Movie: Black Gold

coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee

Postby scottlucey on Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:58 pm

if you're in the milwaukee area you can catch the film too during the milwaukee international film festival.
alterra coffee roasters will be doing some good stuff on the side too...
read more @ http://alterracoffee.typepad.com/alterra_coffee_roasters/2006/10/index.html#entry-13145045
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Postby Brett Hanson on Wed Oct 11, 2006 10:26 pm

Have the posters here had a chance to see the film and time to put their thoughts into comment form on this thread? It seems like most of the comments have been "can't wait to see this / seeing it tonight" and then no follow-up posts.

I just viewed it tonight here in Seatown at the Metro and have some mixed emotions.

As a film, it started with a pretty straightforward message for us in the first world- buy high-quality coffee, demand that it be sourced in a way that is sustainable for the farmers growing it, and be willing to pay a premium price for it, but then the film moved from a specific idea to a general one and the message was lost in the vague (but genuinely depressing) statistics of world trade. It seems like you could have ripped out the first 1/2 hour about coffee and replaced it with any traded commodity that first world nations extract from third world nations.

Does anyone here think they are "in reality" exempt from the charges this film levels against us in specialty coffee?

If yes, do you think your customers who see this film will be able to make that same distinction?

Yeah, I enjoyed a lot of the cameos in the film, too. One of my favorites was the Dean's Beans bumper sticker on Tadesse's fridge. Does this mean that TransFair is on notice too?
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Postby Mike Strumpf on Sun Nov 12, 2006 9:26 pm

i just got back from seeing it in boulder and i am in agreement with brett. i know that we all aren't the target audience, so i tried to think about it from an outsider's perspective. it was very powerful but i think that it tried to cover too many issues, and the depressing ending about world trade statistics lost focus for the entire film. i enjoyed many parts of it (especially the scaa conference and wbc that i was able to attend), but came away wondering what it all meant.

i understood that farmers aren't getting paid enough. i also understand that it is a documentary and can't really take a biased stance, so it can't come out and tell us what to do to solve the problem (even if there was such an easy answer). the only hint of how to solve this grower poverty that i was able to take away from the movie was fair trade. i heard that term many times, saw the logo, and my showing had some oxfam representation. this was confusing to me since both dean's beans and peace coffee (which were seen in the movie) have been part of the movement away from flo, oxfam, and other large certification companies. those and many other companies that are distancing themselves from flo believe in fairly traded coffee, but the difficulties of certification wasn't brought up in the film. personally, i would have rather heard more about certifications than barista competitions or the wto.

i don't think there are many companies are fully out of the clear from the charges the film brings. there are a lot of companies that i know of that are moving forward with relationship buying and other sustainable, traceable buying methods, but there sure aren't many that are up to 100% relationship coffees yet.

don't get me wrong, it was very powerful and i think very eye opening for the average coffee drinker. i think that i went into it with unattainable expectations, so it was doomed to be a let down from the beginning.

possibly my favorite part was after the movie hearing some ladies ask, "where in colorado can we buy coffee from the oromia co-op?"
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Postby nick on Thu Nov 16, 2006 10:57 am

PF Podcast interview with the filmmakers next week (probably Monday)... what should I ask them? What's our community's message back to them?

FYI, I'm watching the movie today (for the first time), and I got about 30 mins through before I had to leave... I'll finish it tonight.

Thought #1: Man... my hair was short (compared to now)
Thought #2: Gawd... I look fat
Thought #3: I sure am self-absorbed :wink:
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Postby Rich Westerfield on Thu Nov 16, 2006 8:27 pm

nick wrote:PF Podcast interview with the filmmakers next week (probably Monday)... what should I ask them? What's our community's message back to them?


1. "What does Fair Trade Certification say about quality in the cup currently and how does that perception improve once Wal-Mart starts selling FTC coffees?"

2. "What do you think about Intelly's Direct Trade program and others similar in spirit - and how does that change the farmer/grower/exporter dynamic?"

