Agriculture / Coffee / Cooperatives / Expert Perspectives

Part II: What Can We Learn from Brazil?

We’re back with a second blog from Chad Trewick, senior director of tea and coffee at Caribou Coffee, the first major US coffee chain to source 100 percent Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee. Here, Chad discusses the need to celebrate model farms and reward good agricultural practices.

It’s so important for us to feature and celebrate good practices by showcasing the work of “model farms.” Farms like these exemplify the innovative and responsible spirit needed to pursue sustainable and game-changing endeavors (and, eventually, monetize them). One farm we visited – Fazenda Juliana in Monte Carmelo, Brazil — was truly advanced in their long-term thinking and practices, going far beyond complying with environmental and social laws. While this kind of achievement is not financially accessible to most producers, those who have the resources and the motivation to achieve in this area deserve to be celebrated.

Recycling containers on Fazenda Juliana.

Recycling containers on Fazenda Juliana.

Leaders in Environmental Education

Fazenda Juliana has achieved special recognition for the education it provides to the children of farm laborers — education that far exceeds government requirements. As more young people leave farms behind for city life, their knowledge and appreciation of the community’s cultural heritage is waning. This move can exacerbate the challenge of finding a good labor force for agricultural work.

To combat this problem, Fazenda Juliana’s onsite school educates students about farming and gardening with a vegetable garden and orchard that students work in and eat from. The school also has a program allowing students to sell this produce (for their financial benefit) and learn about the business side of farming. Students also have access to an impressive number of computers, preparation for a technologically advanced workforce — whether on a farm or in an office.

Advances in Alternative Energy

A sign prohibits hunting on Fazenda Juliana.

A sign prohibits hunting on Fazenda Juliana.

Fazenda Juliana operates a small roasting operation that is fueled almost entirely by vegetable oil. It grows sunflowers, presses them, refines the oil, and uses it to fuel its generator. Even the exhaust from the generator smells good! We discussed whether this experiment actually paid off. In the end, it depends on the cost of petrol: when oil is cheaper, the sunflower operation can come at a slight premium. Most of the time, however, it is financially and environmentally beneficial to rely on vegetable oil instead of petroleum.

The farm employs a methane capture/biogas system that processes a portion of the farm’s human waste and other byproducts for supplemental fuel. One of the craziest alternative energy sources Fazenda Juliana is experimenting with is a plastic to oil conversion. A contraption that looks like something out of Willy Wonka produces a petroleum liquid that can be used in combination with gasoline to fuel a portable hot-water mister that sprays and kill weeds (a substitute for herbicides).

Workers have their own gardens and the opportunity to raise their own food.

Workers have their own gardens and the opportunity to raise their own food.

Social Standout

An onsite dental and medical facility is available to all workers and their families. Even more impressive, Fazenda Juliana uses lessons learned from those operations to inform future improvements in farm conditions. For example, if they begin to notice that a number of workers are experiencing an illness or symptoms, they track down the reason for this increase in illness and begin the process of rectifying the problem.

A Commitment to Collaboration

As our visit came to an end, the cooperative representatives and producers I spoke with emphasized the need for ongoing relationships, mutual learning and shared innovation in sustainability. Caribou feels a great sense of pride for the position our company has taken to support Rainforest Alliance certification – influencing consumer behavior and empowering producers to earn a premium for their coffee. Our contributions to this growing and widespread movement should move us closer and closer to the “tipping point” when responsible behaviors become the new normal.

Read Part I of Chad’s blog from Brazil.

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