One day in 1994, Jorge Cuevas found himself in the rural highlands of Oaxaca Mexico, sweating on a wooden bench among rows of coffee farmers in 100-degree heat. They sat together in silent anticipation, looking down at their hands and feet, awaiting a verdict that would determine not only the quality of their lives for the coming months, but the welfare of their families and all who depended on them.
Cuevas was recruited by a cooperative of indigenous coffee farmers in southern Mexico to help them acquire a USDA Organic certification. They knew that the certification, while costly, could boost purchase prices for their beans and help them climb out of poverty. For most of the farmers, coffee was their lifeblood, yet they had essentially no input in the valuing of their crop.
Inside the building before them, which they had constructed to please and accommodate their visitors, three men from a distant and unimaginably different world sat in the air conditioning drinking cold beverages, and determining the fates of the farmers outside. Just as a Roman emperor would signal the fate of a gladiator with an upturned or downturned thumb, the traders would eventually emerge... Read more