by Michael Sheridan of CRS Coffeelands Blog
During the SCAA Strategic Leadership Summit in Seattle back in September, I noticed that Mark Stell of Portland Roasting was wearing a red plastic slap bracelet. I am not a particular fan of plastic accessories, even when they are used to raise funds or awareness for a worthy cause. I assume they mostly wind up as landfill. But I asked Mark about the bracelet anyway, and I am glad I did. His answer was way better than I expected.
Turns out these bracelets were an investment — in fact, the best 60-cent investment I have seen in coffee quality. Mark bought them and distributed them to the workers who harvest the coffee on his estate in Tanzania as a quality-control measure. The bracelet’s “Red 22″ color was carefully selected to match the red of optimally ripe cherry, so each time they reached for cherry the bracelet provided an instant quality check. I have heard of lots of worker training initiatives and color-coded quality-control cards for use in the field, but they seemed expensive and clumsy in comparison with this elegant solution.
I thought it was brilliant, and I told Mark so — over and over throughout the event. Whenever I would see him during coffee breaks, I would make him tell the story and show the bracelet to whoever was in earshot. Finally, I think he got tired of the whole routine, because he took it off his wrist and gave it to me so I could tell the story.
But that only worked for a little while, since I started emailing him with more questions about the bracelets after I got home.Last week, 10,000 of them showed up in my office, courtesy of Mark and Portland Roasting. They are destined for Colombia, where we will distribute them to the 1,600 families participating in our Borderlands Coffee Project in the hope that they can help participating families turn Mark’s plastic bracelets into improvements in coffee quality and increases in household income.
Michael Sheridan has worked on coffee for Catholic Relief Services since 2004. He currently directs the Borderlands Coffee Project in Colombia and Ecuador and advises other CRS coffee projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. He is based in Quito and publishes perspectives from the intersection of coffee and international development for the CRS Coffeelands Blog at coffeelands.crs.org.