From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Pursue Good Coffee, Fairly

Date Fri, 22 Aug 2003 15:34:39 -0500


August 22, 2003

Lutherans Pursue Good Coffee, Fairly

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- After Sunday morning worship or during an evening
church council meeting the deep, rich aroma and smooth, caramel-like taste
of coffee can be invigorating for Lutherans.  But for some members of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) coffee -- one of the most
heavily traded commodities in the world -- is also a matter of faith and
     According to Lutheran World Relief (LWR), some 20 million coffee
farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America often struggle to make a simple
living and lack adequate health care and education for their children.
One way Lutherans are supporting coffee farmers is by purchasing coffee
directly from farmers in a process called "fair trade."
     In a conventional coffee trade, coffee beans are passed from the
farmer to a "middleman," processor, U.S. broker, coffee company, food
distributor, store and then finally to the consumer, according to Nancy J.
Goldberger, editor, Lutheran Woman Today, the magazine of Women of the
ELCA -- the womens organization of the church.
     "Everyone who has had a hand in the coffee trade has affected the
value of that coffee, leaving very little in return to help farmers cover
their harvesting expenses," Goldberger said.
     In January Goldberger traveled to El Salvador and met with a group of
coffee farmers and their families.  "We stayed in their homes and learned
about the realities of growing and harvesting a coffee crop," she said.
     Coffee was first grown in El Salvador as a cash crop in 1841 and
quickly became a dominant export, she said.  As time passed those who
ruled the land began exercising greater control over the coffee-farming
business, pushing the majority of the population out of fertile valleys,
Goldberger said.
     "For the coffee farmer today, selling a harvested crop can be tough.
In the free market, they may receive as little as 15 cents per pound," she
     Through fair trade, coffee farmers are earning more.  Fair trade
works to eliminate the number of intermediaries between the farmer and
     "Because coffee is such an integral part of parish life, it makes a
good entry point for a congregation to explore issues of economic and
social justice," said Brenda Meier, parish projects and partnerships, LWR.
LWR is the overseas relief and development ministry of the ELCA and
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
     "As parishioners learn about fair trade, they can also expand their
knowledge to other trade issues and learn how they can make a positive
impact for farmers and producers around the world, including right here in
the United States," Meier said.
     This fall LWR, Women of the ELCA and Equal Exchange -- a U.S.
worker-owned fair trade organization -- are launching a new challenge for
Lutherans in 2003-2004 called "Pour Justice to the Brim: The 90-Ton
     Last year, Lutherans were responsible for purchasing more than 45
tons of 100 percent fairly traded coffee, said Goldberger.  "What we would
like to challenge Lutherans to do this year is to double their effort.	If
one pound of fairly traded coffee was purchased last year, buy two this
year.  If you told two people about fair trade, tell four.  That impact
will be felt greatly.  Its a very simple act that we can perform every
day by raising our cups to support social justice," she said.
     The challenge is a way Women of the ELCA can uphold the Lutheran
World Relief Coffee Project and Equal Exchange, said Goldberger.  Equal
Exchange will track coffee sales from October 2003 to September 2004.
Lutheran Woman Today will feature stories about fair trade coffee and
other fair trade projects supported by Lutherans.  The magazine will also
track sales on its Web site -- .
     In 1997 LWR and Equal Exchange became partners and launched the LWR
Coffee Project.  The project is a "parish project that allows Lutherans to
make consumer choices that better reflect their faith and values," said
     By choosing fairly traded coffee over conventionally traded coffee,
Lutherans ensure that the farmers, who grew those beans, are "guaranteed a
fair price for their crop which will cover the cost of production as well
as provide income necessary for their most basic human needs -- food,
shelter, education and health care," Meier said.  "It maintains the
dignity of the farmer by giving them the means by which to earn a living
rather than rely on charity and aid which is not a sustainable way to
     Meier said the benefit for the consumer is "a high-quality product"
in exchange for their consumer dollar, and added that the quality
standards for fair trade coffee are much higher than for the "canned"
coffee available for lower prices.
     "The call to live faithfully can sometimes feel complicated and
difficult to do.  Drinking fairly traded coffee is one simple way that we,
as Christians, can do justice in our daily lives," according to Erbin
Crowell, director of the interfaith program, Equal Exchange, Canton, Mass.
     Crowell said Equal Exchange was the first company in the United
States to adopt international fair trade principles as part of the
organizations mission.
     "It is our hope that by maintaining a high standard for what fair
trade can be, we will not only benefit more producers but show
conventional coffee companies that fair trade works, while encouraging
those companies that are doing some fair trade to do more," he said.
     Over the years, "Lutherans have been a vital part of this effort,
helping us to spread the word about fair trade and the difference that we
can make -- through something as simple as a cup of coffee -- in the lives
of people" around the world, Crowell said.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

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