Innovative 'Coffee Relief Fund Raises Over $180,000 For Central American Hurricane Victims

The “Relationship Coffee” Business System Pioneered by Sustainable Harvest Provides A Strong Framework for Donations to Quickly Be Raised & Disbursed Directly To Farmers in Guatemala and Mexico

Portland, OR (January 19, 2006) — In October, while Hurricane Stan ravaged organic coffee growing communities in Guatemala and Mexico, the impact of Hurricane Katrina was a month old but was still capturing the headlines and the attention of disaster-fatigued Americans. In light of the many challenges that plagued the Katrina response, it was apparent that a different kind of relief effort would be needed to provide timely resources and compassion for the communities devastated by Stan. Coffee industry leaders that use an innovative social business approach called Relationship Coffee utilized key attributes of the system to quickly raise funds and implement direct disaster assistance that is reaping dramatic results in the region.

Pioneered by Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers in the late 1990’s, Relationship Coffee is an economic and social impact-based system that depends on strong personal bonds between all entities in the product chain from source to consumer. When Hurricane Stan struck, David Griswold created the Coffee Relief Fund and activated his Relationship Coffee network, and for logistic support enlisted the non-profit development group Ecologic Alliance ( ), based in Cambridge, MA.

“Our role as a coffee importer is to find ways to help our supply partners, and the need has never been greater than in the last few months,” says Griswold, the President and founder of Sustainable Harvest of Portland, Oregon. Griswold contacted the leaders at farming cooperatives in the devastated regions for up-to-date information on the damage and needs of the communities. He placed calls to his colleagues at roasters in the U.S. that source beans from the cooperatives in the impacted regions to ask them to donate critical relief funds. The response was immediate and generous. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Newman’s Own Organics, Whole Foods Markets, Allegro Coffee, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Sustainable Harvest and individuals have contributed $182,000 to the Coffee Relief Fund, which includes a match of $50,000 that is forthcoming from the Inter-American Development Bank.

In Guatemala and Mexico, the mudslides and flooding due to Hurricane Stan killed hundreds of people, destroyed thousands of homes and caused major food and drinking water shortages. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian aid such as food, shelter and medical care, the Coffee Relief Fund has helped salvage a significant portion of the coffee harvest in the region – the primary source of income in the communities.

From an economic standpoint, Hurricane Stan could not have hit at a worse time. Thousands of small-scale farmers were preparing for the harvest, which was imminent. The massive mudslides destroyed coffee farms, and the winds and rain uprooted coffee trees and knocked a large percentage of ripening beans from the trees. The entire road network in the region was damaged, washed away or blocked by debris complicating relief efforts and commerce related to the harvest and transport of coffee beans. The Coffee Relief Fund has helped repair roads, and fixed key production facilities and coffee farms.

“After gaining donation commitments, we partnered with the non-profit Ecologic Alliance to streamline the financial process and quickly get the collected funds directly to the cooperatives,” notes Griswold, whom will visit colleagues in the impacted region later this month. “The co-ops in these remote areas do much more than mill coffee and find export markets,” says Griswold. “They also serve as the key organizational structure for community programs that improve nutrition, health and education, protect natural resources, and provide training in organic farming methods.” Now, they have also taken on a new role as emergency service providers.

“These Fair Trade-certified coffee grower cooperatives are very well-organized and able to get food, medicine, shelter and other essential resources directly to the families in an efficient manner,” says Griswold. Manos Campesinas is a farmer-owned and managed cooperative union in the western highlands of Guatemala that represents more than 1,000 disadvantaged coffee growers practicing shade-managed and organic farming techniques. Across the border in Mexico, Campesinos Ecologicos de la Sierra Madre Chiapas is a farmer-owned cooperative representing 750 rural coffee producing families cultivating organic, shade grown, and fair trade-certified coffee. “Because we already had a Relationship Coffee system in place with these co-ops, every dollar raised has gone directly to relief and rebuilding efforts,” notes Griswold.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is a good example of the end-consumer aspect of the Relationship Coffee model. “Green Mountain Coffee Roasters goes the extra mile to know the people with the cooperatives personally and are familiar with the communities and their needs,” says Griswold. The company immediately stepped up to support the Coffee Relief Fund, donating $80,000 so far. "Providing direct recovery assistance to the cooperatives we work closely with is a very effective and efficient way to help the communities get back on their feet,” says Rick Peyser, Director of Social Advocacy & Public Relations for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters based in Waterbury, Vermont. “The Coffee Relief Fund has been instrumental in helping the producers rapidly regain what they may have lost in their quality of life and quality of coffee," adds Peyser.

Since 1997, Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers has been the leading provider of organic and fair trade coffee to the North American specialty market. The company imports more than 8 million pounds of organic and fair trade shade-grown coffee annually from small farmer cooperatives in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

Sustainable Harvest created the Relationship Coffee business concept to build strong ties between conscientious farmers that produce exemplary coffees and specialty coffee roasters. The program is based on: quality control training; full transparency of all business, price, and quality information; traceability of the coffee from cooperative to cup; and pre-trade financing. Sustainable Harvest is particularly unique due to its commitment to reinvest profits into farmer educational training programs. Grower assistance comprises nearly 40% of Sustainable Harvest’s annual budget, including services such as agricultural and business training, marketing, access to markets, pre-harvest crop financing and certification support. For more information, please visit

# # #

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.