I’ve had the privilege of working with Ben Weiner since we first purchased coffee from Gold Mountain Coffee Growers in 2010. Ben is the founder of GMCG, connecting us with Nicaraguan coffee producers over the past seven years including Don Alecci, Don Isidro, and Jose Francisco.
Not only does GMCG serve as coffee exporter and importer, but Ben has established GMCG to create a positive social and environmental impact in the communities in which he works.
In the years I've been working with Ben, his focus has always been about the people behind the coffee. The heart of GMCG is his passion and drive to empower producers and share their story. He has developed long term relationships with growers helping them improve quality resulting in higher prices for their coffee. He reinvests profits back to the producers and the surrounding coffee growing community. His efforts include offering training, free computing classes, and assisting the local school by installing running water and donating textbooks. He even purchased a neighboring rainforest to help protect and conserve wildlife. For all these efforts, Ben was recognized by the SCAE in winning the Excellence Award for Sustainability in 2016.
I wanted to catch up with Ben to share his story in coffee and his future plans with Gold Mountain Coffee Growers.
How did you get started in coffee?
- Coffee for me started out as being all about the people, and it is still all about ensuring that those in the coffee supply chain can improve their standard of living and lead dignified lives. Quickly, I realized that in order to improve standards of living, producers, pickers, and everyone at origin needed to produce top-notch, high-cupping coffee that would WOW roasters and allow them to justify more funds going to producers and their communities. I learned all of this when doing my thesis research in Nicaragua in 2002. Since then, Finca Idealista came into being as well as Gold Mountain Coffee Growers, both based completely on quality in order to achieve more for communities.
How did Gold Mountain Coffee Growers begin?
- When we started Finca Idealista, farmers came to me and asked for help connecting directly with international markets. They said the current systems were not allowing them to earn enough to feed their families, and they complained about corruption. That was why we founded Gold Mountain Coffee Growers--to empower farmers and their communities to improve their standards of living through their own hard work to produce high-cupping specialty coffee.
Why did you start GMCG, and why Nicaragua?
- Gold Mountain Coffee Growers was started in Nicaragua because it is the second poorest country in the hemisphere, and it has always had the potential for high-cupping coffee. The conditions for great coffee, unfortunately mixed with poverty, gave us the conditions to fight poverty through high-cupping coffee. We are now winning US and international awards for quality (the Good Food Awards, Golden Bean Competition, and finals of the US Barista Championships), and for economic/environmental sustainability (the SCAE Excellence Award for Sustainability) at the same time as producers are tripling their yields and earning more. Finca Idealista has even purchased a rainforest next to the farm for the sole purpose of protecting it.
Mutual trust is an important part of developing long-lasting relationships. How did you gain the trust of the producers and vice versa?
- We gain the trust of farmers because they see, by example, how other producers are increasing their incomes and standards of living through producing high-cupping coffee. Producers are even planting higher-cupping coffees to sell to roasters because they see that roasters are enthusiastic about higher-cupping varieties. We have to be pragmatists and always maintain a certain level of caution and can't easily trust everyone. It's a very difficult business climate in Nicaragua, rife with corruption unfortunately. In this difficult environment it has taken years to figure out who can be trusted and who cannot. It's still a challenging environment to be honest but we proceed, in a pragmatic and realistic way, to carry out our work in order to have a big impact.
What are some of your upcoming projects with GMCG?
- We're currently planting some exciting varieties, including yellow pacamara, yellow bourbon, and others. In addition, we're working with producers so that they have special solar drying rooms for coffee even on the farthest mountaintops. We've also expanded our free computing classes for girls, increasing the number of students receiving classes and teaching them internet skills. Our farm is also now a paradise for visiting roasters, who can enjoy a lookout point and perhaps even make a coffee up there, walk through the rainforest to see how we're protecting it (as well as witness the unfortunate difference between our farm and neighbors who are deforesting rainforest), and see our coffee variety museum (which also serves as a living seed bank). We're also always open to new projects in collaboration with roasters and welcome ideas, as long as the projects or initiatives get the incentives right and will accomplish the intended results for producers and the environment.
- Stephanie Kelley, Brand Manager