Direct Trade - A Better Deal for Farmers

The Farm to Cup Quest for a Better Bean

Written By: John Hamrick

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:


Geovanni Leiva wiped the sweat from his brow as he loaded the last bags of coffee beans on their way from his Guatemalan farm to the U.S. market. It had taken three years for this crop to reach maturity and his hopes for a better life were tied to the price he would receive for this commodity that is susceptible to notoriously wild market swings.

In years past, he could only hope for a good price from his local buyer since he would only see a fraction of the total profit his labor-intensive crop would bring in the export market. Now his worries have eased because of his relationship with roasters like Enderly Coffee Company who seek to ethically source beans, some directly from growers, ensuring a fair-market price, and more of the profits that previously went to exporters staying with the farmers. Premiums are also paid for gourmet beans that meet exacting standards for quality, providing additional incentives to continually improve their growing techniques, and strive for the highest quality harvests possible.

As Geovanni describes it, "Leiva's mission is to break cycles of poverty and give hope where there has never been before. We do it by locking arms with coffee lovers and like-minded people. Tony Santoro, founder of Enderly Coffee, was one of the very first people that said yes to our call to join our Familia back n 2013. Through our partnership, we have been able to provide clean water, fund a school and build homes for single moms. Our future depends on more partnerships like this. Thank you Enderly Coffee for choosing Leiva's!"




Fair Trade 2.0

There’s a confusing array of certifications aimed at everything from helping farmers to saving the environment. In a recent article by Creative Loafing, Counter Culture Coffee’s Meredith Taylor said, "No one certification covers everything. For example, organic is great if you're concerned about environmental sustainability. It's the same with the Rainforest Alliance. However, neither of those certifications addresses the social conditions or the economic sustainability of growing and selling coffee. Fair trade came in and filled that gap on the social side of things."

With all of these variables in the coffee market, Tony Santoro is mindful of the confusion all of these labels can cause. “My goal is to nudge people away from the be-all end-all mindset of 'what certification label does my coffee have?', but instead on how is your coffee sourced? There is no right answer because people's priorities are all different. As we strive to source more coffee ethically from growers, it’s about enlightenment and broadening our globally-social lens as we seek to do right by our farmers and partners.”

We were asked recently by a prospective customer if Enderly Coffee is Fair Trade certified and Tony responds, "We value Fair Trade, but look more at Direct Trade because it is about relationships, buying from a farmer year to year helping them to be more sustainable, while paying them in a way that allows them to keep more of their margin." Farmers have historically been paid very little for the labor-intensive process of growing coffee, especially since it can take up to four years for a coffee plant to produce cherries and most farmers make less than $2,000 per year. Fair Trade seeks to correct this imbalance, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Direct Trade aims to improve on this noble cause by establishing personal relationships between farmers and retailers, eliminating the co-op layer that adds overhead and tends to diminish the feedback loop that contributes to quality improvements and incentives for producing premium beans.

Direct Trade has been adopted by notable roasters including our neighbors Counter Culture in Durham, NC, and Union all the way across the pond in the UK. To see why this model is catching on, the following infographic helps illustrate the differences.

Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade

Infographic courtesy of: Bird Rock Coffee Roasters

Infographic courtesy of: Bird Rock Coffee Roasters

With certifications that seek to protect the environment, animals, and farmers, including fair trade, direct trade, organic, rainforest alliance, and bird friendly, it’s no wonder we’re perplexed when we’re just trying to find a good cup of coffee to start the day. But if the result of all of this is better coffee while helping a grower provide clean water, fund a school, and build homes for single moms, then we’re all-in on this direct trade journey.