Farmers First Coffee – Rosa’s Blend
Ever since I watched the films Black Gold and Dukale’s Dream, I’ve had this incredible desire to go visit a bunch of coffee farms and figure out a way that I can make their lives and their family’s lives better. I can’t even tell you how jealous I am of Matt and Robert at Farmers First Coffee Company.
I stumbled upon Farmers First on Instagram and I was so excited about what they were doing, I just had to share their story with you.
Farmers First History
Farmers First was founded by two really awesome guys named Matt and Robert, who are not just passionate about coffee, but even more so about the farmers that grow it, hence the name, Farmers First. They don’t believe that fair trade is good enough, and I couldn’t agree more. If you look at their website, you’ll see that when they drink coffee, they always ask two simple questions;
- Who is the farmer that grew this coffee?
- How much was he or she paid?
Have you ever asked yourself either of those questions? If you have, then you would be able to answer it when you drink their coffee.
Ok… moving back to their story. Matt and Robert met in Honduras, while Matt was there working as an English teacher. The region they were both living in was surrounded by coffee farms, and they had many opportunities to go out and meet the local farmers. The struggles that they farmers went through became real to them.
Matt moved back to the U.S. in 2013, and continued dreaming about coffee. In 2016, he and Robert decided to make their dream of providing a better life to these farmers a reality.
Q & A with Matt from Farmers First
I had the opportunity to talk to Matt on the phone, and he was nice enough to do an interview with me. I had a bunch of questions to ask him about Farmers First, so here’s how that conversation went.
Q. What was it that made you so passionate about coffee, and the farmers that grow it?
A. I was teaching English in Honduras in 2013, where my business partner and I met. It was actually a donation from my family that I was to pass along to someone down there that I felt could use it. I ended up meeting a woman by the name of Sister Maria who had a nutrition center that she sent 115 children school meals. Through that donation, I was able to feed these children chicken, once a week for four months.
I had never consider not eating meat. It really just kind of touched me. I started drinking coffee about the same time. I noticed how amazing coffee really could be compared to what most people know it as, so it really just kind of became a passion and hobby that I really just started thinking about. A couple of other things led me to go pursue a masters in public health. I wanted to take this unique idea of trying to improve the lives of coffee farmers from a public health aspect, as well as an international development aspect.
Upon graduation, my business partner, Robert, and I decided to go into business together and we met up in Peru. Number one, they have opposite growing seasons than Honduras, and we just decided that was going to be the best place to start. We spent 8-9 months just really diving into the industry, figuring out how we could do this and be impactful. The way we created our 50% model was first off by asking those farmers what they really needed. What was the biggest thing that we could do to help them. Not just help, but create a partnership. The 50% is due to the fact that we just wanted it to be substantial.
Right now, our first two farmers have been able to raise their profit as a farm by 60% and 80% respectively. This allows them to invest in their farm, AND their family. We also asked them what they though about a bonus that was paid six months after the sale. Farmers often only receive one payment throughout the year. We structured to pay a bonus six months after the point of sale to help not only provide more income but to act as a buffer against things like food insecurity.
Q. Can you explain a little more about the 50% model, and the bonuses you pay your farmers?
A. The 50% is the bonus. Essentially what we’ve done is given them that 50% and it also allows us the opportunity to tell their story. We use their names and their faces on the front of the bags and just really try to connect people to the coffee by letting them know exactly who grew their coffee and to do that we needed to make sure that we were providing enough of an incentive to them that they would share their lives and their stories with us. It’s actually really awesome to see how willing and how happy they were to share their story and how much they wanted people to know.
Even more than the bonus, many times they were like, come here, visit us. They just wanted to be seen through their story of how much they love coffee, and the challenges they face. So by bonus, we do just mean that 50% extra that goes to them. We will look to provide extra bonuses in the future.
Q. On your website you say that your coffee is not certified organic, but it’s basically organic, without the certification. What does this mean?
A. We’re looking into organic certification, but you need to be certified throughout the entire chain. Our farmers are certified, but in the young stage of our company we’re just not there yet. It’s a certification we certainly will explore. Fair trade is kind of what we’re attempting to go against. We feel like they’ve done a good job allowing farmers to gather in cooperatives and allowing them to reach foreign markets as times gone on, but the problem we have is the consumer thinks that this farmer is getting a good deal because his coffee is fair trade but it’s not actually what we’ve seen.
