Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eudoran making a difference with coffee business

Eudora Superintendent Marty Kobza addresses the Eudora Planning Commission Feb. 5 commission member Glen Bartlett looks on during a public hearing on the rezoning of approximately 47 acres in the area of 10th and Peach Streets where the new elementary school will be built.

Eudora Superintendent Marty Kobza addresses the Eudora Planning Commission Feb. 5 commission member Glen Bartlett looks on during a public hearing on the rezoning of approximately 47 acres in the area of 10th and Peach Streets where the new elementary school will be built.

March 13, 2008, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: March 12, 2008, 3:56 p.m.

Kapeh Utz Coffee comes in a black and white bag. At the bottom of the front label are the words "good coffee" and "organic." While the packaging is simplistic, the manner by which the coffee within that bag has found its way to Eudora is anything but.

Just three months ago, Eudoran John Fawcett started Kapeh Utz (pronounced kaw-pay oots), which means good coffee in the Mayan dialect of Kaqchikel.

The genesis for the business began in November 2005 when Fawcett went on a mission trip to Guatemala.

"On the first missions trip, I didn't even want to go," Fawcett said. "I said 'I'm not in, but I'll go because somebody I respect asked me to go.'"

Fawcett, who attends Morning Star Church in Lawrence, said the trip was a life-changing experience. He has returned several times since to work on water projects. During those subsequent trips, he felt he could do more to help the people of San Lucas Toliman.

"You kind of get to know the people you're working with and what they're doing," Fawcett said. "You realize that there is a spiritual need, and there is also an economic need. What I believe God has called people to do is to help them spiritually, but also help them economically and support their businesses and support them in their dreams so they can gain an economic foothold and they can raise up out of poverty."

Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world and the U.S. consumes approximately 1.5 million tons per year. While coffee plantation owners are successful, a large amount of coffee comes from small farmers who must form cooperatives in order to compete in the marketplace. The typical income for these coffee farmers is $300 to $1200 per year.

Fawcett, along with his friends Jerot Pierce and Mike Hauser, saw this disparity and decided they wanted to improve the lives of the coffee farmers.

"Having someone that will take the time and have a relationship with these folks and back it up by conducting business with them in a way where you're not beating them down on the price is the backdrop for how all of this started," Fawcett said.

There are organizations in the coffee trade, namely the Fair Trade Organization, who have set forth environmental, labor and pricing guidelines. If a company follows those guidelines, they are able to use the Fair Trade Logo on its packaging. However, FTO also requires companies pay them for use of the logo.

While fair trade has its positive points, its fixed pricing - about $1.60 per pound - of coffee can be a blessing and a curse for farmers.

"It's a double edged sword," Fawcett said. "Even if you have a killer crop and quality is through the roof and everybody is ranting and raving about it, it doesn't matter. The price is set."

Kapeh Utz pays around $2.05 per pound. While they have purchased coffee from other cooperatives, the main cooperative they work with is called Ija'tz and is located in San Lucas Toliman.

By working with this cooperative, which is headed up by a woman, Fawcett also believes he is supporting a move towards a positive way of life for the people of the cooperative.

"It's rare in a Mayan organization to have a woman at the top and to have an organization realize that if they're going to progress they need to empower women," he said.

The cooperative, through the University of Texas, is developing programs to empower women as well as teaching them other valuable skills.

Another positive Fawcett sees in doing business with Ija'tz is supporting their farming practices. Ija'tz cultivates shade-grown coffee, a style of farming that provides a high-quality crop rather than a large crop.

The other positive to shade-grown coffee is environmental. If farmers are unable to make enough money off of coffee, they will have to cut down trees to grow crops that don't grow in the shade.

"Supporting specialty coffee that is shade grown helps keep their ecosystem in balance," Fawcett said.

On top of paying Ija'tz for the coffee, Kapeh Utz also is reinvesting 10 percent of all profits in Ija'tz. However, as is the case with many new businesses, Kapeh Utz is struggling to make a profit. However, Fawcett is optimistic.

""I know it sounds kind of corny, but I do feel called by God," he said. "I believe God's hand is in it. I believe that somehow this thing will get a life and support itself because no business subsidized forever is ever going to work. At some point it's got to produce. What we have to do is get the volume up."

Fawcett is unsure what the proceeds will go towards, but it will in some way benefit Ija'tz.

"When we reinvest money, we're going to reinvest it in November," he said. "I'm going down at the end of this month to work with I'Jatz to identify the project that we're going to do. They may have a project that's a $5,000 project and we only have $3,000 to donate. I don't know yet. It might be a multistage thing."

Currently, Kapeh Utz is not in any retail outlets other than Coffee Talk, 724 Main St. However, it is looking to expand, and the Mercantile in Lawrence is one possibility.

"We want to expand and do it with people who have a heart for this," Fawcett said. "If the story resonates with folks, that what we want."

Their Web Site, kapehutz.com will be online within a few weeks, as well.

Though business certainly could be better, Fawcett said the fact that Kapeh Utz is helping people softens the blow.

"Overall, we think that by honoring God, so to speak, and by doing the right thing, we do think that will be rewarded."

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