AN HONEST CUP
Pachamama Coffee Cooperative is 100 percent farmer owned.
PHOTOS BY RACHEL VALLEY
In the Andean culture of South America, Mother Earth, the goddess of fertility, is felt in the aroma of rich soil that farmers tend to with care every day. Their hard work and long hours also are reliant on her to grant optimal weather and, with her blessing, a healthy harvest. In Quechua, an indigenous language primarily spoken in the Andes region, she’s known as Pachamama, and it’s with deep respect for the earth and the farmers that work it that the Sacramento coffee roaster named for her remains grounded.
Owned by co-ops in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, and Nicaragua, Pachamama is 100 percent operated by the farmers who grow one of the world’s most prized commodities: coffee. Each co-op controls 20 percent of the equity of the company, and each country has a representative on Pachmama’s board of directors. The coffee cooperative currently has two café locations, one in East Sacramento and another in Midtown, where all the roasting happens.
While most specialty coffee companies and roasters buy directly from farms in countries where coffee production is the majority, others buy fair trade and pay a 10-cent premium for every pound. That premium is meant to fund scholarship programs and community development to help the farmers operate in a more sustainable fashion. Yet as rich as the coffee industry is in both flavor and in the stock market, coffee farmers aren’t seeing many dollar signs, especially after a laborious harvest, says Lauren Taber, communications manager at Pachamama.
“Oftentimes, even still to this day, coffee farmers sell their raw coffee for less than the cost of production, so they’re not even covering their own expenses or making a profit,” Taber says. “After the coffee leaves its country of origin, it becomes a lot more expensive. The idea of Pachamama was to take it a step further and create a marketing co-op that can roast and sell green coffee at a profit and have it done in a way that the coffee farmers ultimately get to control the profits that are generated at cafés like this.”
It’s an idea that simmered in the mind of CEO and co-founder of Pachamama Thaleon Tremain while he was volunteering in the Peace Corps in Bolivia in the mid-’90s. He worked directly with a coffee farm and became acquainted with the industry.
“He saw firsthand the disparity between what coffee is sold for, with the added value in the U.S. at cafés like this, and the hard work and pennies on the dollar that the coffee farmers were receiving for their raw commodity,” Taber says.
The sheer inequality was unsettling to Tremain, so he and another friend, who also was a volunteer in the Peace Corps, came up with the idea to create a company that would enable coffee farmers to see the increasing value of their product as it moves down the supply chain. That’s how the cooperative grew, with its five countries of origin making the decisions and benefiting from their hard days’ work.
“We’re technically employees of coffee farmers, and that makes me feel great. That’s why I’m here,” says Taber as she sits inside the Midtown café’s education lab, a place to which baristas turn to gain more knowledge about the company and about its coffees. “We’re the only coffee roaster/coffee café in the entire U.S. that we know of that’s run this way.”
Each bag of coffee at Pachamama is like an homage to the farmers who grow the highly sought-after shrubs. Images of Pachamama farmers adorn the bags of ground and whole-bean coffee because the founders of this co-op want to tell those farmers’ stories and honor their legacy. It’s a way for baristas to help the customer feel more connected to the farmers, one cup at a time.
“It gives the benefit back to the coffee farmers,” Taber says. “It’s a way to give them something back and give them their power back.”
919 20th St., Sacramento • 530-204-7554
Open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily
East Sacramento Coffeebar
3644 J St., Sacramento • 916-476-4385
Open 6 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mon. – Fri., 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sat. – Sun.