3. "Do I look better in pink or in brown with orange pinstripes?"
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Postby Alistair Durie on Thu Nov 16, 2006 8:48 pm

If starting again today with what you know now, what would be the film you'd make over?

The opening scene takes place in a cupping room, with Mané Alves describing an extraordinary Ethiopian Harar - everything that roasters are searching for. A great scene, yet it remained almost the only scene in the film that suggested that quality was the link to higher prices for the farmer. The specialty coffee industry was left behind while the film spun away vaguely into general world trade scenes. I was quite frustrated that the film did not concentrate, nor suggest any potential solutions for anyone.

Do they intend to make a follow up film about coffee - or are they simply whimsical concept filmakers and are going to do a film about GMO, then another of Iraq, and whatever else is marketable?

Do they have any questions for us? Do they have the balls to really make a movie about the coffee trade?
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Postby nick on Thu Nov 16, 2006 10:23 pm

Alistair Durie wrote:If starting again today with what you know now, what would be the film you'd make over?

The opening scene takes place in a cupping room, with Mané Alves describing an extraordinary Ethiopian Harar - everything that roasters are searching for. A great scene, yet it remained almost the only scene in the film that suggested that quality was the link to higher prices for the farmer. The specialty coffee industry was left behind while the film spun away vaguely into general world trade scenes. I was quite frustrated that the film did not concentrate, nor suggest any potential solutions for anyone.

Ali D., of "The Ali D Show" :wink:

You know, I watched that opening scene with Mane Alves, and for a moment, the thought crossed my mind that his comments were an editing job, and that Mane was talking about Esmerelda Especial, which slaughtered at the Seattle SCAA cupping pavilion, but they edited it so that it seemed like he was talking about a Harrar. I'm probably wrong about this, but the thought did cross my mind.

I was telling MarkP tonight that though folks on this forum seem to be bemoaning the lack of focus on coffee (especially specialty-coffee), that the movie isn't really about coffee at all... it's about global trade, through one "case study" of the Oromia coffee co-op. I mean, "focus?" There's one part of the movie where the film appears to be about the inability for certain WBC Chairpersons to remember the names of certain Estonian Barista Champions (from memory, I believe her name was "Katy Kljukina," but I could be wrong 8)). But that's not what the movie was about either. ;)

I've heard from folks that the last 30 mins or so the movie seems to "lose focus." That's a perspective that comes from a coffee-centric person... whereas I can see how the movie REALLY came together during those 30 minutes.

I agree that not many "answers" or solutions were provided. Tedesse mentions once about half-way into the movie that they've been working to bypass 60% of the middle-men and deal directly with roasters. It would have been nice if they sorta "brought home" that message and expounded on it a bit, but they didn't. *shrug*

I was, frankly, frustrated at the one graphic where they lumped Starbucks in with the Big Four conglomerates. That's not fair, and that's not cool. However... does anyone know? If the Big Four are 1-2-3-and-4, is Starbucks #5?

BTW, I don't know if folks have seen it, but I caught a documentary movie on cable called something like "Dark Harvest" a few months ago. It profiled a co-op in... I think it was PNG, but I'm not sure. The film was dated, but it contrasts fascinatingly with "Black Gold."
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Postby Alistair Durie on Thu Nov 16, 2006 11:34 pm

nick wrote:I was telling MarkP tonight that though folks on this forum seem to be bemoaning the lack of focus on coffee (especially specialty-coffee), that the movie isn't really about coffee at all... it's about global trade, through one "case study" of the Oromia coffee co-op. I mean, "focus?" There's one part of the movie where the film appears to be about the inability for certain WBC Chairpersons to remember the names of certain Estonian Barista Champions (from memory, I believe her name was "Katy Kljukina," but I could be wrong 8)). But that's not what the movie was about either. ;)

I've heard from folks that the last 30 mins or so the movie seems to "lose focus." That's a perspective that comes from a coffee-centric person... whereas I can see how the movie REALLY came together during those 30 minutes.