They have a minimum floor price of $1.40/pound, which right now it’s roughly $1.30 on the global market, and they get a bonus of 20 cents, which actually goes right back to the cooperative. It never makes it back to the farmer. Our bonus goes directly to the farmers and goes four times beyond the 20 cent bonus of the fair trade.
Q. How do you chose which farmers you buy coffee from?
A. Our early introduction was through our importer, which introduced us to a bunch of farmers early on. To be honest I think it’s going to be a huge learning curve. We certainly want quality coffee, but what makes us different is that we call our model the social microlot model. A microlot is coffee that comes from one specific farm. So by us putting this 50% bonus up front before we even try the coffee, just because we want to have a correct partnership, kind of gives us access to this microlot coffee, which has turned out to be really really tasty.
It gives these farmers an opportunity that they previously never had, to be showcased for the hard work that they do. Typically, coffee all gets mixed together. Good farmers, bad farmers, good quality, bad quality, all gets thrown in and sent on a container that’s 37,000 pounds. That’s what most people are used to drinking, and that’s where ours really stands out. The reason it’s a much better quality is because it’s from that one specific farmer.
So moving forward, we’re currently looking at new farmers in Honduras. We have our basic interview process that we use but you never really know what’s gonna happen when you get out there. So we don’t really have a specific set as to how we chose our farmers at this point in time.
Q. Do you roast your own coffee beans or do you have someone that does it for you?
A. We are partnering with a roaster here in North Carolina. We just set up shop in Charlotte, and our roaster is located just outside of Charlotte where we will now focus on wholesale. He’s a fantastic roaster, very talented, and allows us the opportunity to spend more time where we want to. Our ultimate goal is to sell the coffee and then get more farmers.
Q. What would make you feel successful as a business?
A. Our main goal is the more farmers we can work with the more successful we are being. It’s hard to put a number on that though. We have three right now, but if we were to get to 500 one day, we’d be a pretty big company, but we’d be able to look at that impact and say we’ve been able to improve the lives of 500 families.
Q. Is there anything that the average coffee drinker can do to support farmers like Daniel and Rosa?
A. It’s transparency behind the company that you look to buy your coffee from. The more they’re willing to tell their story and share with you the more trustworthy they can be. The more up front the company is with their relationship with their farmers and how they get their coffee the better. You as the consumer, you are the ultimate end person that picks the price.
We all want our money to be spent on a valuable purchase, which has led to over a century of lower and lower coffee prices. If we’re ever going to change it, it’s going to be one person at a time, making sure that they’re drinking a coffee that they know is making an impact with the problem that currently exists.
Q. Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like my readers to know about Farmers First?
A. I think I would just say to consider the implications that we spoke about, as to what your purchase can mean to someone else’s life. We are often very distant to these issues and it’s easy to not think about it. By making a purchase to a company that’s doing good, whether it’s coffee or clothes, or any other agricultural product, you truly are putting your money where your mouth is and helping to make a difference. It’s small acts of kindness that help to change the world. And it’s great coffee!
As you can see, Matt and Robert are truly dedicated to helping people, and educating people on how incredibly difficult, and fulfilling it can be to be a coffee farmer. If you truly care about making an impact, and really helping people that are truly in need, then I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be excited about what Farmers First is doing.
Before I even decided to do a blog post on Farmers First, I bought a bag of their Rosa’s Coffee. I had a really hard time deciding between Daniel’s or Rosa’s but in the end, I was intrigued by the tasting notes in the Rosa’s, dark chocolate, almond, brown sugar, caramel, grape, and roses.
Rosa’s coffee is grown just outside of the town of San Ignacio in the Cajamarca region of Peru. It’s a washed coffee, and is grown at an altitude of roughly 1550 meters, or just over 5000 feet.
This coffee was roasted and then mailed to me all on the same day, although it took a couple days to get to me. (Well worth the wait!) It was as fresh as mailed coffee can get, and it smelled soo good. The coffee itself was very rich for a medium roast, but I also found it to be quite smooth as well. I was able to taste a lot of the dark chocolate right at the front of the sip, followed by the very unique hint of flowery notes. You might think it sounds weird to drink flowery coffee, but it’s actually VERY good!
I was really happy with how great the Rosa’s coffee was, that I’m really looking forward to trying the Daniels, and the Emeliano’s (which hopefully will be out in January). If you haven’t gone over to the Farmers First website and purchased a bag yet, I would highly recommend do so right now.