Common Grounds Coffee Talk Stirs the Pot for EMU

This article was published in the EMU WeatherVane, a student newspaper.

A Nicaraguan coffee farmer and a local roaster teamed up last Thursday to discuss their efforts in supplying Common Grounds coffee in a way that is responsible and fair to the global community. Jamie Miller talked mainly about the challenges of coffee farming in Central America. Troy Lucas (of Lucas Roasting Co.) explained his role as a “conscientious middleman” in the coffee industry.

“There is a lot of money in the coffee industry,” Lucas began. “How can we change that industry so that the money that starts here gets back to the farmers? That’s the question we are trying to answer.”

Backed by a plethora of facts, Lucas and Miller painted a picture of a coffee industry unseen by most consumers, one in which social injustice is commonplace.

Much of the money earned in the lucrative trade remains at the top of the social pyramid. Subsistence farmers in Central and South America receive a very small percentage of the pay-off, earning between $1 and $2 per pound of coffee. Many coffee farmers do not have a large enough income to support themselves, let alone consider environmental issues.

In addition, the increasing lack of predictability in the seasons in Central America has led to widespread problems with coffee cultivation. “The rainy season isn’t the rainy season anymore,” lamented Miller.

“Our coffee is no longer getting the time needed to flower and mature.” Droughts and floods especially hurt farmers, since coffee plants have a maturation period of five years until flowering.

Lucas Roasting’s mission statement is, “to educate coffee consumers on conditions in the world’s coffee growing regions while producing incredible coffee.”

As part of a campus-wide dedication to sustainability, Common Grounds began purchasing coffee from Lucas Roasting Company several years ago.

Thursday marks the first time since that agreement that Lucas has given a presentation to the EMU community.

“I’m here to plant seeds of transformation,” Lucas said. “Educating the consumers in the industry is the first step.”

In this regard, EMU is well on its way to sowing the seeds of knowledge. Lucas and Miller were hosted by three student organizations: Peace Fellowship, EarthKeepers, and the Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI).

Tyler Eshleman, community coordinator of SFI, played an instrumental role in inviting the speakers and organizing the event. Because of his leadership position, Eshleman interacts with many Harrisonburg community members.

In addition, Eshleman’s family has purchased coffee from Lucas Roasting since its inception. When asked about their relationship, Eshleman laughed and said, “Lucas is very concerned about social justice issues. That’s one of the reasons we get along so well.”

In the spirit of Troy Lucas’s mission statement, Eshleman plans to continue cultivating the seeds of sustainability here at EMU through SFI. Eshleman hopes all coffee connoisseurs will join him in this endeavor.

– Harrison Horst, Staff Writer