Brattleboro coffee company assists in south Asia disaster relief

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(Host) The owners of a Brattleboro company that works with Indonesian farmers are en route to the hard-hit island of Sumatra. The couple will be monitoring relief efforts and working to help their coffee-growing partners get back on their feet.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) ForesTrade markets fair-trade coffee and spices from around the world. It’s been recognized by the U.N. for helping farmers improve their lives and the environment by growing certified organic products.

The Brattleboro company works with a cooperative of more than 2,000 coffee growers in Aceh province in Sumatra. That’s the province hardest hit by the disaster.

Thomas Fricke and his wife Sylvia Blanchet are ForesTrade’s founders. Because the coffee growers they work with are in the highlands, they say they weren’t hit by the Tsunami. But the effects of the earthquake were severe.

(Fricke) “Several family members died in their homes when their homes collapsed. However, as we’ve discovered in the last two weeks, there’s a lot greater loss among their family members on the coast and particularly their children who are going to school down in the devastated capital of Banda Aceh.”

(Keese) Thirteen of the farmers’ children who were in the capitol are presumed dead. Fricke says the coop’s coffee warehouses are being used to shelter earthquake victims. Coop members were also quick to reach out to the even more devastated coast.

(Fricke) “The farmers collected food and vegetables that they grow on their own farms, and stocks of rice, and loaded up eight truckloads. And with 20 of their members ferried it down to Banda Aceh. And then they stayed for an extra three or four days to assist in the relief effort.”

(Keese) Fricke says the coffee growers have made three such trips so far.

ForesTrade’s phones have also been ringing with offers of help. So far they’ve raised about $75,000 from customers like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Much of the money is already at work.

During his ten-day visit Fricke will track the flow of aid from his company’s headquarters in central Sumatra. He’ll work with ForesTrade’s Indonesian staff on setting reconstruction priorities, once immediate needs are taken care of.

He says the coffee harvest peaks during February and March.

(Fricke) “Coffee is the second-largest export earning commodity in Aceh, after oil and gas. And it affects the lives of several hundred thousand people. So helping to restore the vital infrastructure, helping to mobilize people and get the harvest moving again is very critical.”

(Keese) Fricke’s wife and partner Sylvia Blanchet will be in the country for the next two months.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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