It has been some time since I posted on my blog. Yes, I have been busy, but the good news is that I was busy starting a new company. HaitiCoffee.com is now up and running and selling its first shipment of Haitian coffee in the USA
So how did a veterinarian end up in the coffee business?
Its a short story actually. Fate. I started looking into coffee as an income opportunity when several rabbit producers asked me if I knew where they could sell their coffee. Sales were way down and many coffee farmers had been cutting their trees to plant new products. I was also interested in coffee as an export because of our future interest in exporting rabbit. The more I researched coffee the more impressed I was with the potential. All the elements of the value chain still existed, but it had become fragmented.
Historically, from plant to cup, Haiti's coffee had an excellent reputation. In the 1700's Haiti produced 50% of the world's (or Europe at the time) coffee. It is reminiscent of Kona coffee with less of the caffeine jitters. It is grown largely in the mountains, shade grown and basically organic since there are no chemical options available in Haiti.
The industry took a severe downturn in the 80's with the embargo, was partially revived earlier this century when Haitian Blue coffee was created and promoted with assistance from USAID. Haitian Blue is a roasted and trademarked coffee that is made from wet processed beans grown throughout Haiti. It gained an excellent reputation, but became hard to find when management infrastructure ran into problems. So the farmers ended up sitting on beans with no market.
The more I researched coffee, the more fate placed opportunities in my path to reconnect the dots of the value chain. It was raining beans in my life by the time Yves showed up at my house for a Bay Area Haiti Network potluck. He went to Haiti as a Farmer to Farmer volunteer to further research the cooperatives and problems facing the coffee farmers. This resulted in valuable information and contact that lead ultimately to our first shipment of coffee and our partnership in Haiti Coffee. It was a challenge but in the end we learned so much in the last few months and have set up what seems to be a reliable system for exporting the coffee. 70 women had a job for several days picking through the beans. They were thrilled as coffee production has been a major source of income in this community and is something they know and do well. We are looking forward to doing business with them next season.
Our next challenge will be to build up enough capital to ship full containers at a time. It is an exciting time to be in the coffee business. Next month I hope to attend a conference on Fairtrade and other certification programs to see what is best for Haiti. The little research I have done raises more questions than answers. Hmmmm.