Firsthand Cooperative

Working together, lending a hand

FIRSTHAND Cooperative is a fair trade coffee company located in the heart of Appalachia that is connecting mountain communities around the world.  We believe everyone, especially farmers, deserves a fair share of the profits from the global coffee trade. Inspired by the principles of the fair trade movement, we are committed to building a sharing economy by supplying coffees from cooperatives of small-scale growers abroad and supporting social enterprise development right here in our mountain home. 

Beyond Fair Trade

Our “Fair Share Guarantee” reinvests 20% of our profits toward community wealth building partnerships at home and in the coffee lands.

 

FIRSTHAND coffees are all Fair Trade certified. The premiums we pay on coffee imports establish more just trading standards along global coffee supply chains. Despite progress made by the fair trade movement however, economic divides continue to widen between producer and consumer communities.  

FIRSTHAND Cooperative’s vision for economic justice goes beyond fair trade by making profit sharing a core value of our company and investing in projects that tackle systemic issues contributing to poverty. In practice this means we reinvest 20% of our profits into community wealth building partnerships. When you drink FIRSTHAND Coffee you participate directly in this “Fair Share Guarantee”. This value is part of our cooperative’s DNA, and while we do not partner exclusively with other co-ops we seek to reinvest in cooperative enterprises that share these ideals.

 

The Fair Share Story

As a fledgling student based organization at West Virginia University, all profits from FIRSTHAND coffee sales were invested in income diversification projects at La Hermandad Cooperative in Nicaragua. The funds helped develop an eco-tourism lodge, a community garden, an irrigation system and a small livestock operation on this coffee farm.  The investments were transformative and in 2015 La Hermandad was recognized as Nicaragua’s top community-based ecotourism destination, providing an additional source of revenue to farmers experiencing the booms and busts of the coffee trade. It also provided them with a platform to pursue local social, education and environmental protection projects.

In our experience then it is vital to go beyond fair trade to generate lasting social impact in producer and consumer communities alike. Profit sharing is a core component of what we do even as we have formalized into a worker-owned business model.

Now that La Hermandad projects are self-sustaining, FIRSTHAND Cooperative is developing new partnerships. One of those is with The Working World a non-profit micro-financier promoting non-extractive financing and tailor-made business support. We work directly with La Base, their Nicaraguan field office, investing $1,500 every quarter to fund cooperatives and support the organizational costs associated with increased project management.

The fair share guarantee also works to resolve economic crises here at home. In 2016 FIRSTHAND partnered with Refresh Appalachia to assist them in establishing sustainable agriculture training and development programs that increase the success of beginning farmers and ranchers in southern West Virginia and Central Appalachia. In 2017 we also subsidized the farm to families program connecting low income West Virginia families to a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share.

As our FIRSTHAND coffee sales continue to grow, so does our capacity to redistribute funds to projects that tackle the root causes of poverty. Our Fair Share Guarantee is reviewed annually by a board of advisors composed of consumers and partners who provide guidance and accountability to our profit sharing efforts.