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At Caffe Ibis in Logan, social change is brewing
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For Sally Sears, there's much more to a freshly brewed cup of coffee than its rich hue, tantalizing aroma and robust flavor.

The Logan resident also sees an opportunity to make the world a better place -- one cup at a time.

Sears and her husband of more than 35 years, Randy Wirth, serve up social justice and environmental stewardship along with their coffee.

Sears and Wirth began with a health food store in 1976 before specializing in coffee. Today, they operate Caffe Ibis, a trendy coffee house/cafe, and a company that roasts and sells about 300,000 pounds of coffee annually.

"Part of our mission is to be unbeatable on quality and freshness with anyone anywhere. The 'Local Roast Difference' means that, even in Japan, we can compete on quality with the neighborhood roaster," said Wirth, who is trained to spot more than 100 possible defects in coffee. "You have to have extraordinary quality."

In a company where profitability isn't the bottom line, Wirth said the goal is "to have the eyes of the coffee bean farmer and the eyes of the customer in front of us as we work."

To that end, the couple have developed software to trace their coffees' origins.

"Even as you're putting the label on the bag, you can know who the customer is and who the farmer is," Wirth said, adding controlling quality means controlling growth. "We've turned down so much distribution, it's ridiculous. Sometimes we really feel stupid about it."

Another cup? » Coffee is the world's second largest commodity and Americans drink one-third of it. It also is the largest organically grown commodity in the United States, a niche which has grown 12 percent in the past year, said Sears, the CEO of Caffe Ibis.

"That's why we can have such an impact," Sears said.

The family-owned, award winning business offers Triple Certified Coffees -- the industry's highest standard.

The designations, Fair Trade, Smithsonian Shade-Grown and Organic, require extra expense, paperwork and inspection, but these markers also give the consumer faith in the system, Sears said.

As early members of The Specialty Coffee Association of America, Sears and Wirth were buying coffee from farmers who showed a commitment to a healthy environment well before it became popular.

The Fair Trade standards guarantee a decent wage, humane labor conditions and community improvements. The Smithsonian's Bird-Friendly designation protects rain forests by rewarding farmers who provide habitat for insects, orchids and animals.

Caffe Ibis pays the farmer an additional premium for each of these designations, rewarding workers in Latin America for the beneficial practices.

"It costs us. We chose not to charge customers the full price for all of the certification -- to be in competition," Sears said.

Sears and Wirth, who call their customers "ethical consumers," say there are more important things than profits.

"If you're going to spend $10 on a pound of coffee, why not have those premiums go back to the farm partners that are growing the coffee? We're actually putting the money back in the farmer's hand. There's no middle man here. That to us is important," Sears said. "Consumers vote every day with their dollar. Are they going to buy something that is actually contributing to the people, planet and species of the earth?"

Brewing opportunity » After traveling half-way around the world to meet farmers they've worked with for a dozen years, the Ibis owners know firsthand where that morning cup of coffee comes from.

So in 2003 when brokers Gaye and Garth Smith of Vancouver told Sears about a plan to help disenfranchised female farmers in northern Peru, she was hooked.

"They [women] had been forced up in to the highlands. A lot of them didn't have husbands and were abused," Sears said. "We wanted to see if we could raise up those women. In raising up those women within their village, it raised up the entire village."

In 2005, as part of the effort called Café Feminino, Sears and Wirth traveled on a dirt road in to a remote village 200 miles north of the capital Lima to celebrate a coffee bean harvest with members of the co-op.

"We were the first non-natives that came into their villages," Sears said, adding many villagers sleep eight to a room on earthen floors. "They hand-carried mattresses from other villages for the two married couples in our group."

But that was light duty for the farmers, who still carry 152-pound bags of coffee beans on their backs for processing.

"Up until the Café Femenino project, it was a four-hour trip one way to the wet mill, carrying it on their backs. They don't have beasts of burden or trucks," Wirth said. "The first thing we did, as a part of this project, was build nine new wet mills, cutting the trip to 20 minutes."

Just four years ago, the only vehicle belonged to the mayor and it was shared among several villages. Only a select few of the young men were allowed to attend school.

"So 15 to 18 boys would be hanging off this pickup truck and they would go to one school in a remote village," Sears said.

"Now every village has a school and the little girls, instead of going into the farm fields and working with their mothers, are learning to read," she said.

Café Femenino, which began with 76 members, now has more than 800 members and is spreading into the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Mexico.

Femeninos trades exclusively with other women within the coffee industry.

"We wanted to honor and respect the woman-to-woman experience," Sears said. "We call it the triple-bottom-line because we're looking at social justice. We're looking at the environment and it gets us out of bed in the morning. We're thrilled to come to work and we know that we are making a difference every day."

abrunson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">abrunson@sltrib.com

You can attend a roast

Caffe Ibis invites the public to watch the roasting process from 7:30 to 9 a.m. each Friday at the downtown Logan cafe at 52 Federal Ave. For more information, check online at http://www.caffeibis.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.caffeibis.com.

Coffee » Logan couple insists on high quality, protecting the environment and benefitting farmers.
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