Its called Black Gold, and its subline is "your coffee will never taste the same". Its a film that headlines to be about the coffee trade, yet the focus widens into much vaster territory - and that may have been interesting if they had made ANY sort of POINT first, and came back to tie it all in.

To me that is a wasted opportunity. With more research and preparation, a much more powerful film could be produced that could have great and important impact on consumers and hence global coffee trade.

I believe consumers really do want to know and make good decisions about their coffee. This film leaves them as uninformed as when they started. The film lied: their coffee tastes the same, they know its fucked up, and they still don't know what to do.
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Postby Robert Goble on Fri Nov 17, 2006 12:16 am

It was a film about world trade -- just not a very good one. I contrast it to a similar (Life & Debt) film about world trade that focused on Jamaica and was amazing.

Black Gold pretended to be this same film w/o any of the substance

http://www.lifeanddebt.org/
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Postby Rich Westerfield on Fri Nov 17, 2006 6:24 am

It's coming here in two weeks as part of the CMU Faces of Democracy Film Festival.

We're using it as an opportunity for education, which is pretty easy since we can talk ad naseum about the benefits of Intelly's Direct Trade program. We've already talked about the movie on our blog.

Odd thing is, looking at the BBs and forums related to this movie, few people are up in arms over the Big 4 and most everyone it seems chooses to shoot arrows at SBUX instead. There's something wrong there.

Then again (without having seen it yet), I'm getting the impression this movie would not have been made without the seeming omnipresence of SBUX and its published core values as a convenient whipping boy.
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Postby tonx on Fri Nov 17, 2006 7:40 am

for those of you who use bittorrent, Black Gold is out there for the downloading in the usual places.


I second Robert's recommendation for Life and Debt - really nails it.
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Postby Brent on Fri Nov 17, 2006 1:47 pm

PaniniGuy wrote:Odd thing is, looking at the BBs and forums related to this movie, few people are up in arms over the Big 4 and most everyone it seems chooses to shoot arrows at SBUX instead. There's something wrong there.

Then again (without having seen it yet), I'm getting the impression this movie would not have been made without the seeming omnipresence of SBUX and its published core values as a convenient whipping boy.


there is a cut from the original *$ store to ethiopia - that is probably causing a fair bit of the "grief"

it also doesn't help that *$ are the ones guerilla marketing at screenings, an irony that would be possibly backfiring on them...

just my thoughts
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Postby Peter G on Fri Nov 17, 2006 2:12 pm

I just saw the movie last nite....

To be honest, given the reviews/feedback I had heard up to now, I was expecting to dislike it a lot more than I did. It did a GREAT job of capturing scenes of the coffee trade in Ethiopia, at the SCAA show, etc. There was a lot of good documentary filmmaking there, in my opinion. I could almost smell the air in Ethiopia during those first scenes in the countryside. I found myself wanting to show those scenes to my friends and family: "see, this is how coffee origin is."

I thought the gratuitous scenes were a little lame, i.e. portraying the coffee "industry" as egocentric, shallow, self-serving, and profiteering. Although, I must say that I myself feel that way after spending enough time at origin. I remember one time, after spending 3 weeks with coffee farmers in Nicaragua, I flew directly to Las Vegas for Coffeefest and a Roasters Guild meeting. The first night, we went to a restaurant where a meal cost as much as some Nicaraguan coffee farmers' annual income. I felt like puking. I couldn't eat that night, and I felt infuriated that whole weekend.

I see that the filmmakers want to capture that same sense of outrage about the fact that coffee farmers are structurally excluded from participating in the apparently booming coffee trade in the U.S. They are right; the huge majority of the coffee industry has kept coffee farmers where they have been since the colonial era: as the producers of a luxury that others profit upon.

