was seamless. To start with you’re walking into folks homes and looking at the way they live, at times it felt a little voyeuristic and unfair. But that feeling would go away when I reminded myself to that we were coming with people they knew, some of them were even friends. That’s part of what is so exciting about this partnership. The folks doing the buying in La Perla and Chel and Las Brisas are in no way paternalistic. It’s not a bunch of white Americans coming down to enlighten and save some folks. It’s people from the area, some of them even born in those valleys. They’re living there and working together for the development of their own villages and the benefit of each other. Coffee is just one way to bring capital into a system that is also supplying clean water, recycling, and schools.
In the end that’s the goal for downtown credo: to be a catalyst toward lives of meaning, impact and community. To shift from floating through life to making intentional decisions consistent with our values, I commit to rejecting apathy and making an impact on the world. When we open ourselves to authentic community, our life just gets better. It is for me…