Coffee is a common breakfast drink for many Americans, but coffee drinkers rarely think about the origin of their morning pick-me-up beyond the grocery aisle.
A cup of coffee triggers few to think about the living conditions or salaries of the growers.
At Conscious Coffees, however, that is at the forefront of its roasting and distributing. Mel Evans-Glenn co-founded Conscious Coffees and its trading co-op, Cooperative Coffees, with her husband, Mark Glenn, 16 years ago to bring fair trade coffee to Boulder.
Under Fair for Life certification, Conscious Coffees buys green, organic coffee directly from its coffee producer partners. Buying and negotiating directly with Cooperative Coffees, a traditional co-op made up of 24 roasters, guarantees producers a higher amount that is "mutually beneficial for both parties," Evans-Glenn said.
"We believe in relationships, we believe that everybody in this coffee equation deserves a fair piece of the pie," Evans-Glenn said.
"We do fair trade because we want to be connected, and we want our coffee drinkers to be connected."
In an effort to connect her customers with their coffees' origins, Evans-Glenn invited Brian Buckley of Boulder's Innisfree Poetry Bookstore and Café and Emily Kelly, along with her brother Jason, of Red Frog Coffee in Longmont to visit coffee co-ops in Nicaragua in February.
The group traveled to Esteli, Nicaragua to the La Fem co-op, then to Jalapa, Boulder's sister city, to the Prococer co-op.
For Buckley, it was important to take the trip to see the operation of how the coffee he serves is produced, as well as to express his gratitude to those who made his coffee.
"One of the biggest reasons I wanted to go on the trip was to say thank you," Buckley said. "Their work supports twelve employees here [at Innisfree]. It supports my family.
When the group arrived at the La Fem co-op, "that's where the curveball came in," Buckley said.
In the producer's village, coincidentally named Colorado, the effects of a fungus named La Roya, or rust, were devastating. The fungus, widespread throughout Central and South America, has decimated 40-70 percent of this year's coffee crops, Kelly said.
She also said that because new coffee plants can take two to four years to start producing, the farmers are not only out of coffee after this harvest, but the next few harvests as well.
"I've never seen anything like it in my 16 years of traveling to origin," Evans-Glenn said. "It was so outrageous at a time when we would typically be going down and celebrating the harvest with producers."
Despite the threat to their income, these farmers continue to stay organic and using fair trade, disregarding large companies telling them to use pesticides to help save their crops.
"They're losing their money, they know the next three-to-four years are going to be brutal, and they're still standing up for organics," Buckley said.
"It's amazing to me. I'd have to think about it. I might be tempted in that situation."
Evans-Glenn has taken many trips like this one over the years that Conscious Coffees has been in business. Yet, every trip, she is reminded of the "sense of hope in the face of what seems like so little to hope for."
This was especially true for her in Jalapa and Estili, considering the devastation caused by La Roya.
"It was so in my face because if I put myself in their shoes, and I'm thinking about 'How am I going to feed my kid next year?'" Evans-Glenn said. "I don't think I'd be able to be that optimistic."
After returning to Longmont, the poverty and working conditions of the farmers paired with their positive outlook stuck with Kelly more than the process of how the product she sells was made.
"After arriving home after only five days on the ground in Nicaragua among a very amazing people, on a trip that I thought would be mostly about coffee, I went straight to work in our shop with running water and lights constantly on and realized that it been a trip that became more about the people than the coffee," Kelly said.
Now that the group is back in the United States, they are looking for ways to help the farmers in Jalapa and Estili. Evans-Glenn has approached the Leeds Business School at the University of Colorado for ideas.
"I think we all have a responsibility to each other, and it's not just because we are part of a sister city," Evans-Glenn said. "We certainly don't want to make this a charity, but I think there's going to need to be at least interim aid for these producers, because I think it's going to be so devastating next year."