Of course, as someone who is trying to restructure and reform that system by trying to set and deliver new standards of quality, transparency, and square dealing, I am frustrated that the filmmakers chose not to profile individuals and companies who are trying their damndest to circumvent and undermine the corrupt quasi-colonial system of commodified coffee. I sorta understand the decision, though; it is easier to make a "controversial, thought provoking documentary" when you focus on despair (which they did) than mix it with hope (as they did not).

I am also frustrated that they explicitly linked the coffee trade with deprivation and starvation (that quick cut between the clueless Starbucks managers and the theraputic nutrition clinic in famine-ravaged Sidama was a cheap shot), while ignoring other more germane issues like overpopulation, deforestation, climate issues, etc. In my view, they conflated their topic (the coffee trade) with other issues in world economics (subsidies, trade agreements) without sufficient explanation. While I agree that many farm subsidies in the developed world are unjust and corrupt, it has nothing really to do with the coffee trade. It does, however, contribute to food shortages in places like Africa.

The biggest exclusion of the movie was the fact that, for many farmers in developing countries, coffee farming is THE ONLY way to make cash. The only other option is immigration to cities and developed countries. Coffee, even at depressed levels, delivers more cash per acre than any other legitimate crop. Coffee purchased at reasonable prices by honest tradespeople can be a pretty good living for many farmers. And, it can be grown sustainably, with positive environmental and social impacts.

In all, I'm pretty sure I agree with most of the filmmakers' views on the inherent unfairness and corruption of the commodity coffee industry. I wager they agree that coffee can be traded sustainably and fairly, and when that happens it's a pretty good thing.

My problem with the film is this: if I would have seen this film when I was a politically strident college student, I would have said "I'm never drinking coffee again; it is an inherently corrupt commodity." and I might have switched to Rooibos or something. I found it funny that, in the music credits, one of the background songs was called "Starbucks" (Mechanics of Destruction) by Matthew "Herbal Tea" Herbert. I presume that Matthew has been sufficiently disgusted by the coffee trade that he decided to switch to herbal tea, and perhaps commmemorated the decision by writing a song about Starbucks and its mechanics of destruction. If that is indeed the story (I can't wait to ask the filmmakers about it), it shows a profound misunderstanding of the right thing to do. If we condemn coffee as evil and corrupt, and stop drinking it, developing countries will be left without any legitimate cash crops at all, and we will be in a much worse situation.

In reading everyone here's opinions, I think we all wish that the filmmakers would've captured some of the hope and excitement we feel about changing the way people think about coffee, and changing the way the coffee trade is done.

I do think, however, that the film, accurate as it is, is a great tonic for those who fail to understand how $1 cups of coffee are fundamentally unsustainable, and we must work hard to increase the price of coffee at all links in the chain.

Peter G

p.s. I will be at the CMU screening, doing a little talk. Rich, I'll see you there!
Last edited by Peter G on Fri Nov 17, 2006 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby tonx on Fri Nov 17, 2006 2:24 pm

Peter - I want to kiss you. Great review.
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Postby Brett Hanson on Fri Nov 17, 2006 4:51 pm

nick wrote:I was, frankly, frustrated at the one graphic where they lumped Starbucks in with the Big Four conglomerates. That's not fair, and that's not cool. However... does anyone know? If the Big Four are 1-2-3-and-4, is Starbucks #5?


I'm not sure of the exact numbers for the big four (can anyone find them?) The consensus from googling seems to be that those four buy 50% of the world's coffee. According to this wiki reference (2003 figures) and some diving in the cited site, 15,592M pounds were produced annually at that time.

I'm not certain that Starbucks is number five. According to page 2 of this profile, Starbucks purchased 312M pounds of coffee from farmers worldwide in 2005 which equates to less than 2% of the world's supply. Even if the big four were equally dividied, Starbucks would be way behind.
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Postby Rich Westerfield on Sat Nov 18, 2006 7:18 am

Peter G wrote:p.s. I will be at the CMU screening, doing a little talk. Rich, I'll see you there!


Peter,
That's fantastic. Loved your talking points above and so happy somebody is available to talk to those points.

