St. Olaf Lutheran Church has been bringing coffee from Nicaragua into the markets and homes of Fort Dodge since May.
“It comes from a cooperative called 43 Families near a place called Leon,” the Rev. Dave Grindberg said. “43 Families is partnered with a Christian ministry in South Carolina.”
According to Grindberg, the ministry discovered the cooperative while on a mission several years ago.
“They saw that the beans were good. They saw the quality was good,” Grindberg said. “They also saw there were some places where they could shepherd them. So they bought the entire crop and formed a partnership that’s lasted for, I believe, eight or 10 years now. They buy the crop every year.”
The quality of the beans, Grindberg said, has increased, and 43 Families has become a viable player in the coffee market.
“The coffee is purchased at better than fair trade practices,” he said. “It is an amount that represents a liveable wage, which is well above the market price. Fair trade in Nicaragua is set at $2.40 per pound, and this coming year we’ll pay $2.85 per pound.”
The coffee is purchased from South Carolina, Grindberg said.
“We’re supporting what we believe is a fabulous ministry,” he said. “We have the coffee shipped to Ames, and Bergies (Coffee Co.), they roast and package and label our coffee for us. And they bring it up here, and we sell it for $12 a pound.”
The price, Grindberg said, is competitive with other major brands.
“When you spend $12 on major brands, you don’t know exactly what the grower is going to get. It can be anywhere from $1.20 probably up to that $2.40 fair trade mark,” he said. “When you spend $12 a pound on our coffee, the grower is going to get better than fair trade prices. And then after we’re done with our expenses, the remainder, which is about $2 to $2.50 per pound, goes back into our Nicaragua mission fund.”
Grindberg and St. Olaf church members have been visiting Nicaragua since 2000.
“We’ve sent at least one team a year, sometimes two teams. There’s a team down there right now. And it’s a fabulous experience,” he said. “You meet people who are in desperate situations. Many of them are starving, most of them are just trying to make ends meet. We’ve gone in for the last several years and we’ve brought gift bags in, we’ve brought food in, done medical clinics.”
The experience, though, can become tourism ministry, more benefiting to the visitors, Grindberg said.
“It changes us more than it changes them,” he said. “Instead of going down there and doing band-aid ministry, we’re selling a product for them that is a viable market product and it allows them to make a liveable wage on their own. They’re not dependent on the band-aid.”
The response, Grindberg said, has been positive.
“I set a goal this year, since May, of bringing literally a ton of coffee to Iowa. We’ve come very close to that goal,” he said. “We’ve sold pretty close to around 800 to 1,000 pounds here. It’s been very exciting.”