Organic coffee: more than just a business with Elan
by Randl Rupar
offee, the most consumed liquid, second only to water,
has become the people's choice as the elixir of life. To many who enjoy
coffee on a daily basis it is the socially acceptable and affordable method
of achieving that sought-after, "warm, fuzzy feeling."
Most choose their coffee for taste and flavor, never
realizing the powerful planetary impacts coffee wields. Environmentally,
it is one of the most chemically-intensive grown crops, third on the list
behind cotton and tobacco. Besides its ecological impact, coffee is the
world's second most traded commodity, falling just behind petroleum.
A socially-responsible win-win situation is finally
at hand, as coffee-buying consumers can choose to support the many small
indigenous organic farmers who employ environmentally sustainable growing
I recently had the chance to interview a dedicated group
of individuals from Elan International and its sister company, The Earth's
Choice Organic Coffee Roasters. There views shed light on why we need a
verifiable source of organic coffee.
Karen Cebreros is the founder and co-owner of
Elan and Earth's Choice.
ET: Karen, tell us about your comapny's beginnings?
KC: In 1989 I was invited by my brother-in-law to Peru. At the time,
my physical health was diagnosed as critical, and I questioned whether or
not I should leave my family. I decided to go, and the experiences changed
my life. I now have a clean bill of health and am fully impassioned with
my work. While in Peru, I was taken by the economic plight of the peasant
farmers and was compelled to help them. The coffee business was something
I knew very little about, yet I felt it was a way I could be involved.
I took a sample of coffee back to the United States
and met with some discouraging comments. Undaunted, I continued. I finally
met someone who said they would be interested in purchasing if the coffee
was organically grown. I had no idea what the heck they were talking about,
yet I knew I had found the key to beginning this venture.
The rest is history. I sold my stateside businesses
and started Elan International. Since 1990, Elan has given a premium price
to native organic farmers in Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and
Mexico. Elan helps these farmers go through the Organic Crop Improvement
Association (OCIA) certification process. This involves the implementation
of a soil-building program to encourage optimum soil health. The organic
methods guarantee that chemicals aren't added to the growing and processing
of coffee, and ensures that these methods promote the health of the soil.
A verification process prevents the farmer from growing organically simply
out of neglect or out of a lack of money to buy soil amendments.
Mark Perkins is the co-owner of Elan and Earth's
Choice and vice president of marketing and sales.
ET: How does the future look for organic coffee?
MP: Today, Elan works with over 4,000 farmers in five countries.
Last year, we imported two million pounds of organic coffee. Currently,
we are finalizing a contract with Superior Coffee Company, one of the largest
commercial suppliers of coffee in the United States. This project will also
donate a portion of the profits to Conservation International, a non-profit
organization dedicated to the preservation of tribal rain forest wisdom.
We are exporting to Japan and other European countries. We have created
our own line of organic coffee called Earth's Choice, and have secured funding
for the equipment required to become an OCIA certified roaster.
Organics are on every survey on any coffee category
that anyone is doing research on; there are flavors, decafs, and then there
are organics. Organics are now synonymous with a specific niche of the market.
The roasting of Elan's imported coffee was taking the next step of creating
a committed organic roasting process.
Tina Strelchun is the office manager and the
bilingual international liaison.
ET: Are consumers willing to pay the extra cost for a quality organic
TS: There is a wakening in the medical community going on right now
about prevention rather than just handing out antibiotics. I've been going
to naturopathic doctors since I was little. Finally, they have started to
incorporate naturopathic medicine and healing remedies into conventional
medicine. This goes right along with the organic movement and the increased
awareness of taking care of yourself. It's insurance. You pay a little more
for an all around healthier product.
Susan McDevitt is the sales account manager of
ET: From the perspective of thinking globally and acting locally,
how do you believe sales will increase?
SM: Globally, I am witnessing the full depth of our company's development
and support of economic and social programs for indigenous farmers. Our
commitment to the verifiable use of organic farming methods, which eliminate
the poisonous effects of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, protects
and sustains the health and well-being of the farmers, their families and
Locally, our quality organic coffee beans are conscientiously
roasted fresh daily and packaged with state-of-the-art nitrogen flush equipment.
This is meaningful to the retailer who understands the "fresher the
roast the better the coffee" concept. Because we roast in our San Diego
location we can deliver with minimal transportation costs and cut back on
pollution generated by shipping out-of-state. Therefore, the consumer who
purchases our organic coffees is not only enjoying a choice cup of coffee,
they are also living the ideal of the social, economic, and environmental
aspects of thinking globally and acting locally.
Randl Rupar teaches nutrition and operates a vegetarian catering service.
He lives in Oceanside, California, where he counsels, gardens and surfs.