We were planning on going to the showing on the 10th, but sounds like you'll be at the screening on the 2nd? Let us know which day you'll be there and we'll change plans accordingly.

I don't know if you've done this at other screenings, but that is such a great idea - if you, Geoff, Andrew, Ric, Vince and others could get to more of these screenings and explain what y'all are doing to correct these inequities. Thanks so much for taking this on.

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Postby Peter G on Sat Nov 18, 2006 8:18 am

I will be at the screening on Dec. 10.

I haven't done this at other screenings, but I'm so happy the event organizers contacted us. I agree, it would be nice if at every screening folks with firsthand experience in the subject could speak to some of the topics.

I'm trying to organize a screening in North Carolina, and if it happens I will try to get some discussion going afterwards.

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Postby Alistair Durie on Wed Nov 22, 2006 4:57 am

Great review Peter, I kiss you too.

I felt the film turned many people into even more confused, guilty drinkers than they ever were before. I often sense an understanding from the public that a problem exists and a desire to fix it (reason for huge success of the "Fair Trade" label).

As Peter points out - not drinking coffee is not the solution. The film makes coffee and coffee companies look "bad". What we would have hoped for is a film that gave consumers some direction of how to drink coffee responsibly. It did not communicate the power of change through consumer purchasing. If only some guide at how to distinguish specialty coffee from commodity coffee in the store and what the purchase means. Consumers do not have to run from coffee or drink it with a guilty pleasure - there is coffee to be proud of.

As a documentary that was presenting a problem it did not present any hopeful solutions.
Yet there are so many.
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Postby nick on Wed Nov 22, 2006 2:04 pm

Had a nice discussion with the filmmakers today, with Peter Giuliano as the ringer.

That podcast is up.
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Postby Sean Starke on Tue Nov 28, 2006 10:40 am

A thoughtful review, Peter; thanks.
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Postby Marshall on Thu Nov 30, 2006 5:32 pm

I've been more concerned with how the film plays to its intended non-pro audience than how the coffee community reacts to it. I left the following critique on the Black Gold website 11/25/06:

The film makers deny any malicious intent, but audience reaction makes it clear they succeeded in at least two things: making people feel guilty about buying Ethiopian coffee (unless it is Fair Trade), and ridiculing the specialty coffee industry. This is unfortunate. A barista competition might be an easy laugh for the uninitiated, but it is a small part of an important effort to educate the public about quality coffee.

Ethiopian coffee is among the very best the world has to offer. Read any specialty coffee publication or website where knowledgeable roasters and retailers write, and you will see how much excitement there is about the newest Sidamos, Harrars and Yrgacheffes. The baristas and shopkeepers that the film ridicules through artful editing are the very people who are the farmers' best hope for teaching the public about the true value of these coffees.

Ever-increasing quality and name recognition are Ethiopia's best hopes for future coffee prosperity. Hand-wringing guilt may, from time to time put a few more dollars in those farmers' hands, but not nearly as much as educated customers asking for Ethiopian coffees by name. If you doubt this, look at what your local specialty roaster charges for Kona and Jamaica Blue Mountain. No Fair Trade labels are needed to earn top dollar for those names, and Ethiopian coffees can be every bit their equals in quality.

When people go shopping and see a bag of Ethiopian coffee on the shelf, which idea is more likely to motivate them to buy it, a starving family or an astonishingly great cup of coffee? I think the latter.

The Ethiopians need technical guidance, better trade channels and good marketing. They don't need miscast scapegoats.


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Postby Rich Westerfield on Sun Dec 10, 2006 8:29 pm

Black Gold finally played here in Pittsburgh (last Sat & tonight) and this evening we had the extra special privilege of having Peter G. lead a Q&A after the movie. The theater was probably 90+% filled and I'd guess at least 20 people hung around to ask questions. In fact, the Q&A went on so long, the theater management had to throw us out.

There were two big laughs, one at Sammy's raising his arms at the WBCs, the second at the Starbucks manager expressing her enthusiasm for the company.

