we started Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op back in the fall of 1995, we
had no idea we would end up where we are today.
Just Us! was Canada's first Fair Trade
coffee roaster. It was actually started a few years before Fair Trade
was officially launched in Canada.
We had no capital, no business
experience, and no customers - just a conviction that there should be
a market for higher quality coffee that was produced in a socially and
environmentally responsible way.
After trying, with no luck, to get
guidance from various people in government, co-operative
organizations, and the coffee industry, I finally decided to go right
to Mexico and find out for myself what might be possible. That was
I had the name of a Fair Trade coffee
co-operative, Union de la Selva (meaning Rainforest) from a recent
issue of the New Internationalist magazine.
I ended up in the mountains of Chiapas
in the very south of Mexico which was, at the time, in the middle of a
civil war. Met by an agronomist, Juan from Union de la Selva, at the
bus station in Comitan, we proceeded high into the mountains. We had
to pass through military checkpoints and by numerous troop carriers.
You could see the remnants of big trees, cut and laid across the
mountain roads by the Zapatista guerillas trying to interrupt army
Paths are being developed through the
magnificent old growth rainforests.
(Photo: Jeff Moore)
The war was basically being fought over
who should profit from coffee production, which was the main economic
resource in the area. Traditionally, small-scale indigenous farmers
had to depend totally on the big coffee companies to transport,
process, and export their coffee. Now, they were organizing into
co-operatives and attempting to bypass the big companies and their
"coyotes" or coffee buyers who paid the farmers as little as
These indigenous farmers were now
willing to risk their lives for a better future for their families and
A capable driver and diplomat, Juan
took us above the fray and above the clouds to the idyllic community
of San Fernando. There we met Antonio and Sarita and their two
children. Antonio showed us his "coffee gardens" growing
organically right in the middle of the rainforest with the tropical
hardwoods providing the necessary shade for the coffee plants.
It was so ironic that these indigenous
communities, given land high in the mountains that nobody else wanted
and growing their coffee naturally in the rainforest because they
could not afford agro-chemicals was now able to produce superior
quality coffee that was selling for top prices in the Fair Trade and
organic markets in Europe.
They said that for the first time, Fair
Trade had given them real hope for a better future.
I returned to Nova Scotia and shared
with my wife Debra the "good news" and the "bad
Jeff Moore (third from left) meeting
with coffee co-op in Oaxaca, Mexico to discuss Fair Trade tourism
(Photo: Jeff Moore)
The good news of course, was that I saw
tremendous benefits to producers from the whole Fair Trade idea and
that the La Selva co-op had great coffee and was very excited about
the prospect of selling to Canada.
The "bad news" was that we
would have to put our house up as security to buy a whole container
(17 tons) of coffee - again, without a single customer to whom to sell
Now, over ten years later, I would not
say it has always been easy but we have never had to worry about
looking for customers. Most of the time, it has been an effort just
trying to hang on for the ride.
We have grown from our first shipment
of coffee from Chiapas in the Spring of 1996 to buying coffee from
around the world and many other products too - tea, chocolate, and
sugar - all 100% Fair Trade and Organic.
It's amazing how little it takes to
make a big difference in the lives of Third World producers. Fair
Trade really gives these producers a step up so they can provide for
themselves, improve their communities (schools, clinics, public
transportation etc), and continue to develop other economic
The latest interest of Just Us! is in
Fair Trade tourism. So many of our Third World partners want to
diversify so that they are not dependent just on coffee or sugar or
another crop. They have tremendous potential in terms of their natural
and cultural beauty - but need support in terms of financing, planning
For us, it gives our customers an
opportunity to be welcomed by our producing partners and see
first-hand the benefits of Fair Trade.
For more information: www.justuscoffee.com