With the simple act of buying coffee, the Seattle University community will soon have the opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of families halfway across the globe.
When chemistry professor Dr. Susan Jackels visited a group of coffee farmers in Nicaragua nearly 12 years ago, she discovered a dire situation. The farmers and their families were nearly starving to death, and were receiving aid from Catholic Relief Services and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to stay alive while facing financial crises. Since that visit in 2003, Jackels has been dedicated to working with the community to help find a solution.
Twelve years and several service projects later, Jackels is confident that the farmers are in a more stable position. During this year’s spring break, Jackels traveled with Seattle U students and fellow faculty members to Nicaragua with the goal of determining a more profitable business plan for
“I already know that all the students—every single one of them who went on this trip—had a transformational experience,” Jackels said. “I know that they have come back completely motivated to follow up on their projects, take whatever steps are necessary, and become advocates for these farmers, because they saw the potential in them.”
There were two separate projects for the trip. While one group constructed a wastewater treatment system for a farmer and his family, the other group interviewed several farmers about their experiences with fair trade. This second group also came up with a way to import the coffee from Nicaragua to serve on the Seattle U campus.
“The purpose of the trip was to listen to the farmers and to find a practical way to help them improve their livelihoods,” said economics professor Dr. Quan Le, who assisted with both projects. “We learned that through selling the coffee through the fair trade market, the farmers] did not get the money that compensated for their production.”
The difficulty in making a large profit through the fair trade market is that the farmers must follow extremely strict rules and regulations set by Fair Trade U.S.A. On top of that, growing organic coffee yields 40 percent less of the product than growing nonorganic, and the compensation is not enough to cover the production loss.
The interviews provided vital information that will hopefully speed up the process of helping the farmers make more money, according to Le.
In the coming months, the group plans to buy and import the Nicaraguan coffee to sell it through Bon Appétit and the campus store.
“We’re really excited to see how we can expand that in the coming years with partners in the area,” said freshman Braden Wild.
Wild, a business student, was invited to go on the trip because of his work with Student Government at Seattle U and the Global Business club to help pass the legislation for Fair Trade U.S.A. on campus earlier this year. He said the trip allowed him to see the direct impact his work is making on the farmers’ daily lives.
“One of the farmers we worked with is able to put all of his kids through school—all six of them—and that’s something that’s very uncommon,” he said. “For me, [the trip] validated that all this work is worthwhile.”
Jackels and the students involved in the project insist that the coffee is so good that it doesn’t even need cream or sugar. In November of 2014, Jackels and her team imported and roasted a sample of the Nicaraguan coffee and served it at an event on campus. The reception of the product, Jackels said, was beyond her imagination.
“Everybody loved it,” she said. “This coffee is so smooth, it’s not bitter, it’s aromatic, it’s chocolatey, it’s wonderful.”
The group plans to return to Nicaragua in a couple of years to see if the efforts they make here in Seattle have translated to real change on the coffee farms. In the meantime, the Seattle U community will get to enjoy the coffee for more than just its flavor.
“Our hope is that someone in the community who imports coffee will recognize the value of this coffee and put us out of business,” Jackels said.
This is Bianca Sewake's fourth and final year at The Spectator, where she is the Online Content Editor and Managing Editor. She is equal parts excited and terrified that she is graduating with a BA in Journalism this spring. Unlike her hair color, Bianca's love for ice cream will never change.