1X Faribault coffee business brews amid ‘a desire to do good’
By Dawn Schuett
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
FARIBAULT — Faith and fair trade are the cornerstones of Providence Coffee, a business launched by James Curren in 2006.
A former commodity trader with a degree in finance, Curren said he understood "how the little guy gets squished along the way" in the global trade system. So after leaving that career and its materialistic culture, Curren sought to do something that revolved around his Catholic values.
He moved to Hawaii where he intended to buy a coffee farm, but that plan changed after marrying his wife, Beth, who is from Faribault. The couple decided to settle in her hometown to raise their children and lead a "simplified lifestyle."
"It really comes down to what’s best for our family, and Providence Coffee fits into that as a small business," said Curren, who works from home.
Providence Coffee doesn’t roast coffee beans, but it processes, distributes and markets fair trade organic coffee, tea and hot cocoa, mostly to nonprofit organizations. Curren sells the products, along with Divine Chocolate, a brand of fair-trade chocolate, and fair-trade mugs made in Guatemala through an online store. Curren recently started a separate business, Novus Vitas, which means new life in Latin, to sell totes and messenger bags made in the United States from recycled material.
Through fair trade, growers and producers in poverty-stricken countries such as Mexico and others in Central and South America, Africa and Asia are paid a guaranteed minimum price for their products with an additional premium for those certified organic.
According to TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization that certifies fair-trade products, more than one million farmers and farm workers in 58 developing countries benefit from Fair Trade certification.
"Fair trade is not a subtle form of charity," Curren said. It ensures that the farmer who grew the crop gets a fair price for it, he said.
Fair trade also promotes farming methods that are environmentally sustainable, demands safe working conditions on farms, and invests in community development through education, health care or other types of programs.
"This is what we can do for others just by switching to a different cup of coffee," Curren said.
That’s the message Curren spreads through Providence Coffee and its niche of selling fair-trade coffee, tea and hot cocoa to nonprofits for consumption by their staff and members, or for them to re-sell for fundraising.
The basic principles of fair trade in supporting human development and being good stewards of resources are similar to those of many nonprofits, including faith-based organizations, Curren said. To further demonstrate a commitment to fair trade, Providence Coffee contributes 2 percent of related sales to the Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Fund.
"I always felt a desire to do good and help people, and Providence Coffee gives me a direct opportunity to do that," Curren said.
Dawn Schuett is a Farmington freelance writer.
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