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Striving to Make a Cup of Coffee Sustainable

Martin Mayorga
Source: Aha Concepts
Martin Mayorga

When we discuss sustainability, we tend to focus on nature and the environment. While those are clearly vital to sustained life and health, companies must concentrate on holistic sustainability, which I consider a balance between nature, communities and commerce.

This viewpoint has driven the growth of my company, Mayorga Coffee, from a "mom and pop" to a nationally distributed brand known for high quality, fair pricing and progressive practices.

Being a socially and environmentally responsible company does not have to be achieved at the expense of profit or competitiveness. In our case, a dedication to holistic sustainability has proved a competitive advantage.

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I was born in Guatemala and spent most of my childhood in Nicaragua, then Costa Rica and Peru. While living in those countries I developed a deep respect for the people and communities who made a living from their land. I saw sugar, coffee and vegetable farmers lovingly cultivate their crops to sell at the local market.

At the market, potential customers carefully inspected every piece of produce to ensure freshness and quality before taking it home to feed to their loved ones. They haggled on price, making their needs clear to one another before reaching an agreement.

The entire process was dependent on a network of variables, including consistent rainfall, proper sunlight, healthy soil, economic viability, consumer expectations and market demand. When those elements aligned, the process provided farmers appropriate income and consumers with desirable quality and freshness at a fair price. When the process could be replicated, it became sustainable.

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I started Mayorga Coffee when I was 21, in an effort to contribute to the countries that helped form me and to create a long-term market opportunity for coffee farmers. I realized that in accomplish that, I would have to offer the best quality at fair prices. The best way to do that was to learn the entire process and to promote natural growing practices that maximized quality while protecting the environment.

I spent time in Central America to learn the craft of small-batch roasting so that I could essentially act as a sales agent for coffee farmers and a buyer's agent for consumers. With this approach I could protect the interests of everyone in the supply chain, replicating the farmers' market model that I appreciated as a child.

Yuri Arcurs | Getty Images

More than 16 years later, our company has grown tremendously, but our model has remained the same. We care about our farmers' needs, health, environment and market viability. We support their natural and organic growing practices, which protect their environment and workers. We engage in programs that educate their children and provide health care options for their families.

Most important, we engage with them when making our purchases. We spend time at the farm year after year, staying aware of their needs and paying a price that correlates with the quality of their product.

Once we have sourced our coffees, we roast in small batches, packaging by hand and shipping to retailers immediately after roasting for optimal freshness. Throughout, we take steps such as using wind power, composting byproduct, recycling packaging materials and supporting causes in our community.

We operate on a lean model with direct distribution and just enough margin to sustain healthy growth. This ensures that our quality-to-price ratio is superb, giving our customers a reason to support us long term and ultimately making our model sustainable.

During this Earth Week, I challenge business owners and managers to adjust their business model to one that creates sustainability rather than one that simply markets.

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Watch a video about Mayorga's farmer-friendly principles in action here.

Martin Mayorga is the president and founder of Mayorga Coffee.

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