More American Catholics will be drinking “fair trade” coffee, thanks to a new partnership between a coffee worker cooperative and a Catholic relief agency.

The CRS Coffee Project, announced Jan. 21 in a press release, is a joint initiative of Equal Exchange (a fair trade coffee) and Catholic Relief Services. The project intends to boost consumption of fair trade coffee through education and marketing to roughly 65 million U.S. Catholics.

The project helps struggling coffee farmers while giving consumers “the opportunity to live out their faith,” according to the release.

Equal Exchange, founded in 1986, believes that coffee, a heavily traded commodity that is a significant income source in the Developing World, can bring positive transformation in the lives of small farmers—when fairly traded.

However, the coffee business is a complicated one, and those complications often result in diminished prices for the coffee growers.

“Traveling the coffee chain can be a long, tiresome and expensive journey: Retailers, roasters, exporters, processors, creditors and a cast of middlemen,” reads the Equal Exchange Web site, “all come between you and the coffee farmers before you get a sip of your morning brew.”

Equal Exchange, based in Canton, Mass., trades directly with small coffee farmer cooperatives in Latin America, Africa and Asia, paying a guaranteed minimum.

Equal Exchange began its Interfaith Coffee Program as a means of joining faith with fair trade, knowing that “a warm pot of coffee is often the centerpiece of fellowship hour and other gatherings,” according to the site.

The interfaith program has developed partnerships with Lutheran World Relief, the American Friends Service Committee, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and several other churches. The partnerships include educating congregants about the coffee business, as well as getting individual congregations to purchase fair trade coffee for consumption at church or home.

More than 7,000 congregations have participated in the interfaith program, buying more than 118 tons of fairly traded coffee last year.

Equal Exchange is now partnered with CRS, celebrating 60 years as the international relief and development agency of American Catholics. Equal Exchange hopes that the CRS partnership will bring more than 19,000 U.S. parishes to its cause.

“The CRS Coffee Project is the first among what we hope will be many wide-reaching, national programs that connect Catholics in the United States to the people we serve around the world who are struggling to get the basic necessities for life: adequate nutrition, education, medicine,” said Joan Neal, CRS deputy executive director of U.S. Operations, in the press release. “As the largest organized denomination in the U.S., Catholics collectively can have a direct, substantial impact on the lives of small-scale coffee farmers by taking a simple step: choosing Fair Trade coffee.”

Jonathan Frerichs, a spokesman for Lutheran World Relief, recently told the New York Times News Service, “Coffee is basically of sacramental stature in the Lutheran Church.” He said Lutherans bought 45 tons of fair trade coffee last year, and that they hope to buy 90 tons this year.
“We’re not increasing wanton coffee-drinking,” he told the news service. “We’re saying replace what you normally buy with fair-trade coffee.”
Last year Starbucks began packaging fair trade coffee from a cooperative in northern Thailand—the result of initiative taken by American Baptist missionary Mike Mann.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for

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