Good to the Last Drop

Main Grounds features new “beyond fair trade” coffee brand

Main Grounds coffee bar in the Randolph College student center
Randolph College students enjoy fair-trade, organic, shade-grown coffee from Pura Vida at the Main Grounds coffee bar in the Student Center, as well as handmade smoothies, tea and chai, and baked goodies to go.

Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages, yet the average coffee farmer lives on less than $2 a day.

At Randolph College, the coffee served at the Main Grounds coffee bar in the Student Center now comes from a company with a business model aimed at improving the lives of hard-working people in less fortunate countries.

Seattle-based Pura Vida offers fair trade certified, organic, shadegrown coffee. Fair trade certified means that coffee farmers, many of them in Latin American countries, can earn the fair wages needed to escape poverty. It also gives them the opportunity to expand their businesses beyond farming to include processing and other facets of production. Organic coffee is grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or hormones. That process helps reduce exposure to toxic chemicals that can end up in the ground, air, water, and food supply.

Shade-grown coffee is cultivated naturally among forest trees, reducing clear cutting and preserving bird habitats. The longer growing period is also thought to produce a mature coffee bean with a more complex flavor, according to Pura Vida.

Mitch Rodhe, Randolph College’s food services director, said Pura Vida was chosen in part because the company gives a portion of its sales profits back to the communities where the coffee is grown. Those funds are used to pay for educational, health care, water treatment, and other community infrastructure needs in countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Peru.

“This is a way of showing that we care where our coffee comes from and we care that people who provide that product are taken care of,” Rodhe said.

Pura Vida coffee blends sold in the Student Center range from bold (Café Kilimanjaro, French Roast) to medium (House Blend, French Vanilla) to mild (Breakfast Blend). Randolph is the only place Pura Vida is sold in the Lynchburg area.

Sam Snyder, director of philanthropy and marketing at Pura Vida, said the company’s Create Good mission put more than $290,000 back into communities last year where Pura Vida coffee was grown. That is in addition to the fair trade premiums the farmers received.

“Randolph’s consumption of Pura Vida coffee will increase our pounds sold and therefore increase our ability to fund projects,” Snyder said.

John Abell, a Randolph College economics professor whose interest and research has focused on sustainable practices in Guatemala, believes the switch at Main Grounds to Pura Vida is a positive move.

“The College is moving in the right direction by trying to not just get better quality coffee, but coffee that comes with a good message and good intent and provides good assistance to the people who actually grow it,” he said.