Friday, December 10, 2010

Ummm. I feel like I should say something.

So I asked some questions. Some of those questions were answered in a long post. I know I offended the people at dirty Cup and Safe House Coffee and Tea. I know some of their friends were also very upset at how I asked some questions online. The response was warranted. They felt attacked even though it wasn't my intention to attack. Many people have personally approached me to thank me for my post, but few have posted comments of their own. Those at Dirty Cup were mad because I didn't call first. Sorry. But my questions are for everyone, just like the project.

Let me tell you a story. After two years living in a coffee producing community, I left touched forever by the lives that people shared with me. I had close friends of mine die during those two years both in the US and new friends in the DR. I came back inspired to make a difference. It took me a full year before I had the idea to enter the coffee industry, I'm a slow learner. When I did start as a production employee at Batdorf & Bronsons roastery in Atlanta, I bagged coffee for 40 hours a week. I purchased a coffee farm six months into that job. I put up a website and proclaimed to the world that "middle men in coffee make all the money." I was working for a great roastery and had two years experience listening to farmers. After several months of research and talking to all the exporters in the DR, I decided that this one guy, Bent, who might be the best one for the job.

Bent and his wonderful wife, Begonia, and I went out to see their farm and dry mill the first day we met. Halfway to the farm while the SUV Turbo Diesel Mitsubishi pitched back and forth over half paved roads, Bent said to me, "Byron, something on your website really pissed me off". Clearly I was shocked he had read the site and his anger rang clear in his voice, "You said middle men make all the money in coffee." Instantly I knew that my attempt to commiserate with my fellow Dominican farmers had gotten me into a tight situation. "Um yes I did say that," I did my best to maker sure my tone wasn't defensive or aggressive because I wanted to hear his side. He very eloquently told me about the value of middlemen in the coffee equation who bring wet parchment to drying areas. Who is going to pay the insurance on the truck if a middleman doesn't charge a margin? Who is going to pay for the new tires when the bad roads shred them? He mentioned specific examples. I shared prices from my community that intermediaries charge. I had been misinformed about the weight loss in coffee and the prices then made sense. My ideas about how coffee worked were changed forever.

I got in the SUV with words that I had listened to for two years straight, "Middlemen make all the money, us poor farmers are left with the scraps and can't cover our costs." I believed it so much that I posted it on the WORLD wide web. Bent asked me a pointed question and I learned something. Coffee, for me, has been the most humbling series of life experiences.

I only posted questions because I thought they would help me and others understand the mission. It would be totally wrong for me to say I'm doing anything different. I write a column in Barista Magazine about my farm to educate baristas about the realities of origin life. I keep a blog. I've given talks in coffee shops about processing coffee. I've hosted cuppings of my coffees to show the differences in processes. Dirty Cup and Safe House Coffee are doing similar things. This isn't about being right and wrong.

Coffee is a great teacher. I didn't post answers because I don't know what is best for Linares. The last thing I would do is tell Dirty Cup how to run a project. I know a bit about coffee from diverse experiences. I sincerely thought good questions would only strengthen the entire concept. If my intention was slander, would I have sent it to Hunt directly after I posted it? If I intended to slander, why didn't I put links up elsewhere? I was happy to leave it up on a site that only gets about 1 visit a day. On that last Monday when it went up I was in a training over Skype with someone in Brazil, so I couldn't respond to Hunt's attempts to contact me until 4pm. I did post something, but it was never published. So I had to put something where it would be published.

People strongly recommended posting something to make sure my voice was heard as I intended it, which is very different from the voice of the anonymous comment below.

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