Original Story Posted On: Barista Magazine Online
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Farmers are the backbone of our everyday lives, from the food we eat to the coffee we drink—none of it would be possible without them. Although they act as the very foundation of the food and beverage industry, producers are often the most overlooked members of the supply chain. Many smallholder coffee producers live in poverty, and amid the effects of climate change and COVID-19, many of them are facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity. A lot of coffee farmers live in food scarcity for up to eight months a year—a period of time often referred to aslos meses flacos, or “the thin months.”
In the wake of natural disasters and a disastrous global pandemic, the question stands: How can we ensure that the people putting food on ourtables have food to put on their own? This is a question that Kavi Bailey, founder of Grand Paradé Coffee, has dedicated her life to answering.
“I was raised by a unionist father who spent his life fighting for workers’ rights,” the Kenyan-born roaster shares. “Though we were very blessed to grow up wealthy, my mother chose to teach in schools in the slums. Having two parents who sought to create a humbling experience [for their children] and ensure equitable distribution for all … that’s something that shaped who I am today.”
"[The topic of] food security was a part of my life from a young age, because my parents were also farmers,” Kavi continues. “I grew up trying to understand why so many people around us were complaining that there was no food, when I knew that there were so many other possibilities. I saw my parents growing maize, beans, and so many other things, so I wanted to teach other people.”
In high school, Kavi began to strategize how to ensure the people around her were fed, starting with using her family’s tractor to help farm for a nearby village. Eventually, she went on to create Grand Parade Coffee, a socially conscious and inclusive farm-to-cup coffee company dedicated to vertically integrating the supply chain. Through Grand Parade Coffee, Kavi now works with producers in Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, providing them with the tools they need to ensure food security for themselves and their communities.
By providing coffee farmers with financing and training in beehive farming and growing new crops (such as avocados, maize, macadamia nuts, and bananas), Grand Parade Coffee has helped them diversify their revenue streams, thus becoming more resilient to hardships caused by climate change. The company also leads farmers in moving toward organic farming, and develops mitigation strategies such as irrigation and planting shade trees to conserve water and soil moisture.
Kavi describes farmers as the “bedrock of her business,” which is why she is dedicated to building solid relationships with them and giving them the tools they need to thrive.
The company empowers farmers in a multitude of other ways, including workshops about investment and bookkeeping. “I love numbers, and I come from a finance background,” states Kavi, “but I noticed that there was this mindset that investing is only for the wealthy. And I thought to myself, what about the people who don’t have $5 million? What about the person with $35,000 … they can’t invest?”
“The whole idea was for everyone to feel like they could make investments and feel empowered, to feel like they have control over their money,” Kavi explains. “That whole concept of making things accessible is what shaped Grand Paradé. Coffee comes from colonialism, and investing was the same thing. It was for the folks who had money … and I wanted to change that.”
Additionally, Grand Paradé has overseen the genesis of various education and vocational programs within their farmers’ communities. They’ve funded the construction of dorms, libraries, and greenhouses, and have experimented with bringing recent high school graduates from farming communities into office settings in big cities like Nairobi, in order to expose them to opportunities beyond farming. “I want to challenge norms, to break that distinction between rural life and urban life,” Kavi expresses. “I want [these children] to be motivated—to have something to look forward to.”
Through decades of love, generosity, and dedication, Kavi Bailey has been able to influence a global movement of activism: an emblem of gratitude for the people who make this entire industry possible. The next time you take a sip of your favorite coffee, think of the farmers who brought its magic to you.