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Fair-Trade Coffee Sought in Cafes

June 29, 1999

With gentle persuasion and wafting aromas, a group of Canadian and U.S. churches are pushing thousands of members to drink coffee that improves the lot of Latin America’s farmers.

For them, buying coffee that gives farmers more income from their product is an extension of faith, a way of loving their southern neighbor.

``We see fair trade as a faith issue,″ says Terri Speirs, a coffee project coordinator for Lutheran World Relief. ``We think that Christ tells us to treat our neighbors fairly and that means considering the value of their work and their products.″

Since the project began in the fall of 1997, 1,000 Lutheran congregations in the United States have agreed to serve Equal Exchange coffee at church events.

``Lutherans consider coffee precious _ if there’s no coffee people won’t come to the meeting. And we need to consider the people who grew it as just as precious,″ she said.

Individual members of other U.S. and Canadian denominations including Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and Unitarians, have persuaded dozens of supermarkets and cafes to offer equitable brews. It is now available in major cities such as New York, Montreal, Cleveland, and Vancouver and in tiny fishing towns of Gig Harbor, Wash.,, and Truro, Nova Scotia.

In Canada, an ecumenical group called Ten Days for Global Justice brings to life the sometimes difficult concept of fair trade with a simple play seen in more than 500 churches.

The play, ``The Route of Coffee,″ uses drumbeats to punctuate the quandry of destitute coffee farmers and the clanging of cash registers in Pink Floyd’s ``Money″ to bring it home to cafe-goers.

Together with a video called ``Common Grounds,″ the group’s efforts have increased the number of coffee brands that carry Canada’s FairTrade Mark from one to 13.

``Coffee is so central to church socializing that it’s even called `coffee hour,‴ said Julie Graham, resource coordinator for the ecumenical group. ``We thought it was a good idea to question the working conditions behind the product.″

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