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Women in the Coffee Industry: A Café Femenino Conversation

by Laurel Zoff Pelton |

At Tiny Footprint Coffee, we believe that environmental and social justice go hand in hand, and as part of this mission, since our founding we have been dedicated to sourcing from Women Coffee Producers across the world. We've consistently and proudly sold and represented their incredible beans, and done our best to tell their stories. As part of our celebration of Women's History Month, we've created our Women Producers Sampler, which exclusively features coffees grown and produced by women, including the inspiring women of the Café Femenino Colombia Program. In continuation of this celebration, I sat down with Café Femenino representative Connie Kolosvary to learn more about her work with Café Femenino, and to get her perspective on women in the coffee industry, the vital role they play, and the importance of supporting their inspiring work and sharing their incredible stories. 

Laurel: Thank you so much for talking with us, Connie. When we first came out with the Colombia Café Femenino, you were such a wonderful resource. So I wanted to take some time and chat with you and see your thoughts on women coffee producers, how important they are to our economy, our community, and the impact of their work.

Connie: Well, you probably already know that I am a huge advocate and always will be. Since the beginning of time as farmers, women have been producing coffee - I mean, they've always been there, doing the work. But they've been invisible. They have not always received a financial benefit for the work that they do. And so, changing that paradigm by supporting a supply chain like Café Femenino is something that will make their lives better. And that - that's what I want.  

Laurel: That's all any of us want. 

Connie: Exactly. I remember the first time I traveled to Peru for work in 2007 to meet with the women coffee producers there and they welcomed me with so much generosity into their homes... They work so hard and they do so much with so little. They just inspired me. And I'm like, "Dang. If they can do all this with practically nothing, living in extremely impoverished zones - what have I done with my life?" So that's when I realized I cannot not do something. I've been working in that same vein ever since. They now know that I'm always out here working for them.

Laurel: Could you describe for us what Café Femenino is in your own words?

Connie: Absolutely. Café Femenino is a framework for coffee production that catalyzes social justice and gender equality inside a coffee supply chain. Production requirements start at the farm with the coffee producer and go all the way through the value chain to the consumer. Inside Café Femenino Programs there is a structure that we have created. Everybody along the supply chain agrees to work together following the standards - from the farmer to the consumer. Well, the consumer at the end just needs to enjoy the coffee (laughs). But many times, not only do the consumers enjoy the coffee, but they find themselves becoming passionate about the idea of Café Femenino. They get involved in lots of different ways. Sometimes they even donate to support the projects that the women request through the foundation part of Cafe Femenino.  

I think that's the easiest way to think about Café Femenino. The model was put together through many years of conversations back and forth with the women coffee producers. And through that experience, together, we have created ways to overcome barriers that bar women from fully participating and controlling money.

Laurel: That’s amazing. Talking to you is really interesting because Café Femenino's mission is so much about the story of women working in coffee, but in addition to women coffee producers and farmers, you with Café Femenino, are women working as traders and producers within the coffee industry. And there are not a lot of women coffee producers in that level of the supply chain usually.

Connie: You're right. There are women coffee farmers who do the bulk of the work on the farm. When it comes time to take the coffee to the buying station, typically the men take up the transport and selling. From there on down the supply chain, it's mostly men. Even in the United States, I still find that when I'm in the company of a majority of women, I look around and go, "Wow, this is really not typical." It's usually mostly men, even here in the United States. It's very much a man's industry. I think it's changing, and that's great. So many men are making space for us. But it’s still very much primarily men. I don't know how Tiny Footprint is...but it just is. 

And in coffee trading, I assist in coffee trading - buying then selling for a couple of Café Femenino clients. I was in Peru with one of our roasters from Australia and we were riding in the back of a pickup truck chatting, and she looked at me and goes, "What's it like being a women coffee trader?" And I was like, I never really thought about it, but I don't know many women coffee traders. I know a few; I work with one woman who distributes our Café Femenino in Europe - and she trades other coffees. But I don't know a lot of women coffee traders. It didn't occur to me until she pointed it out. And I'm like huh. Okay. (laughs)

Laurel: Well, the work of these incredible women coffee farmers is amazing, and the role that Café Femenino plays in telling their story and bringing their beans to the consumer is, too. It is really beautiful to have women at Café Femenino like yourself actually trading. It feels like down the production line, women are the ones getting these beans. 

