Students taste fair-trade coffee in Bartlett

By Andrew Alexander

Progressive politics mingled with study aids Wednesday evening as several dozen students gathered in Bartlett Lounge for free fair-trade coffee and a talk by Tadesse Meskela, general manager of an Ethiopian fair-trade coffee cooperative.

The event, which also included samples of fair-trade tea, hot chocolate, and chocolate, was organized by U of C Students for Fair Trade, an informal group of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members.

In his talk, Meskela said that his organization, the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, helped its members earn 30 percent extra profit by eliminating the middlemen in coffee distribution.

Over 74,000 farmers belonging to 101 cooperatives sell their coffee through Oromia, according to Meskela, making it the largest coffee cooperative in Ethiopia.

“We are a democratic, farmer-owned organization with no political interference,” he said.

Oromia also trains its farmers to grow high-quality coffee, a fact evident to students who tasted it.

“Much darker than the coffee I usually have,” said first-year Daniel Benjamin.

Maya Barron, a fourth-year in the College and member of U of C Students for Fair Trade, said the group had been collaborating with other Chicagoland fair trade student groups. They have also been working with the Chicago Committee on Fair Trade, a branch of Oxfam, which was responsible for Meskela’s visit.

The group hopes to encourage local coffee shops to sell fair-trade coffee, Barron said. Currently, only Campus Dining Services and the Divinity School coffee shop sell fair-trade coffee.

“There are fewer coffee shops selling fair-trade coffee than there used to be,” she said.

U of C Students for Fair Trade was organized in January by Laura Hollinger, interim associate dean of Rockefeller Chapel, and is applying to become a Registered Student Organization.