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Coffee prices just keep rising, don’t they? As my mother used to say, “there ain’t no ifs, ands, or buts about it.” Since we all know by now that coffee is expensive, I want to tell you why it is expensive.
On a warm June Saturday in 1938, in the midst of America’s largest economic turmoil, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This act made child labor illegal, set a cap on hours worked, and created a national minimum wage. 76 years later it would be an abomination to us to see an 8 year old working 60-80 hours a week at an American factory making substantially less than minimum wage, as once was common.
For the most part, we don’t mind paying a few dollars more for our Made in America products. We puff up with pride when we see a Made in America sticker. We argue that these products give men and women honest work that helps grow our US economy. If we don’t mind paying a few dollars more for a product made in America, why are we Americans often afraid to pay a few dollars more for a pound of coffee knowing that its laborers elsewhere in the world are getting a fair wage?
We humans like to compartmentalize. When it comes to coffee, many of us still view it as a commodity, a mindset that has propagated cheap coffee. Cheap means something that is inferior quality and low-priced. With the amount of time, energy, and materials it takes to produce a pound of coffee, most farmers are getting rock-bottom wages–much less than any American farmer. Yet, the coffee industry is evolving.
We have Fair-Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Socially Conscious, and even some Direct Traded coffees that are changing the industry from cheap to superb. Yes, coffee is more expensive than it used to be. However, this price increase is not only related to the increased cost of doing business–in many ways, it is allowing farmers to be paid more for their labor, edging them and their field workers closer to sustainable lifestyles. The price increase is helping our environment and bettering our global economy.
I want to leave with you some principles I have learned since entering the coffee industry:
– Coffee isn’t cheap.
– Good coffee should not be cheap.
– Coffee is more than a commodity.
– Coffee farmers are more than a means to an end.
– Quality coffee comes at a price–expect nothing less.