How One Person Rallies Many to Effect Change


This blog post is the second in the series on Kenneth Lander and THRIVE Farmers.  If you have not yet read Part 1, you will find it at:


Part 2 is taken in its entirety (text only and with minimal editing) from the website of The Coffee Compass.  You may access the original version, which includes some beautiful THRIVE Farmers photographs, at the following link:


There are in this article at least five major characteristics of effective difference makers and change agents.  See if you can pick them out!



The Coffee Compass: May 31, 2016  By Michael Butterworth 

Meet the man who wants to change the way you buy coffee. Ken Lander is cofounder of Thrive Farmers, a coffee company championing a farmer-direct model in which the farmer retains ownership of their coffee until the final sale. Thrive’s unique model allows the producers to share in a larger percentage of the profits. We caught up with the former trial lawyer to ask him about what it takes to create a sustainable coffee supply chain. 



My inspiration for thinking about making a living as a coffee farmer was out of necessity. In 2008, I lost all of my real estate holdings in the U.S., which was my exit strategy to leave with the family and move to Costa Rica in 2005.

We lived on a coffee farm, grew coffee, and that was the only and most immediate source of income other than returning to the States and being a lawyer again.

Trying to make money as a smallholder coffee farmer was a lost cause in the current system of volatile commodity markets and rising costs of production. The coffee I was growing on my farm (6,000 to 8,000 lbs green) was being roasted and sold for $30,000 on the demand side of the value chain, and my net profit on a good year was $600. I didn’t understand the disconnect until I convinced a group of farmers in my community to sell our coffee in a coffee shop, roasted and directly to tourists. That integrated value chain made sense, and from that point forward, I knew that connecting the farmer directly to the consumer was the key to success in coffee.

I met my business partner, Michael Jones, whose father-in-law was a Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee farmer. Michael was also trying to understand the value chain of coffee and why his father-in-law’s coffee sold for $80/lb roasted in Japan, and his father-in-law was getting $4 (gross revenue) of that $80 on a good day.

From these experiences in understanding coffee farming as a farmer came the inspiration to do coffee differently, making the farmer a stakeholder in the value chain where the value was being realized. We created a platform to take the farmer to market and share the revenue in a way that created a predictable, stable and higher income for his or her hard work on the farm.



Thrive Farmers exists for and is passionate about one thing: empowering coffee farmers to thrive!

What sets us apart from other coffee companies is that we take the farmer (not just his or her product) to market as a partner. We know that unless you change the economic reality of coffee farming, more and more farmers and their children will leave the industry. The key is taking them to market as true stakeholders and partners.



I can tell you that a place does not change you. The transition was very hard. A hyper-type A person who enjoyed having 500 balls in the air at one time was my condition in moving to Costa Rica. Many a panic attack occurred as I realized that other cultures actually live a slower life, do less, and are much happier.

Early on, my training and passion to be an advocate of others made me question the justice in a family working for generations, just to survive on something that I paid $3 per cup for without thinking twice. It wasn’t until I reached the place of fully relying on the same amount of money my neighbors were accustomed to that I realized that my life could be about finding a better way, not just for me, but for the worldwide community of coffee farmers who work so hard with such little compensation.

I was humbled by their passion to the craft and trade, and by their commitment to continue the work of the generations before them.



I sure do! I am writing to you from the front porch of my house on my coffee farm (Finca Flor Mar) in San Rafael de Abangares, Costa Rica.



Right now I am drinking a coffee from fellow Thrive Farmer Helsar de Zarcero in the West Central Valley of Costa Rica.  All of our coffee from our farm went to Thrive Farmers this year!



No, I don’t necessarily think premiums based on quality are the best way to improve the livelihood of farmers. However, quality has to always be the standard from the beginning of any relationship in coffee. Premiums necessarily indicate, in my vernacular, a premium above the market price. As long as the market price is in play at any level, there will never be stable, long-term and predictable pricing, which is key for a farmer to build an economically sustainable business.

The word premium has the significance of “prize,” and in Spanish, a prize is a “premio.” What coffee needs at scale is two things: First, long-term, stable, higher and predictable pricing that is based on the real value of the coffee in the consumer marketplace, not some volatile C-market. Second, coffee needs identity and partnership for the farmer in the value chain.

It is interesting that when you have these two things, quality coffee results. Why? Because there is an alignment of interests between the farmer and the consumer.

Economic sustainability leads to consistent quality, and a long-term relationship brings identity and partnership with the farmer.



Hands down, I am most inspired by the producers who caught the vision of Thrive Farmers from the very beginning, like Franco Garbanzo of La Violeta, Frailes de Tarrazu, Costa Rica, and Vinicio Gonzalez of Concepcion Pinula, Guatemala. They were able to see beyond one crop year, realizing that the only way to see their kids in coffee in the future was to pave a way to do the business of coffee differently. They had faith in the vision before it was a reality, and many days I looked to these first farmers and their faith in us as a source of strength to continue.

