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: