TRAVERSE CITY — Chris Treter’s search for the world’s best coffee beans has taken the owner of Higher Grounds Trading Company all over the globe, but you won’t find the places he visits in any travel brochure.
Treter’s trips to the Yirgacheffe region of southern Ethiopia offered him an up-close look at the lives of the coffee farmers who grow some of the finest coffees in the world, as well as their families and their living conditions.
His 2010 visit to the small village of Hase Gola, where some of the world’s most unique and sought-after coffee beans originate, left him troubled but committed to improving the lives of its residents after he spoke with residents and heard their stories.
The statistics haunted him. Little more than half the region’s children complete primary school. Life expectancy is 53 years. The average income is barely $1.25 per day, while the coffee they grow fetches United States retail prices upwards of $15 a pound.
“It was inspiring to see the level of commitment the farmers have for what is a specialty crop for us,” Treter said. “But the people themselves lacked basic necessities like access to water, health care and education."
Treter, a long-time activist for social and economic change in the world’s farming communities, said those who produce goods, farm crops or make clothing are born into the cycle of generational poverty that he terms ‘economic slavery’. Buying their coffee at Fair Trade prices helps, but Treter realized Fair Trade wasn’t enough to lift people out of poverty.
Treter, along with a small group of individuals who are passionate about the Fair Trade movement, formed On The Ground, a nonprofit that reaches out to farming communities around the world. The organization has projects in Ethiopia, Palestine and Mexico.