In our attempt to narrow the gap between producers and consumers, the farmers who grow coffee and the people who drink it, it is not enough to merely give knowledge of the farmers to you, the consumer.
What could it be like to also make you, the consumer, more known to the farmer?
To take this further, what sort of barriers may dissolve in seeing one another face-to-face? Would it be possible to get beyond being just a consumer, where instead, we actually begin to care about this person whom we are engaging.
In general, we end up forming relationships over services rather than with the people that produce what is being served. For example, we opt for a local coffee shop, or visiting the same Starbucks because of a particular barista whom we engage and begin to form a relationship with beyond mere acquaintance. We go for familiarity. There is something about seeing a familiar face that we’re drawn to. It’s more neighborly.
We’re aware that neighbors are more than those who live in closest proximity. But could we begin to care about coffee farmers to the point that we view them as the neighbors that they are. If by chance we might encounter the farmer where he is, we would be confronted with the reality that the “transparency” offered to us within labels or brands, do not actually affect or empower these farmers. Rather, these labels and brands might serve only to convince ourselves that we are ethical, the implication being that we “care.”
This is just a glimpse into our minds of what we think about when we think about After Trade. In this, we are simply raising questions and admittedly we have done nothing to offer a solution. But this is part of our hope for After Trade: that our concern would always be for what remains after the trade of coffee, which is to say, our concern is for people, or more specifically, farmers and their families. To each individual and family who support us, we have offered our home in Tanzania, and many have agreed to come. It is our hope that we might arrive at some of the questions we have raised in this post, that rather than simply making a farmer known to consumers, we might create opportunities for those who drink coffee to meet those who grow it, but to meet them where they are. Indeed, this is true for any attempt at reconciliation that we must be willing to meet people where they are.