I am also inspired by farmers like Estuardo Falla in Antigua, Guatemala and Lydia Matamoros in Naranjo, Costa Rica who are estate farmers, continuing in third, fourth and fifth generations of estate coffee farming. They had faith in the vision of Thrive Farmers from the beginning as well, and their affirmation of our business model proved the need for stable markets is not just one for small farms. Farmers like these have enormous impact on the smallholder farmers around them. They have a heart for their people, and use their resources to help their communities, their workers and their families to reap the benefits of generations of farming coffee.

They and other estate farmers have been incredible supporters of our platform as we have scaled.


There’s No Crying in Baseball!

by Jim King

Truth be told, this blog post is not about baseball players.  It is about coffee farmers.  But I did not want to tell a lie and say “There’s no crying in coffee farming!” because there is most definitely crying in coffee farming – and there has been at least since the creation of coffee commodity markets, if not before.

The stories are too abundant from around the world of coffee prices dropping so much that prices returned to the coffee farmers are less than the cost of producing the green beans.  Crying, sometimes figurative but often literal, ensues on the farms.  Also too abundant are the coffee farmers with poor to little access to markets – even when prices are up – who have to depend on the “generosity” of coyote buyers.  Most often that “generosity” yields more crying.  And when the crying is done, coffee trees get ripped out of the ground.  Fields get burned.  Farmers search for alternative ways to provide for their families because the traditional coffee supply chain has failed them.

However, once upon a time not so long ago, one of these coffee farmers was a successful American trial lawyer that had picked up his family and “retired” to Costa Rica to be a gentleman coffee farmer.  Surely those inevitable down-swings in coffee commodity prices wouldn’t be too bad nor for too long.  Surely.  Well…things don’t always work out as planned.  It got too bad and lasted too long – at the same time.  Not only did the lawyer not know what to do with beans that he could not sell, he did not know how he was going to take care of his family.  And he saw his Tico coffee-farming friends faced with the same situations.  The unfairness of the traditional coffee supply chain were about to bury them all.  But for this transplanted American lawyer, there would be no ripping out of trees nor burning of fields.  There was no time for crying in his coffee fields.  It was time to roll up the sleeves, burn the midnight oil, put on the thinking cap and turn lemons into lemonade – or in this case, coffee beans into coffee.  And along the way, also turn a generations-old industry on its ear!

That American lawyer was Kenneth Lander from Georgia.  And with a close local coffee-farming friend, Ken opened up coffee shops in the Monteverde/Santa Elena area of Costa Rica – including The Common Cup, referred to on the Internet by numerous travelers as the “best” in Costa Rica with the “best cup of joe” in Costa Rica.  That partnership led to the development of the San Rafael Sustainable Coffee Initiative which included other farmers in the region.  The SRSCI brought new life to the region as well as respect and self-esteem to the coffee farmers. The remainder of this post is only the first installment related to Ken Lander and what is now known as THRIVE Farmers.  (Hint: it is now way bigger than just Tico coffee farmers!)

The entire story is a great story of Providence and “doing good” unto, and for, others.  It is as great a people story as it is a business story.  And it is a GREAT business story.  Don’t miss the “rest of the story” in future blog posts!  Ken himself will also be contributing in the future.  Please meet the newest Champion of ChangeU, Kenneth Lander!!


PART 1: Who is Ken Lander?

The following is taken in its entirety from the THRIVE Farmers website:


Kenneth Lander – Founder & Chief Sustainability Officer

As a retired trial lawyer from Georgia, Ken has extensive experience in advocating client’s interests on long-term projects as well as in complicated litigation in both the private and public sectors. After 14 years of the practice of law, Ken decided to move with the entire family to a coffee farm in Costa Rica. With the transition from trial lawyer to coffee farmer, Ken quickly began to understand the injustices that farmers face in the current value chain of coffee.

With the combination of Ken’s never failing passion for advocacy and his new found vocation as a coffee farmer, Ken decided to make the case for the coffee farmer and to reveal the truth about your morning cup. THRIVE Farmers is the direct result of Ken starting the San Rafael Sustainable Coffee Initiative in mid-2010 with other farmers in his coffee-growing community. The SRSCI became the initial local platform and test case for the farmer in San Rafael. THRIVE Farmers was the natural next leap to take the case of the coffee farmer to the entire world.

As Chief Sustainability Officer of THRIVE Farmers, Ken seeks to find, advocate and project the voice of the farmer and to tell the world that a new day has come in the world of coffee. His passion to stand and advocate on behalf of his fellow coffee farmers has found its place in THRIVE Farmers.

Prior to law and farming, Ken was a marketing director with Feld Entertainment, Inc. working in public relations and marketing for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Walt Disney’s World on Ice.

There is no coincidence in life, only Providence. A past experience in public relations, the practice of law, the passion for advocacy, and now coffee farming all are being brought to bear in Ken’s life to make THRIVE Farmers the connection between the coffee farmer and the lover of coffee.


In a future post, Part Two will share about how Ken Lander and the THRIVE Farmers team are revolutionizing the coffee supply chain as well as the impact on the farmer at origin.


Dr. Jim King is the President of Change University.  You may read more about him at the bottom of the page at this link: