“You shouldn’t talk so fast—you’ve got a long day ahead of you.”
This is what a stranger said to me as I was explaining that Fairtrade farmers in Guatemala grew the free coffee she was waiting in line for. Clearly, she was worried that I’d burn out before Passport DC—an annual event where embassies open their doors for one day only—would end some six hours later. I appreciated her concern to “pace myself.”
Sure, it was a long, exhausting day. And at one point, I distinctly recall running down Massachusetts Avenue with a half gallon of organic milk in each hand and another three gallons in my backpack. The experience was far from draining, though—it was quite the opposite. I get so much energy from talking to people like her about what I’m passionate about: Fairtrade and getting a fair deal for farmers.
Traditional Bolivian flag dancers demonstrate their cultural pride during the Passport DC event. Photo by Ezra Gregg.
Community events like this, where the Fairtrade America team served more than 2,000 cups of free coffee to some of the 30,000 Passport DC visitors, don’t just burst fully-formed out of one’s head, Athena-style. They take months of planning and careful execution. What this really boils down to is, well, emails—emails and meetings and emails to follow up the meetings.
It’s not glamorous. It’s not sexy. If anything, it can make you more and more disconnected from the real mission and drive that brought you to work at a nonprofit in the first place. Calling the printers, ordering 10,000 napkins, creating a run-of-show spreadsheet.
All crucial. All dull.
The Bolivian craft vendors were grateful to recharge with complimentary coffee. (Beans donated by Atlas Coffee, roasted and served by Mayorga.) Photo by Ezra Gregg.
But I’m not alone. This May, thousands of people around the world have pledged to host a Fairtrade Coffee Break, supporting farmers and educating their friends, colleagues, families, and communities about their plight. Coffee prices are at a near-record low. Farmers are having to deal with the effects of climate change, such as fast-spreading fungal diseases that are devastating their plants. With historical trade injustices and a supply chain that funnels profits away from farmers on top of that, you have a perfect storm for those who grow our food.
These event leaders will have the same ups and downs as I have. They will feel like they’re sending endless emails to plan, organize, and invite. They might, at some point, wonder what it is exactly that they’re doing. How can one event in one place with a handful of people who walk this planet really make a difference?
Photo by Ezra Gregg.
But then, the day will come: the coffee brewing, the sugar spoons lying gently on a heap of granules, the cream causing a small puddle of condensation on a white table cloth. And, in the end, it won’t be about the free coffee. It will be about the conversations that take place—the sharing of ideas and hopes for the future.
Volunteers serve thousands of cups of free Fairtrade coffee from the Mayorga Organics food truck. Photo by Ezra Gregg.
I got so much energy from walking up to visitors last weekend and talking to them about the stories behind their coffee. Some were interested, some weren’t. But, in the end, I think I got the most benefit out of it. I got to flex my activist muscles, excited to find that after months of emails and meetings, they have not atrophied but grown stronger.
As my Executive Director, Hans Theyer, said after the urns had been washed, the trash picked up, and the cargo van packed, “I felt like a volunteer today. Running around, pitching in where necessary, talking to people—it’s good for the soul.”
Fairtrade America’s Executive Director, Hans Theyer, hits the streets of DC to spread the word of Fairtrade’s mission to empower small-scale farmers. Photo by Ezra Gregg.