Happy International Coffee Day, Sparrows friends! A day for more than just freebies from your local cafes, a theme is selected each year to bring awareness to burgeoning issues in the industry. This year’s theme is “coffee’s next generation”, referring to the young coffee growers of tomorrow. The theme is encouraging the industry to consider the impending talent shortage coffee is currently facing. With the average age of coffee farmers on an upward trend, currently at 56, the future of coffee growing looks ever more bleak.
Young members of coffee growing families are choosing to seek education and alternate career options rather than coffee for countless reasons unique to their own circumstances. Untenably low coffee prices, increasing threats posed by climate change, a lack of youth-specific education, and insufficient critical infrastructure in rural farming communities are just some of the speculated reasons that coffee’s next generation and their families are looking elsewhere for their futures. In 2019, Sparrows launched Joven Coffee to address a part of this problem by offering coffee from young growers exclusively under the age of 34.
Joven was created by our very own Frankie Volkema, the youngest Q-grader in the world, at 15 years old (though she was 13 when she passed her Q exam). If her coffee palate wasn’t impressive enough, Frankie spotted the lack of youth involvement in coffee farming first hand while touring cooperatives in Colombia, and came home ready to do something about it.
Though there are many more strategies that must be implemented to holistically address the problem at large, Joven serves to create awareness and provide young growers with market access and a platform to share their stories.
Here’s an overview of the youth-led projects Joven currently partners with.
Joven’s relationship with the young producer group who grows our Turihamwe coffee was born from Sparrows’ existing partnership with JNP Coffee. JNP is a producer, exporter, and importer of green coffee, who we purchase all of our Burundi coffee from. Their business model supports inclusive economic development initiatives for farmers from Burundi, with a focus on women and youth. They support growers by sharing knowledge, encouraging innovation, and promoting environmental stewardship.
This coffee was produced by a collective of seven young women entrepreneurs from the Ngozi region of Burundi. These women pooled their savings to produce their first harvest and purchase a wet mill. They named their group Turihamwe, which means "together" in Kirundi. While these women have been in coffee farming for years, this is the group's first ever harvest.
CAFINORTE is the coffee cooperative responsible for coordinating and supporting the production of our youth-grown Colombian coffee. The Cauca area where the co-op works is home to a rich diversity of cultures, ethnicities, traditions, and worldviews. Honoring this diversity, Cafinorte partners with grassroots farmer associations, who promote local cultural cohesion and support the specific needs of their communities. As their partners, Cafinorte shares resources only attainable at scale. The cooperative provides youth-specific education to prepare its community’s next generation with tools necessary to prosper in coffee farming.
To source our youth-grown coffee from Guatemala, we work with Coffee Kids. Coffee Kids was founded in the USA in 1988 as the first independent NGO to specialize solely on improving the livelihood prospects of young coffee farmers. Since 2019, Coffee Kids has been active in the coffee region of Huehuetenango, where it has worked with up to 175 youth. In 2021, work continued with some of these same 75 youth from 5 groups with whom important groundwork has already been laid in 2020. The young farmers that Coffee Kids works with receive guidance on broadly useful topics like entrepreneurship, and are connected with youth loan and savings groups. Coffee Kids is also currently investing in 26 different youth-led enterprises in Guatemala.
However you choose to celebrate your International Coffee Day, we encourage you to consider how you can play a role in supporting coffee’s next generation -- whether that’s donating to an organization like Coffee Kids, purchasing a bag of Joven, or helping to spread the message. The future of coffee depends on it!