By Sam Carmichael, Purchasing Agent


It is early morning and the mist still hangs low in the hills of San Lorenzo, Columbia.  Walking quietly up the dusty, well-worn paths I can hear the colorful birds begin to call to each other as the golden warmth slides into the valley.

I’m visiting here as part of Uncommon Grounds Coffee’s new program to increase social responsibility, as our company is striving to achieve B-Corp certification. They want us to meet with the farmers of the local fair-trade cooperatives so we can understand the impact of our daily decisions when purchasing beans from an ethical supply chain. Already, I have learned so much.




We have been up since dawn and, as we climb up to check on the coffee plants in the high reaches of the farm, Jose Blandon, who is a part of the fair-trade cooperative in San Lorenzo, explains that his family has worked these lands for hundreds of years. “The work here is hard, but we got used to it, as our grandfathers did, and we love it.” says Jose speaking for himself and his brothers, who have moved more quickly up the trail..

When asked who works on the farm Jose explains this has changed a lot in recent years.  It used to be only family but now the farm employs some of the refugees who have come in from neighboring countries.  “It has been difficult learning to communicate, but it is good”, he says with a smile. “Like many things that are difficult, it is good”


The belief, that good can come out of what is difficult, is wisdom which has been handed down through the generations on the Blandon farm. Jose’s family believes strongly in social responsibility and has always given back to the community. At times that hasn’t been easy.  “My grandfather helped build the first school we had here in the valley.  He did it by stripping all the building materials from one of his own buildings.  It was a hard sacrifice for him but it built a good, strong building for the students.”

The resulting building stood for 2 decades. But, now, with an influx of people in the valley, even the hastily built additions to the original school have not been adequate. “I visited one day for another purpose and saw students sitting in the hall doing their work. There were no desks for them; there was no room.” Jose decided something had to be done.

Jose met with the Uncommon Grounds Social Responsibility committee and the pictures he showed them convinced them that a new building was necessary. Uncommon Grounds adopted this as their third Corporate Community Service project in Columbia. 

He explained what happened next, “They put me in touch with Chris Hallien and Peter Smith, employees in the Palo Alta office.  They worked with me to organize the site plans and visited several times to help overcome obstacles. It took a lot of discussion with our community to really see what would work best because the school also is used at night by adult learners. Within six months the new school was completely built.”

Jose took me to the school, which was indeed clean and spacious.  He explained this building hosts children by day but at night it is used to help members of the local Fair-Trade cooperative receive training from Fair-Trade Foundation.  This program teaches local farmers how to replenish their land by utilizing food and animal waste. Last month it hosted The Heifer Project which donated livestock and held classes at the school about how to maintain and increase the gift community members had received. They hope soon to host a night school to introduce handy-crafts as a source of additional income and teach English as a second language. The school was a catalyst for positive change and Jose noted he can really feel the change it has made in the community.


“Fairtrade has given me training to help secure my farm.  It has done this by giving me help with farming and also by teaching my wife how to keep and raise chickens which also helps. I feel that being a part of the fair-trade cooperative is making my valley strong because we can depend of fair prices for our crops and that goes a long way. But perhaps most important thing to me was that when I saw something was wrong and knew we needed help, I was able to call and get that help.  That made me feel that the work I do is important and that it matters. It made me feel I had a real value and I had never felt that way before.

We still need help to get materials for the school, but I believe that we will get the help we need for the children and for the community. I think what Fairtrade has meant for me most of all, is hope.”

This blog, written by one of our employees, is part of our employee education program which is fully focused on building relationships between the fair-trade farming community and our state-side employees. We believe this experience helps our workers understand the true impact of their decisions and deepens their sense of social responsibility. These blogs, which each feature a particular farm, may be accessed via the QR code on our packages so our customers can see the farm their beans came from.