Connie: And you and I, working together, developing a partnership - I will probably connect with you more during our time working together than I will with anybody else at your company. Because I find that I want to find and support other women who are doing the same thing in a different capacity. What I do doesn't matter if you can't do what you do; to make sure that the information I have gets passed on to your customers. It's so important what you do, and to be able to do that. Because it's not just coffee, it's a story. And that's what's so different about it. I know lots of coffees have stories, and this just happens to be a really big story that so many women are living currently. Their lives are being changed by it daily. If we keep doing, and keep pushing, and keep saying yes, we can help. I think that things are just going to continue to keep getting better. 

Laurel: Well, and it builds on itself. It's wild, because being a woman in any kind of business, as we progress in our careers, it is its own form of social and economic revolution. And it's wild to be a part of a story with these women who are boots on the ground, having social and economic revolutions. While they're also doing this in business. 

Connie: For sure. Even at my age. I follow this woman on TikTok who talks about being more gender-neutral in your emails, and I'm from an older generation than you are but I started to ask myself. Oh my god, why am I always asking permission? Why am I writing emails like this? I didn't realize that I didn't have to make sure that everyone is okay all the time. So, I'm still learning.

Laurel: Oh yes. When I send an email, especially if it's to a cis man I'm working with, I go through and I remove all of the "just" s and "I was thinking" and "maybe if we…" 

Connie: "And would it be okay if"

Laurel: Instead of like "I need this file by 4pm. Thank you." 

Connie: Exactly. I was trained and socialized as a woman that you had to say things a certain way otherwise you would be off-putting. Or they would think you were something? And I'm kind of over it now.

Laurel: I would rather be something.

Connie: Yes. This is who I am. And my colleagues are just fine. We gotta give our guys credit. 


Laurel: And it is important to call allies in with this work, too. I know at Tiny Footprint, when I came on, I noticed right away that it is mostly men working at the company, but I quickly learned that they are allies. Not just to me, but I'm learning more and more, Tiny Footprint has always had a very willful commitment to women in coffee and women coffee producers. And as I learned more about it, I got more and more excited. Because I was like oh I'm gonna like working with these people. 

Connie: Yes. And not to just assume they're cavemen. They're not! And it sounds like they're not, which is great! 

Laurel: Yes! And it’s like well, this owner is a cis man, but also they have a commitment to women coffee producers, they're a carbon negative company and environmental politics and social politics - you can't have one without the other. Especially right now, when it comes to gender, race, sexuality, class, all locus of identities. And the more and more I learned, I discovered this isn't just a marketing thing this is actually baked into the values of the people running the company. 

Connie: Which is so powerful. And that's how we're going to affect change. At Café Femenino, we could be selling anything. We could be selling cacao! We could be selling bananas. Anything that women grow. Women are the majority of the coffee farmers, and most farmers are small landholders on this planet. They could be producing anything. The coffee just happens to be the thing that brings them together and the vehicle for change. Also for telling the story of how they are changing themselves. And the men around them are also changing and adapting. It's not just the women that go through this type of evolution. It's the men as well, and their families and their communities and their cooperatives. 

Laurel: It's wild to me that on the customer end, all of this impact comes from just a customer purchasing their coffee with just a little extra thought and intention. That's all it takes.

Connie: How easy is that, right? And that's your job, you get to tell people that. It's just a little extra intention, and look at how your money can be used for good and not evil! (laughs)

Laurel: And a lot of good! Perpetual good! It builds on itself in this really cool way.

Connie: Sustainable. 

Laurel: Yes, sustainable.

Learn more about Café Femenino and the women of the Café Femenino Colombia Program here, and more about our Women Producers Sampler here. And remember, every cup of this carbon negative Tiny Footprint Coffee you enjoy will not only support these women coffee producers, but remove carbon from the atmosphere and help build a better, more sustainable world for us all to live in. Talk about good karma in every cup.

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