Interestingly, the people who took the time to hang for the Q&A were not focused on dissing Starbucks - or even the Big4. Rather they (most, anyway) seemed genuinely interested in learning how and where to buy Fair Trade and "Beyond Fair Trade" (Peter's words) coffees.

A couple of folks were hard core Fair Trade advocates (and one in particular seemed more interested in making a speech than asking a question... going on about colonialism), but once Peter got into the quality part of the equation, even they seemed to get that Fair Trade was just the start.

Seemed to me the issues most people had was that corporations aren't to be trusted (as in "just because Company X has one fair trade product out of hundreds I'm supposed to believe they're ethical?") and that auditing of some form by a third party is a necessity for the public at large (whom, judging from the questions I heard, aren't interested in taking the time to learn about coffee on their own - they need a label, any label, to tell them something is "fair").

I can't add to Peter's review other than to echo others on not realizing how fertile and beautiful Ethopia is (at least the coffee regions).

I was accompanied by three of our baristas (Frank, Belle and Lauren) who are all likely competitors this coming year. They were all suitably impressed and awed at learning so much. Perhaps more importantly, they were extremely proud to be serving coffees that are "beyond fair trade".

They immediately got together and decided to aggregate tips to sponsor a Coffee Kid - not realizing you don't actually get your own "kid". But who was I to squelch that enthusiasm? Anyway, whatever they decide to do we'll match it.

Thanks again Peter for making the trip up and leading the discussion. Can't believe it was your first time here. There's a raincheck on the beer offer for next time.
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Postby Robert Goble on Sun Dec 10, 2006 10:45 pm

I just spent the evening listening to this podcast and I have to say nick -- I was impressed at how you handled the interview. Very professional.

Peter you rocked too!
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Postby Peter G on Mon Dec 11, 2006 6:10 am

Rich-

Great to see you and your people yesterday. Thanks for representing, it was really nice to meet you and to spend a little time talking. 20 hours in Pittsburgh is too short!

I was definitely struck during the Q&A at how difficult it is to really capture the essence of the complexity of this issue in a brief talk to a large number of people. I was very struck by the following: everyone there seemed very sensitive and thoughtful about the issues in the film. And all wanted to know how they could support direct relationships with farmers, better pay for good coffee, etc. They just wanted to know how, as a consumer, they can really tell the difference. And you know what, I couldn't tell them. I explained that a great way to start was to have a conversation with the coffee roaster/buyer, and they said "how do I get in touch with them?" Good question. Also, the following :"I feel that Starbucks is obscuring their real buying practices with nice PR talk about social responsibility. If I have a conversation with a roaster and they claim Fairness of Trade, how do I know they are telling the truth?" Another good question, especially since (in my opinion) lots of roasters claim "their farmers" were well paid for the coffee when they may not really know.

I enjoyed the discussion, and I was thrilled to see such a full theater. Good times.

Peter
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Postby Brent on Mon Dec 11, 2006 1:36 pm

Peter G wrote: Also, the following :"I feel that Starbucks is obscuring their real buying practices with nice PR talk about social responsibility. If I have a conversation with a roaster and they claim Fairness of Trade, how do I know they are telling the truth?" Another good question, especially since (in my opinion) lots of roasters claim "their farmers" were well paid for the coffee when they may not really know.


I did a Q&A with Nick Francis and Barry Coates (the trade advocate in Black Gold) and when the question of how do we know came up I said to ask the roaster directly - challenge their practices.

In NZ I am only aware of one roaster claiming to be trading ethically who won't open his books so to speak.

We have always maintained that if people want to see our invoices for green coffee, thay are welcome to come and look (actually, they are welcome to literally look for them, cos I am not sure where they physically are at present :) ) and discuss from there...

I like the expression "beyond fair trade" sums up nicely what I have been trying to tell the local FT people - it's just a start. I also find Geoff Watts mail"a good place to point people as well...
Brent
Brent
 
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full name: Brent
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