What does your morning coffee mean to you?

From drip to espresso, on the go to your single-serve Keurig, most people have a cup of coffee to start their day or at least keep it afloat. Over the past decade Hamilton has enjoyed the birth of an eclectic coffee culture, one that has become a major market for independent coffee shops and roasters looking to create that niche cafe feel.

Aside from boasting the origins of arguably the second-largest coffee chain in the world in Tim Hortons, Hamilton has become a central focus for fair trade, organic, and environmentally friendly coffee processes. One name that comes to mind is Café Femenino, but we will take a look at them later.

So where is all this coffee coming from? Many people know Tim’s famously over-roasted Arabica beans, and many have a speck of knowledge as to the narrow growing regions hugging the equator that make coffee only importable for northerners like us. But what is fair trade? Or shade grown? Or bird friendly?  In a country where our farmers are heralded for the fruits (and veggies) of their labour, not many are seeking out coffee growers to give them the praise they deserve.

Step into any coffee chain and ask an employee about their coffee and they probably can’t muster more than a few guesses on exactly where it’s coming from and how it’s getting there. This is what sparked an interest in a particular type of coffee that has been appearing in Hamilton over the past few years: cue Café Femenino.

Having worked in an independent coffee shop, and having absolutely loved the coffee, it became apparent that just providing customers with the standard “bird friendly, organic, fair trade, shade grown” speech really wasn’t disclosing any actual information about the people who grow, but only just the methods in which they grow.

Although it is exactly what most want to hear, a visit by the very people who helped to start the Café Femenino co-op, gave some real meaning behind the coffee that we are seeing more in more in our local cafes. It’s a story of overcoming the odds, and a complete change in the way of life for these women growing coffee in the hills of Peru, and now around the world.

In these mountainous regions where men often leave the women to take care of the farm while they collect what little money is generated from the harvesting of coffee beans and squander it elsewhere, the growers sought fair treatment and proper compensation for the work they were doing.

Café Femenino is grown, harvested and produced entirely by women. Started in 2003, in partnership with Organic Products Training company (OPTCO), CECANOR, exporter PROASSA, and 464 women in Peru, a decision was made to break away from the common problem of gender inequality and lack of women’s rights and put into place a system for making a proper living.

By 2004 the Café Femenino brand had been established, and by 2014, a decade in the making, the goal of making a positive impact on all women growers around developing nations has been reached. OPTCO and their partners have successfully spread the name and initiative of these women, expanding their efforts to Bolivia, Mexico and the Dominican Republic amongst others.

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(Organic Products Trading Company at Candadian Coffee and Tea expo)

Connie Kolosvary, ” Director of the Cafe Femenino Program at OPTCO, knows the impact growing coffee has had on these women. “As importers, we have a close relationship with the farmers we work with. We can insure the health and welfare of our producers by having direct relationships with them”.

In regards to grower equality, Café Femenino sets the standard high. “Once we import the CF coffees, we then sell it to roasters who must call it Café Femenino, not mix it with any other coffee beans other then Café Femenino, and they must donate a portion of their sales to the foundation to insure projects requested by the CF Women’s group are funded yearly.”

There had always been an ideological road block in these developing countries meaning the women did not hold the upper hand when it came to their well being or the livelihood of them or their children. Now, almost single-handedly, the Café Femenino program has positively affected women all over the world, to the point where their communities’ overall living standard, health and well-being has risen.

The Café Femenino project is an amazing story of overcoming some big sociological hurdles that many women in North America have not had to deal with since the turn of the 20th century. The simple impact of connecting the right path from producer to consumer has had a profound outcome here as it has positively enhanced hundreds of families livelihood.

Next time you ask for your daily cafe au lait or macchiato, know that depending on where you get it, you could be a few degrees of separation away from helping sustain a community thousands of miles away.

For more information on Café Femenino go to www.cafefemenino.com

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About the author  ⁄ Nick Hind-Knapp

Once upon a time a baby weighing more than a bag of potatoes was born. He still lives.

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