We are always love to hear about brilliant ethical projects that are connecting children to the origins of ingredients. Café Paramo is one of those projects developed by Heathfield Community School in Taunton, Somerset. A unique initiative between the students in Year 9 and 10 and a small community in Ecuador that started on a relatively small scale but has since developed into a full-fledged company.
From the very beginning, it was decided that 100% of the profits go back to the community where it started in Ecuador. This profit provides vital funds for their school, enabling them to give a better education to the children in the village.
We’ll let them tell you more about the project…
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Heathfield Community School situated in the county town of Taunton in Somerset, purchases, markets and sells the entire coffee harvest of a co-operative in the Podocarpus Mountains of Ecuador.
As of 2013, we started working with a co-operation out in the Dominican Republic. In summer 2015, a handful of students were lucky enough to go out to the Dominican Republic and actually meet the people whom we have helped as a result of our business.
The whole project started with a chance of meeting in Watchet between Ian Grant, then head of Geography at Heathfield, and Paul Marsh, Managing Director of Miles Coffee Merchants. To cut a long story short, the beatific Paul agreed to source us with the already mentioned coffee harvest, roasted and vacuum sealed in their factory and a very generous parent agreed to provide us with the sticky labels.
Our focus, therefore, was simply on designing the labels and associated merchandise (coffee, mugs, t-shirts etc) and on marketing and selling the product. This is crucially important to the long-term success of the project: the ‘onsite’ production of any goods – but especially of perishable goods – involves a responsibility in terms of quality control, food hygiene et al that is very difficult for a school to maintain over a sustained period of time. Removing that responsibility is certainly one reason for the project’s longevity.
Initially, in 2007, the project started on a relatively small scale and involved around ten students from years 9 and 10. This quickly mushroomed as students and staff were attracted by the project – with both groups seeing it in the potential for some real – life education. It was important to us that, right from the beginning, recruitment for Café Paramo was based entirely on interest and commitment. It has never been a project aimed exclusively at, say, gifted and talented students – although it has undoubtedly given many students the opportunity to show just how ferociously talented they are.
Two visits were crucial in terms of giving impetus to the Café Paramo project: students went to DJ Miles coffee production facilities, became familiar with the different stages of roasting and packaging process and met a variety of key individuals from the firm; a reciprocal visit by Paul Marsh and a South American coffee merchant to Heathfield was also crucial in terms of fostering interest and creating links between the two groups.
Right from the start the decision was made that every penny profit should go back to support the schools at which the farmworkers’ children were educated. In addition, of course, we have always purchased the coffee from them at a price that is higher than the fair trade price – ‘fairer than fair trade’ is the slogan that Café Paramo marketing team coined for this. In no sense is this cultural imperialism – they have a product that we want (it is very good coffee) and we are prepared to pay a good price for it. That’s business –and a very good business it has been too; as of last month we have bought £8000 of coffee from the two co-operatives and we have also sent back to them some £4000 in profit.
The ‘big bang’ for Café Paramo in terms of student organisation and student voice came in 2011 with the creation of a company structure in which all students were asked to take on specific roles. Students opted to become part of the finance, marketing, international links or design team. There was also a managerial board which, again, was something that students opted to do. This structure then gave the students both a clear ‘job description’ and a sense of autonomy that was very empowering.
By this stage, (and up until the present day) at any one time there would be around sixty to seventy students directly involved in the company, with most of those students coming from years 9 and 10.
Fortunately, the company structure and the enthusiasm of the students have alleviated some of the pressure on the teachers but it is always a delicate balancing act for the teachers involved. In the end the continuing existence of Café Paramo relies on both the teacher and the students wanting to do it.
Nor should we should forget the unswerving support of our suppliers – Miles Coffee or the celebrity cachet that has come with the project. Students (not teachers) have been asked to give presentations at the Said Business School at Oxford University, Asia House in London and at Brunel University – where they (students not teachers) have met Michael Eavis, Colin Greenwood, the Managing Director of the Fairtrade Foundation and Ragee Omaar.
SUPPORT THE CAFÉ PARAMO PROJECT
If you would like to support this project and buy some Café Paramo coffee for a Christmas gift that gives back to a good cause, contact them here»
Words, Photos & Illustration by Heathfield Community School