July 1, 2010
I'll be honest - finding fair trade, organic, locally roasted Arabica coffee from Uganda that funds an incredibly good cause is about the most exciting thing that has happened to me all week.
Even more exciting? It's $9.00 for a 12 oz bag.
WHEN DOES THIS EVER HAPPEN!?
I had to get to the bottom of it, so Joe Koenig of NGO "Three Avocados" and I had a little chat about coffee, Africa and what his organization is doing to put the two together to provide clean water for people in Uganda.
Turns out, too good is true -
I was on a mission trip to Uganda in January, 2010, when we visited the village of Bulopa. They invited us to worship with them, which we gladly accepted. When the offering basket was passed around, a poor widow placed three avocados in the basket. She literally had no money to give, only those avocados. Upon return to the US, and the founding of this organization, that moment kept sticking out. ‘Three Avocados’ just seemed like the perfect name.
Can you tell me a little bit about your organization - how it started, and what it does?
Absolutely. It’s quite simple, actually. We sell coffee, grown in Uganda, with 100% of the profits going back to projects in Uganda, such as clean water and education. Our organization was founded in February, 2010. We first began selling coffee in April, 2010.
The reason we chose to sell coffee was that we wanted to do something a little different. I saw the great need in Uganda, and also saw the huge change that something as small as a well could have. There are already tons of great organizations that do great work in Africa that survive solely on donations. To me, it seemed that there must be something that could be sold in the US that was produced in Uganda. After batting around a few products, coffee seemed to make the most sense. It’s something that people in the US are already purchasing, and something that they would purchase repeatedly. And it’s a huge market. It seemed like if we could provide a quality product, with a great cause, we could take a small share of the market and generate some very impressive profits that could go directly to Uganda.
How much of the proceeds of money spent buying Three Avocados' coffee goes to the Ugandan people?
100% of the profits. Depending on the retail channel the coffee is purchased through and any current promotions, this equates to between $0.50 and $3.00 per bag. We are a registered non-profit organization in the State of Missouri, and as such, none of the profits can be distributed to any employee, board member, or anyone else.
What is done with that money?
We are currently narrowing down villages to receive a well as our first project. As I stated, we first started selling coffee in April, 2010. To date, we’ve raised roughly $2,000 towards our first water project, which is estimated to be $6,000.
What kinds of a difference have your coffee sales made in the lives of the Ugandan people - what tangible difference have you seen?
As stated, we’re still moving towards our first project, however, I can say that our church has worked with the village of Nakabango, Uganda, for about 5 years. The changes in that village are absolutely amazing. A well, latrine, and sewing center have been put in that village. First off, seeing the difference in the health of the children due to the well is just amazing. You can literally visibly see the differences in health. It’s heartwarming. And seeing the women work in the sewing center, coming up with clothing designs, and being able to sell them is absolutely fantastic also. Ultimately, the village has hope. Not hope that someone will be there to give them everything they need, but hope that they are now equipped to provide for themselves and to provide a better life for their children. That’s what Three Avocados aims to replicate.
Is your coffee organic? Is it fair trade?
Our coffee is organically grown and is fairly traded. In fact, the farmers are paid 20% over market value for the coffee they produce. This is actually higher than the current fair trade price. However, it is not certified as organic or fair trade. What many people don’t understand is that to be certified organic and/or fair trade, the farmer or cooperative must go through the certification process, which typically has fees that range from $3,000 - $10,000. Even for a cooperative, in Uganda, this fee is virtually impossible to pay. We do hope that one day we can sell enough coffee to help the cooperative gain those certifications, as it will only increase the value of the product they produce.
Where is it from, and can you tell me about the people you are buying from?
The coffee is grown on Mt. Elgon on the border of Uganda and Kenya. The beans are processed in the town of Mbale, at the foot of the mountain range. Since Three Avocados was started after my trip to Uganda in January, 2010, I have not had a chance to visit directly with any of the farmers. I am currently planning a trip for January, 2011, during which I will spend a day or two in Mbale and on Mt. Elgon meeting the farmers and producers in the coop. I’m very excited to meet these men and women and tell them about all of the praise their hard work is earning back in the United States.
What kind of bean do you use?
The bean is a washed, 100% Arabica.
What kind of roasting process do you use? Where is your coffee roasted?
Our coffee is roasted using a fluid air bed method by an award winning coffee roaster in St. Louis.
What kind of packaging do you use - is it green?
Our coffee is packaged in a kraft foil, heat sealed bag, with a one-way valve and tin ties. I’d love to say this is a very green package, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not. This is actually a huge dilemma in the coffee industry. Foil bags are necessary in order to maintain the freshness of the product and product it while in transit to and in the retail environment. We are constantly in search of an environmentally friendly coffee bag. If any of your readers are aware of something that we may have missed, we’d absolutely love to hear about it!
What is the motivation behind what you are doing?
Obviously, the story behind the name is a huge motivation, but there was another motivating factor for me. We were on the bus one day, driving to a village, when I saw a young man on the side of the road. He was clearly exhausted, weak, and tired. He was laying under a tree. At that moment it occurred to me that I could be him. I could have been born in Uganda. I could have been born into extreme poverty. But I wasn’t. I was blessed with amazing opportunities. And because I was so richly blessed, I need to do anything possible to share those blessings with those in need. To me, Three Avocados is an opportunity to take the blessings and gifts that I’ve been given and multiply them for the sake of others.
What is the easiest way to regularly order from you?
We are currently working on a way to enable subscriptions on our web site so that our customers can automatically have the coffee shipped to them on a regular basis. Until then, signing up for our newsletter on our web site (http://www.threeavocados.org/) and following us on twitter (http://www.twitter.com/nonprofitcoffee) or facebook (http://www.facebook.com/threeavocados) are great ways to be reminded!