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How a coffee and tea company is forging a new kind of social entrepreneurship

by Ana Lopez
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If you could help end forced labor around the world just by changing your morning coffee or afternoon tea, would you? Grace Farms, a cultural and humanitarian center in Connecticut, believes so — and they want to invite you to join them.

Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architecture firm SANAA, Grace Farms has been serving local and global communities since its inception in 2015. Now, the Grace Farms Foundation, a private non-profit foundation that owns and operates Grace Farms, is reinventing social entrepreneurship with a new Certified B Corporation subsidiary called Grace Farms Foods.

Grace Farms inspires a new form of philanthropic capitalism with its ethically and sustainably sourced coffee and tea to become the only premium tea and coffee brand to give 100% of its profits back to ending forced labor worldwide.

I recently spoke with Adam Thatcher, co-founder and CEO of Grace Farms, below Adam shares his insights on this innovative social enterprise structure.

Christopher Marquis: How did Grace Farms coffee and tea come about?

Adam Thatcher: As we prepared to open Grace Farms in 2015, we were focused on creating a new kind of public place that invited everyone. A place where everyone can experience nature, learn about art, engage in meaningful dialogue and foster stronger local and global communities. Grace Farms’ open, transparent architecture creates a sense of connection with both nature and other people. Coffee and tea became our way of welcoming people while subtly but meaningfully demonstrating the Foundation’s charitable purpose to end forced labor worldwide.

Prior to the opening, a supporter of Grace Farms, which owns a coffee importer and roaster, generously offered to donate all of the coffee to Grace Farms. Our founder and CEO, the visionary Sharon Prince, graciously accepted the offer on the condition that the coffee came from women-led cooperatives and was ethically sourced. Our partner returned months later with an incredible blend of organic and Fairtrade certified coffee sourced from women-led cooperatives in Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia. The coffees were so popular that we received calls from people as far away as Florida asking us to send bags of the exceptional roasts.

At the same time, Grace Farms tea master, Frank Kwei, used tea as a way to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors to Grace Farms as well. Tea has become an iconic part of the visitor experience and an opportunity to learn more about the Foundation’s humanitarian work.

As a public place, the pandemic forced us to focus our activities on serving our local community by providing PPE and meals. This period of separation encouraged us to think about a new way to stay connected to our community while reaching a whole new group of people who wanted to experience Grace Farms. So we started Grace Farms Foods with three goals in mind: invite everyone to experience Grace Farms through our signature coffee and tea, demonstrate and educate about ethical and sustainable supply chains, and return 100% of profits to ending forced labor worldwide .

Marquis: How are your coffees and teas ethically and sustainably sourced?

Thatcher: Coffee and tea are two global commodities that are often taken for granted as a delicious utensil as we rush out the door. However, we want everyone to know that behind every coffee bean and tea leaf are farmers, tea pickers, mothers and often children harvesting and processing what will become your daily caffeine fix.

While no brand can ever guarantee that there will be no child labor in their supply chain, we are committed to combating the root causes of child labor and preventing the abuse and exploitation of children. We’ve decided to partner with Fairtrade International and become the first US-based tea brand to source Fairtrade Certified ingredients in our effort to create a positive impact for farmers and workers. By partnering with Fairtrade producers and organic farmers, we support climate resilience and combat deforestation. Not only do the Fairtrade ingredients we source meet higher standards of environmental and social criteria, but every pound also contains premiums that directly support the communities where the products come from.

However, certification by a third party only provides a certain degree of assurance. That’s why we make the effort to visit the tea gardens and coffee farms we come from to see for ourselves. One of our most recent trips to India gave us the opportunity to speak directly to the tea pickers and factory workers. We learned that getting paid on time and educational opportunities for their children are their top priorities and that the Fairtrade premiums help pay for the buses used to take their children to school.

As mentioned above, we only source coffee from women-led cooperatives in Ethiopia, Colombia and Indonesia. These cooperatives are mainly made up of female farmers who own less than 2 hectares of land and grow coffee and other indigenous fruits such as bananas and cacao. On our last visit to Colombia to meet with farmers like Emerita, we were surprised to learn that we were the first customers to ever meet with the cooperatives’ farmers. During these visits you learn so much and confirm that we support entrepreneurs who in turn support their families.

Marquis: How does the give-back model work?

Thatcher: Thanks to a minor change in the IRS code called the Philanthropic Enterprise Act, we started a public subsidiary of Grace Farms Foundation called Grace Farms Foods with the mission to invite everyone to experience Grace Farms through our ethical and sustainably sourced tea and coffee that give back 100% of profits to help end forced labor worldwide.

Grace Farms Foods was established as a public benefit company, with a legal obligation to make a positive social or environmental impact on society. As mentioned above, we do this throughout our supply chain, but what makes our model particularly unique is the fact that we are 100% owned by Grace Farms Foundation, a private foundation and 501c3. That means when profitable, 100% of all profits go back to the Grace Farms Foundation and the money is earmarked to support Grace Farms’ Design For FREEDOM™, the leading movement to end forced labor in the building materials supply chain.

We are excited to join a small cohort of other B Corps™ like Greyston Bakery and Patagonia who not only use their business operations to advance their business, but also return all profits to support charitable causes. We look forward to a future where more and more B Corps join us in their commitment to making a greater social and environmental impact by devoting equity capital to non-profit organizations.

Marquis: What’s next for Grace Farms?

Thatcher: We are very excited to launch a new wellness tea collection that completes our current portfolio of everyday teas and coffees. In 2023, we also focus on pursuing meaningful business partnerships with companies that want to share our tea and coffee in their offices, kitchenettes, meeting rooms and events. We can’t think of a better way to drive change than working directly with companies that want to work together to create new outcomes for a better world.

Sharon Prince is one of those rare leaders who is always open to new ideas and sees how far we can go. So, do I think we can have Grace Farms coffee and tea shops in the US? You bet I can.

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