At Riverford we develop long term relationships with growers who share our values. It generally takes years to build up the trust and understanding that encourages farmers to commit to growing for the box scheme and to concentrate on flavour rather than yield. When it all works (and I think it usually does) this close relationship enables us to deliver that flavour plus the social and environmental ethics in your box each week without a price premium. I went to school with several of our co-op members in Devon and after 12 years things run incredibly smoothly. But the more distant the grower, the more challenging building a relationship of trust becomes.
Earlier this year Armando from Brazil visited and shared a cup of his coffee while he told me the story behind the co-operative of 23 Demeter certified biodynamic family farms in North East Brazil where the beans were grown. Twenty years ago 65% of Brazilian coffee was grown by small family farms. Today the figure is 25% with the remaining 75% being grown by large farms and corporations on large, mechanised and chemically intensive farms. The displaced farmers and their families are mostly condemned to the grinding poverty of migrant seasonal workers or have moved to the urban slums of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The resulting coffee is traded as an anonymous international commodity. Under our agreement with Armando, the growers of our new Floresta organic coffee are paid at least 40% more than the Fairtrade price for the green (fresh) beans plus an extra 40% of the profits on the sale of the roasted coffee.
The best thing of all is the coffee itself. 100% Arabica, single estate, slow roasted and because it is delivered without any middlemen, competitively priced at £3.95 for 250g.
I have since enjoyed many cups with Armando, who has become a trusted friend, and I am really happy to be selling it. I would have liked to have visited the co-op myself, but in the meantime am reassured by Andrew Purvis, a friend who has written an article about it for the Observer Food Monthly “wake up and smell the biodynamic coffee”.