Crossing Borders with Peace Coffee

If you live in the Twin Cities, you’re probably familiar with Peace Coffee. Maybe you’ve bought their coffee beans (perhaps at Seward or Eastside, where they are labeled P6), been to their South Minneapolis café, or enjoyed a cup at one of the 300 community events Peace Coffee donates to each year. If you’ve tried it, you know it’s great, but you might not know all the positive impacts Peace Coffee has on the local Twin Cities community and the farming communities from which it sources coffee. I spoke with Anne Costello, Director of Coffee for Peace Coffee, to find out more.

Peace Coffee was founded in 1996 out of conversations with Mexican coffee farmers and the local non-profit Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy (IATP). IATP staff were in conversation with Mexican coffee farmers, but didn’t know anything about buying or selling coffee. They got a call from the Port of Los Angeles telling them that 38,000 pounds of coffee with their name on it was waiting at the port. After considering sending it back and explaining the misunderstanding, members of the staff and board decided to pool their resources and buy the coffee. Peace Coffee was born!


(Farmers in Honduras lay out how coffee is processed)

In the present day, Peace Coffee buys from 15 small farmer cooperatives in 11 different countries. More than half the world’s coffee is grown by farmers who tend small plots of land. Economics, location, and inequities in land distribution have historically left these farmers at the whims of local traders, often resulting in them selling their beans below market value. By joining forces to form cooperatives, farmers can make their own business decisions about every step of ushering this complex product to port. These co-ops offer powerful economies of scale for otherwise marginalized producers. Cooperatives can also provide health clinics, schools, agricultural technical assistance, as well as coffee quality improvement measures. Peace Coffee is committed to elevating the stories of these cooperative producers. There is a profile for each cooperative, with demographic information, stories, pictures, and a list of the blends where you’ll find that farm’s coffee, on Peace Coffee’s Map My Beans webpage.


(A farmer harvesting coffee at AIPEP)

Peace Coffee is one of the co-founders of Cooperative Coffees, an importer that’s a cooperative of small coffee roasters around the US and Canada. (Other Cooperative Coffees members include Kickapoo Coffee and Just Coffee, which are also sold as P6 products at Willy Street Co-op, Eastside Food Co-op, Seward Community Co-op, and Viroqua Food Co-op.) Owning the importer allows the member-roasters to build direct relationships with a wide array of small cooperative coffee farmers, including providing high quality assistance programs. Check out this video for more information on Co-op Coffees.


(Cooperative Coffees workers visit with farmers in Honduras)

Currently Peace Coffee is working to support the farmers who supply their coffee through the attacks from coffee leaf rust, a virulent fungus that’s sickening coffee trees globally. Peace Coffee is paying farmers an additional $0.05 per pound, which is matched by USAID, in order to provide aid to the farmers. Since August 2013, over $80,000 has been raised to help projects at the cooperative level to improve growing conditions. (More on this program here.)


(P6 Peace Coffee on the shelf at Seward Co-op)

Because the majority of P6 products on the co-op shelf are from local small producers, customers sometimes forget that products coming from international small producer co-ops are also considered P6. Peace Coffee buys its beans from cooperatives of small farmers, supporting a cooperative trade movement among farmers who are able to access the economic and social benefits of cooperation instead of working on someone else’s plantation — the coffee industry norm. In addition, Peace Coffee itself is local to the Twin Cities P6 co-ops. The beans are roasted at their South Minneapolis location and delivered to locations around the Twin Cities by bike or biodiesel van. (Peace Coffee’s bike deliverers bike enough miles annually to get from South Minneapolis to Sydney, Australia!) By founding and being an active member of Cooperative Coffees, P6 is a leader in building a cooperative trade movement on several levels. Anne shared with me that Kalona SuperNaturals, another P6 product, makes an eggnog in the winter that she loves to put in Peace Coffee’s Snowshoe Brew.


(Peace Coffee bike delivery person Sam brings coffee to the people)

Anne shared a story from visiting a growers co-op called AIPEP in a small town in Bolivia called Pumiri. The meeting she was at was made up of members of the growers co-op and both the importing cooperative and roaster members. The groups had lots to share and learn, including coffee quality and the coffee culture in the US. “During the meeting, I showed the group a bag of our Alchemy Series, which highlighted the AIPEP cooperative. As the cooperative members passed the coffee around the packed schoolroom and studied the package and accompanying notes, I realized it was the first time for many of them to see their coffee roasted and packaged. This was transparency coming full circle; sharing not only with our customers where our coffee comes from, but also bringing the final product back to the beginning of our supply chain.”


(AIPEP farmers view their finished coffee)

In the long term, Peace Coffee wants to create a world where coffee growers and roasters can have equal trade relationships as partners. As Anne said, “Cooperatives represent a true alternative to business as usual in our supply chain, building mechanisms for community development and leveraging the power of smallholders from farm to roastery.” A good cup of coffee can start a lot of conversations, and Peace Coffee works to spark as many as possible.


(A cup of Peace Coffee)

Peace Coffee is available at Eastside Food Co-op and Seward Co-op as a P6 product. You can learn more at their website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or Vimeo.


Leave a Reply