Farm Gate Coffee: Transparency and Fairness
What is Farm Gate Coffee? Why Direct Trade vs Fair Trade?
Farm Gate Coffee is the name we give to our Direct Trade coffee-buying program. Farm Gate pricing means that we have negotiated a price directly with the farmer "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 coffees 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 coffee producers to make premium prices in reward for coffee quality, and to reinvest to improve quality even more in the future.
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 avoid the bureaucracy of coops that sometimes do not share premium prices with their farmer members. Fair Trade certifies that the co-operative received the FT price, but it does not guarantee that the men and women who produce your coffee were paid the FT price. Fair Trade is also not 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.
On the flip side, bare 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. Further, lots from origins where hundreds of tiny farms contribute to even the smallest importable lots, such as Sumatra, or Yemen, can't qualify for Farm Gate in many cases nor can Auction Lot Kenyans, even though we pay extremely high prices for all these coffees, and know from direct observation that a premium reaches the farmer.