Organic coffee: more than just a business with Elan

by Randl Rupar
offee, the most consumed liquid, second only to water, has become the people's choice as the elixir of life. To many who enjoy coffee on a daily basis it is the socially acceptable and affordable method of achieving that sought-after, "warm, fuzzy feeling."
Most choose their coffee for taste and flavor, never realizing the powerful planetary impacts coffee wields. Environmentally, it is one of the most chemically-intensive grown crops, third on the list behind cotton and tobacco. Besides its ecological impact, coffee is the world's second most traded commodity, falling just behind petroleum.
A socially-responsible win-win situation is finally at hand, as coffee-buying consumers can choose to support the many small indigenous organic farmers who employ environmentally sustainable growing methods.
I recently had the chance to interview a dedicated group of individuals from Elan International and its sister company, The Earth's Choice Organic Coffee Roasters. There views shed light on why we need a verifiable source of organic coffee.

Karen Cebreros is the founder and co-owner of Elan and Earth's Choice.
ET: Karen, tell us about your comapny's beginnings?
KC: In 1989 I was invited by my brother-in-law to Peru. At the time, my physical health was diagnosed as critical, and I questioned whether or not I should leave my family. I decided to go, and the experiences changed my life. I now have a clean bill of health and am fully impassioned with my work. While in Peru, I was taken by the economic plight of the peasant farmers and was compelled to help them. The coffee business was something I knew very little about, yet I felt it was a way I could be involved.
I took a sample of coffee back to the United States and met with some discouraging comments. Undaunted, I continued. I finally met someone who said they would be interested in purchasing if the coffee was organically grown. I had no idea what the heck they were talking about, yet I knew I had found the key to beginning this venture.
The rest is history. I sold my stateside businesses and started Elan International. Since 1990, Elan has given a premium price to native organic farmers in Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and Mexico. Elan helps these farmers go through the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) certification process. This involves the implementation of a soil-building program to encourage optimum soil health. The organic methods guarantee that chemicals aren't added to the growing and processing of coffee, and ensures that these methods promote the health of the soil. A verification process prevents the farmer from growing organically simply out of neglect or out of a lack of money to buy soil amendments.

Mark Perkins is the co-owner of Elan and Earth's Choice and vice president of marketing and sales.
ET: How does the future look for organic coffee?
MP: Today, Elan works with over 4,000 farmers in five countries. Last year, we imported two million pounds of organic coffee. Currently, we are finalizing a contract with Superior Coffee Company, one of the largest commercial suppliers of coffee in the United States. This project will also donate a portion of the profits to Conservation International, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of tribal rain forest wisdom. We are exporting to Japan and other European countries. We have created our own line of organic coffee called Earth's Choice, and have secured funding for the equipment required to become an OCIA certified roaster.
Organics are on every survey on any coffee category that anyone is doing research on; there are flavors, decafs, and then there are organics. Organics are now synonymous with a specific niche of the market. The roasting of Elan's imported coffee was taking the next step of creating a committed organic roasting process.

Tina Strelchun is the office manager and the bilingual international liaison.
ET: Are consumers willing to pay the extra cost for a quality organic coffee?
TS: There is a wakening in the medical community going on right now about prevention rather than just handing out antibiotics. I've been going to naturopathic doctors since I was little. Finally, they have started to incorporate naturopathic medicine and healing remedies into conventional medicine. This goes right along with the organic movement and the increased awareness of taking care of yourself. It's insurance. You pay a little more for an all around healthier product.

Susan McDevitt is the sales account manager of Earth's Choice.
ET: From the perspective of thinking globally and acting locally, how do you believe sales will increase?
SM: Globally, I am witnessing the full depth of our company's development and support of economic and social programs for indigenous farmers. Our commitment to the verifiable use of organic farming methods, which eliminate the poisonous effects of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, protects and sustains the health and well-being of the farmers, their families and their environment.
Locally, our quality organic coffee beans are conscientiously roasted fresh daily and packaged with state-of-the-art nitrogen flush equipment. This is meaningful to the retailer who understands the "fresher the roast the better the coffee" concept. Because we roast in our San Diego location we can deliver with minimal transportation costs and cut back on pollution generated by shipping out-of-state. Therefore, the consumer who purchases our organic coffees is not only enjoying a choice cup of coffee, they are also living the ideal of the social, economic, and environmental aspects of thinking globally and acting locally.

Randl Rupar teaches nutrition and operates a vegetarian catering service. He lives in Oceanside, California, where he counsels, gardens and surfs.