After you graduated from Georgetown University, you had a successful career on Wall Street, but now you have mastered the art of Reimagination by becoming a co-owner of Buena Vida Café Organico and a leader in re-shaping the coffee industry. Tell us how that came about and your goal for the company.
I started my journey with the intention to buy from Buena vida Café Organico for our Tutto il Giorno Restaurants in the Hamptons. However, before placing our first order, my husband, my partners and I quickly realized that there is less than 1.5% organic/regenerative Coffee in Costa Rica, less than 7% organic/regenerative coffee in the world, and that the specialty coffee industry represents less than 3% of world coffee production. Additionally, it was alarming to hear that 80% of farmers live on the poverty line or below. Even many that sell specialty coffee, which sells for a higher price, struggle to make ends meet. When we hear that people pay a higher price, most times it’s clearly not high enough to cover the cost of coffee production and make a decent margin for the farmers. As a result, there is almost no second, third or fourth generation in farming and the number of farms is rapidly declining. In Costa Rica 12 years ago, there were 52,000 coffee farms, and now there are 27,000 or less.
As a result of all our findings, we decided to not only buy coffee, but to invest in a company that can create a platform to re-shape the coffee industry. We embarked on a journey to heal the soil as well as promote farmer prosperity. I became an ambassador for the documentary Kiss the Ground and now Common Ground that is being released this month. I speak to different regeneration and climate change experts as well as different coffee experts, foundations and everyone who will listen and be willing to be part of this transformation. Recently, we engaged Denton Global Advisors to help build a think tank of action oriented experts so we can provide farmers with technical assistance and financing to move to regenerative farming and create a new industry where they can sell their coffee at a price that lifts them out of poverty. An industry where the value chain works to create prosperity for all and not just for parts.
There are very few experts that know how to farm organic/regenerative coffee, so we decided to build a platform that truly represents farmers and provides them with the right tools and solutions for the various challenges they face. Farmers take all the risk for growing coffee i.e all the downside and very little or none of the upside, and the financing is usually extremely expensive and scarcely available. As a result, we are working with BAC San Jose, a privately owned bank, to give them access to capital at bank of development rates.
It’s a frustrating reality that farmers make less than 7 cents from the sale of an average cup of coffee. The industry needs to change, and it’s up to the consumer to vote with their purchase. They need to get educated on the issue and dig deep. I love working with our farmers. Working with them means understanding their challenges from their perspective and finding solutions from our perspectives as a group. My partner Manuel and I go to many farms and every day we understand more and learn more. As I said before, collaboration is key!