No, this fair ground doesn’t have a Ferris wheel, but Fairly Grounded Coffee & Tea is a community hub nonetheless
There’s a new coffee shop in the neighborhood, and it’s not your average cup of joe.
The idea of creating community over a cup of coffee has long been held around the world. Good conversation and business deals take place while enjoying cups of coffee.
As the New York Times wrote in 1949, “Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy. [Coffee] is a social binder, a warmer of tongues, a soberer of minds, a stimulant of wit … it is the perfect democrat.”
This sentiment has been taken to a new level at Fairly Grounded Coffee and Tea, which opened in September. Not only are they interested in creating a community space where one can go to relax, converse with friends, and imbibe award-winning coffees and teas, but they also work with the local community and even communities abroad.
The café, owned by Julie Douglass, is connected to her equally socially responsible shop, Artisans Fair Trade. Douglass always wanted to open a coffee shop. She loves the smell of coffee, making coffee and the social aspect of coffee—meeting people and hearing their stories.
About three years ago, Douglass and her husband, both trained anthropologists, went on a trip to Myanmar. While there, they visited some tiny, mountainous villages populated by the Akha, an ethnic group that originated in China and Tibet. Their guide told them about one such village in a marginalized area of the country. It was too high in elevation for the people to grow rice. The people previously had made a living growing opium, but the government had cracked down on the illegal trade, so they had no stable source of income.
“They basically had nothing, and [the guide] was trying to collect money to put in a tea farm for them,” recalls Douglass. Before they left the country, the Douglasses decided to help with the project. When they asked the guide what it would cost to implement the entire thing, the answer was astonishing: $100. The Douglasses immediately gave the money to start the tea farm. “That’s when I realized that it doesn’t take that much money to make amazing changes for some of these people,” says Douglass.
This experience inspired Douglass to do some research and ultimately to open her fair trade store and cafe to help support the people in communities like that one. All of the teas and coffees served at Fairly Grounded are fair or direct trade products.
“Fair trade is a system where the producers are paid what is considered to be a fair wage in their local context,” explains Douglass. “That’s the broad definition.”
Since coffee is a market commodity, the price fluctuates. The big coffee companies buy the beans at the cheapest price they can. Fair trade organizations create a “floor” on the price of coffee. This means that no matter how low the market price for coffee beans goes, the fair trade growers will receive the set price. If the market goes above the “floor” for fair trade coffee, the growers are guaranteed a certain percentage above the going market rate. Fair trade organizes growers into cooperatives and helps the farmers produce better crops and more consistent crops. They also often contribute to the community by doing such things as building schools and making sure that children aren’t missing school to work on the farms.
“In some parts of the world, there is a big problem with child slavery on cocoa and coffee plantations,” adds Douglass. “In order for growers to get a fair trade price for their crops, they have to demonstrate that there aren’t those kinds of abuses going on.”
There are criticisms of the fair trade model. Being part of a cooperative means that everyone gets the same price for their beans. If a grower has an especially superior product, there is no way of rewarding or recognizing that. There is a new system called direct trade that addresses this issue. In this system, the roaster goes directly to the grower and develops relationships with the communities in order to establish fair pricing for the purchase of their coffee.
Douglass gets her coffee from Portland Roasting, a direct trade company. According to their website, www.portlandroasting.com, they “pay above market prices for the coffee and an additional premium finances community assistance projects such as tree planting, constructing water treatment facilities and community centers, building schools and funding teacher’s salaries. Projects are created through a collaborative process with community members and farmers.”
This means that the prices are established based on the individual farmers and their product and that they receive the money directly—not after other organizations have taken their share—getting considerably more money for their beans.
Fairly Grounded is not the only place in town that carries fair trade coffee. Delta Cafe, 1500 Prater Way, Sparks, also serves exclusively fair trade, organic coffee. Tahoe Roasting Company of Reno, which will be opening another store in Sparks in the near future, brews and carries triple certified coffee—certified fair trade, bird safe and organic. On the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, fair trade coffee can sometimes be found at the Northside Cafe in the Student Services Building where they serve Seattle’s Best Coffee, which offers a variety of fair trade blends—and at Bytes in the Mathewson IGT Knowledge Center where they serve Peet’s coffee, which also offers fair trade blends. You can also find fair trade coffee regularly at Trader Joe’s, 5035 S. McCarran Blvd., and Whole Foods Market, 6139 S. Virginia St. Whole Foods has a “Whole Trade Guarantee” and have initiated fair trade practices in cooperation with their supplier, Allegro Coffee.
The atmosphere at Fairly Grounded reflects the idea of community. Douglass is interested in getting involved in the local community and providing a venue for neighborhood activities. She has talked to several groups, and some ideas include jazz evenings, readings and even a flamenco class. Starting on Jan. 10, there will be a Saturday morning yoga class offered at the café. All of her baristas are artists and during the August Artown festival, there will be a series of shows at the coffee shop, including one featuring the artwork of the employees. Fairly Grounded is a comfortable setting with free wi-fi and Douglass’ dog, Tra La La, a gray-black Bouvier, has even become a mascot at the coffee shop. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee, converse, and become part of a community at the local level that could have global implications. It’s a great example of “thinking globally and acting locally.”