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Local coffee roaster makes big difference with small sacrifice

By Margo Pierce · July 30th, 2008 · News
Making profits and being guided by your conscience are considered mutually exclusive by many business owners.

"I do all the work so I ought to get maximum rewards" is not the mentality of Joe Morris and Andy Timmerman, co-owners of Seven Hills Coffee. The Blue Ash coffee bean roaster adopted a South American family farm and now buys their entire crop at a price guaranteed higher than the highest price on the open market.

"We're going to still make money, just not as much," Morris says. "It's shifting more profit to the farmer. It's the right thing to do for the farmer. They're the ones that are doing all the labor. Most roasters are making the money, and farmers should be making a good portion of that profit, too.

"This is a way to guarantee a farmer sustainability. We pay them more than what they're getting on the market.

aking profits and being guided by your conscience are considered mutually exclusive by many business owners.

"I do all the work so I ought to get maximum rewards" is not the mentality of Joe Morris and Andy Timmerman, co-owners of Seven Hills Coffee. The Blue Ash coffee bean roaster adopted a South American family farm and now buys their entire crop at a price guaranteed higher than the highest price on the open market.

"We're going to still make money, just not as much," Morris says. "It's shifting more profit to the farmer. ... It's the right thing to do for the farmer. They're the ones that are doing all the labor. Most roasters are making the money, and farmers should be making a good portion of that profit, too.

"This is a way to guarantee a farmer sustainability. We pay them more than what they're getting on the market. We pay them more so they can feed and clothe the kids and educate them.

The farmer can stay in business, and we can still keeping buying that good, organic coffee from him."

Established in 1986, Seven Hills was one of the first wholesale coffee roasters and distributors to participate in the fair-trade organic movement. The company now enjoys the benefits of the Andeano Specialty Coffee's relationship program, which "seeks to promote and stimulate the production of sustainable coffees ... and to create a strong and close relationship between coffee growers in Colombia and roasters in the United States."

The pride and admiration is evident in Morris' voice as he talks about the South American farmers' ingenuity and environmentally conscious growing practices.

"Andy and I went down to Costa Rica, and we saw what organic fair trade really means," Morris says. "It's really fascinating. They will trim the trees and use the branches from the trimming to heat the furnaces that dry the beans. They take the pulp, which is the covering around the bean, and convert that into methane gas and use that for energy as well.

"The La Carmelita farm (in Colombia) uses the pulp for fertilizer for the coffee trees. Another farm that we visited has an actual stream going underneath the whole facility and they use a water wheel to turn all the machinery. They don't waste anything on the farms."

Julio Isaac Gonzalez owns La Carmelita, from which Seven Hills buys this particular line of coffee -- one of Seven Hills' 21 coffee brands -- and Morris sounds like Gonzalez's biggest fan.

"He's also rainforest certified," Morris says. "He doesn't cut down trees to provide more sun. He plants trees to make shade. It's eco-friendly. The family grows a great crop of quality."

And it makes good business sense. Morris is able to guarantee the same consistent, high-quality coffee to his customers and not waste time looking for a replacement crop because the farmer goes out of business.

"Most farmers have to borrow money to get their crop going," he says. "Then a guy will come by and say, 'I'll give you so much for your coffee.' And the farmer says, 'Well, I need the money now. I'll take it.' But if the price goes up, he's stuck with the low price.

"Hopefully we can do it with other farmers in other countries."

Demand from consumers who want businesses to have a conscience is driving the growing market for fair-trade, organic coffee, according to Morris. Seven Hills now counts 60 business customers in Greater Cincinnati and hundreds more throughout the Midwest.

Seven Hills will buy approximately 6,000 pounds of beans from La Carmelita in 2008.

"We've been involved with it not only because it's a good idea but because there's a demand for it, too," Morris says. "We have Reality Tuesday (Coffeehouse) in Northern Kentucky on Dixie Highway -- they do nothing but organic coffee. It's just something that people want to see.

"When you get down to it, how much is it per a cup of coffee? You get 50 cups per pound of coffee. You're paying 50 cents more, so it's maybe a penny a cup. The milk in the coffee cup costs more than the coffee.

"A non-organic coffee can be good, but an organic coffee can be just as good, if not better. By buying organic, fair-trade ... you're helping a family of six. They're living in poverty, basically. It's helping the farmer get ahead, not just stay alive."


To learn more about the Gonzalez family farm in Colombia, La Carmelita, visit andeanospecialtycoffees.com/finca/ default.asp. For more on Seven Hills Coffee, check out www.sevenhillscoffee.com.

 
 
 
 

 

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