If you’ve visited the Old City Farmers Market on any given Saturday morning within the last seven years, you’ve more than likely crossed paths with Growers Alliance. Led by Martin Kabaki and Purity Gikunju, Growers Alliance shows how one cup of coffee can sustain a community of coffee growers.
Locally, the pair is dedicated to satisfying customers with cup after cup of fair-trade, organic coffee. Globally, they are working to support an alliance of coffee growers in their home country of Kenya (and beyond), as well as giving back to their own villages via charitable projects.
A SHARED VISION
After moving from Kenya to Florida separately in 1999, they immediately noticed how much Americans loved coffee, and how much they were willing to pay for a cup, in contrast to the low wages farmers back home were making. They each began their own coffee ventures, that led them to cross paths at a coffee show in Seattle. After meeting in 2002, the two teamed up and turned their independent ventures into a shared vision.
“We realized we both were doing separate things but with the same mission and same goal. So we said why don’t we combine efforts and come up with a brand name,” said Martin. And so, Growers Alliance was born.
They quickly moved from selling beans to outside roasters, to bringing the whole process in house, so they could offer single origin, unblended, straight up coffees, as it comes from the farmers. The goal was to help sustain co-ops of small-scale coffee farmers by paying fair wages to improve their conditions, removing the middle man, and providing them an avenue to market their coffee in the U.S. The focus was (and remains) co-ops that are both organic and fair trade certified. In addition to Kenyan coffee, this alliance has grown to support farmers in Ethiopia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.
Along with paying farmers fairly, they do so timely. “We’ve changed the game. You deliver the crop. We pay immediately. That has put the farmers in a more stable position,” explained Purity.
Through their coffee not only do they change the lives of farmers, but entire communities. For every bag of coffee they sell, 10% goes back to the villages. Here they work on a number of projects, with the aid of other non-profit groups, and larger organizations such as their distributor KeHe. The charitable division of this company (KeHe Cares) has allocated a portion of its international dollars to the work that Growers Alliance is doing in the villages of Kenya. In addition to ongoing clean water projects, this year, the project is to build a permanent structure for an HIV positive orphanage.
Martin and Purity believe in the power of education and frequently take groups from the U.S. on Kenyan coffee safaris. “It’s one thing to say fair trade coffee, but it’s another thing for people to go there and see it in action and say wow, this is how it’s affecting the poor people in the village,” said Martin.
Upcoming trips include working with university students from St. Augustine and other community members.
Becoming more present in the St. Augustine community has been a natural desire for the two. Although their roasting hub is in nearby Jacksonville, Martin and Purity have been drawn to St. Augustine since they began coming to the market. They will soon have a permanent location on Anastasia Island that will serve as the cornerstone of their operations,
“We are very happy our first ever coffee shop is going to be in St. Augustine, we couldn’t choose any place that is better,” said Martin. “We love this place. There’s a lot of social awareness here. And there are a lot of people who are health conscious. When we say organic and fair trade, people get it right away and love it.”
At their shop, not only will they be serving up coffee, they will be able to give local customers an up close look at roasting with the help of demonstrations. While their storefront remains under construction at the present, their coffee truck is on site at this location during the weekdays.
Hours & Location: Growers Alliance mobile coffee van is open 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday – Friday, located directly in front of their soon to be store at 322 Anastasia Blvd. Saturdays Growers Alliance is at Old City Farmers Market. Growers Alliance beans are available for purchase directly from Growers Alliance and can also be found in the following retailers locally/regionally: Publix, Whole Foods, Winn Dixie, and Diane’s Natural Market.
Learn more at www.growersalliance.com
This article originally appeared in St. Augustine Social Magazine October/November 2015 print issue. Photography by Rob Futrell, exclusively for St. Augustine Social.