“We grow coffee. You drink coffee. Would you buy your coffee from us?”
This question, posed by a coffee farmer to a Milwaukee pastor, started the ball rolling. The year was 1999, the place, the slopes of Mount Meru. And the answer to that question was: “Yes”.
And so the unlikely partnership between the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA and the Diocese of Meru of the ELCT began.
More than two decades later, the Mt. Meru Coffee Project is still going strong. Still supporting families. Still growing futures. Still changing lives.
The Mt. Meru Coffee Project began selling coffee within the congregations of the Greater Milwaukee Synod (GMS) in 2002, with 50 congregations participating.
The grinding and order processing operations, staffed mainly by volunteers, is done in the basement of an inner-city church.
The storage and roasting process is currently handled by Imperial Coffee Roasters in Milwaukee.
Mt. Meru Coffee is roasted, ground, and packaged in small batches to fill weekly orders.
The Coffee Project partners with the congregations in the Greater Milwaukee Synod through the role of the Mt. Meru Coffee “Ambassadors.” Ambassadors keep their congregations aware of the Coffee Project and sell the Premium Tanzanian Coffee items within their congregations. Mt Meru Coffee is also sold in congregations and other outlets throughout the country.
Tanzania’s biggest export is coffee. This is grown on family-run farms that only earns $400 - $500 annually. Because of the small income yield, farmers opted to shift their products to corn, beans, and bananas.
The Mt. Meru Coffee Project helps make coffee farming and production a more sustainable income source by opening opportunities for these families to sell coffee to a ready customer-base.
In doing so, the Mt. Meru Coffee Project helps support families and allows more people to enjoy the rich goodness of a cup of Tanzanian coffee.
The Mt. Meru Coffee Project is a member of the Fair Trade Federation and pays a higher than fair-trade price to the small coffee farmers for their premium coffee. The Project’s fair price provides an increase in farm income, allowing the farmers to support their families with dignity. It enables the farmers and the people of the Meru region to improve their standard of living and escape a cycle of poverty. More children are in school and more medical care is accessed because of the Mt Meru Coffee Project.
As the project grew in Tanzania, a farmers’ association - Mt. Meru Specialty Coffee Growers Association (MMSCGA) – was established. This enabled the farmers to work together voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.
This Association has grown to 32 farmer groups, with approximately 2,000 farmers and five processing centers: (Makumira, Leguruki, Mulala, Silk and NIA). In 2017, these centers yielded roughly 40 tons of parchment coffee (processed cherries). The Mt. Meru Coffee Project is managed in Tanzania by two Project Coordinators who oversee the coffee processing activities in Tanzania.
Over the course of two decades in operation, Mt. Meru Coffee Project has enabled farmers, their family members, and their children, access to quality education. The Mt. Meru Coffee Project recognizes that education was the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Ongoing training of the farmers is an important aspect of membership in the Association. The Association arranges for its member farmers to attend training sessions provided by the Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TaCRI) and sponsored by the Mt Meru Coffee Project. TaCRI provides a service to the thousands of farmers in the coffee industry by providing relevant technological advances and educating farmers on better farming practices in keeping up with continuous professional development and current coffee farming industry best practices.
Access to better healthcare, better equipment, and a steady source of income has brought Meru a long way from when the conversation first started between a farmer and a pastor from Milwaukee.
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Let’s all come together and keep supporting these families, helping them grow their futures, and most importantly, change their lives for the better.