Dynamite Coffee puts the ‘fair’ in ‘fair trade’

Weston Hall
Special to The Black Mountain News

You can smell the roasting coffee as you drive down U.S. 70. An incredible aroma, it is smell of compassion and success that emanates from the organic, fair-trade coffee roasting in the roaster at Dynamite Roasting Co. I sat down with its owners, Andy Gibbon and Josh Gibbs, recently to discuss not so much their award-winning coffee, but their passion for people.

Gibbs and Gibbon started their coffee house and roasting company in 2008. Since then, it is fair to say they have a cult following of sorts. Dynamite Coffee is served in coffee shops and restaurants in Black Mountain and across 20 states. Gibbs and Gibbon work personally with the farmers who produce the coffee beans that go into their coffee, some 150,000 pounds of which were consumed in Black Mountain and surrounding areas last year.

But even that large volume pales in comparison to the business partners’ humanitarian work locally and internationally.

Because most coffee-producing regions are in Third World countries, farmers historically have not seen much of the $30 billion in profits that the USDA says coffee generated last year. Cut out of the lion’s share of profits, farmers also must deal with falling prices, failing crops, creeping disease, pesticide poisoning and centuries-old oppression for large coffee producers and their so-called “best business practices.”

It is apparent when you talk to Gibbs and Gibbon, both successful entrepreneurs, that they have a different philosophy about running a coffee business. Both seem to be driven by a passion for their product and a love for people, not money. Money seems to be more of a result of their passion and love.

I asked them if they pay their employees a living wage and if that is important to Dynamite Roasting Co. “Yeah, absolutely,” Gibbon said. Sustainability, vital to the business, applies to employees as well, he said.

“You have to treat them well if you want them to stick around,” he said. “Part of that is paying everyone fairly. It is all about being fair. Everyone loves to see the same happy faces every day. They work really hard for us and do a really good job.”

The list of community outreach programs that Dynamite Roasting is involved in is extensive. It works with schools, donating coffee for teachers and to parent-teacher organizations. It works with WNCW-FM, donating premium prizes for the public radio station’s fundraisers. It provides coffees for events held by a large number of local civic groups and local nongovernment organizations.

Its reach is also global. Working with farmers in emerging countries, it helps them earn a living wage while producing coffee free from harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Farmers growing beans under the certified organic and fair trade banners are treated better and are easier on the environment (certified farmers don’t cause fish kills and drinking water pollution by dumping coffee bean husks in rivers, for instance).

Gibbs considers the farmers heroic because the choice to go organic is not easy - or immediately profitable.

“Often times, chemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides are offered by governments. ... that make more yield, even if it is temporary and even if it takes a link out of the ecosystem. When you are hungry, you are going to do what you have to do. So these organic farmers have taken a large risk and have seen hard times as they have purged their farms of chemicals.They can go years without a crop of coffee beans.”

The number of coffee farmers has dropped the past couple of years in tandem with the drop in coffee bean prices, Gibbons said. Seeing that coffee isn’t a viable product, at current market rates, farmers are moving to other commodities like cattle. A whole generation of coffee farming knowledge is being lost.

Because Dynamite Roasting agrees to pay farmers a set minimum, its farmers are still investing in their trees and operations. Gibbs said doing so gives farmers peace of mind. “They put a lot of heart and soul into the land,” he said.

Dynamite Roasting invested in people like Oscar Omar Alonzo, a coffee farmer in Honduras and a close friend Gibbs and Gibbon’s. In fact they are going down to visit him on his farm in Honduras this month, then flying him back to Black Mountain for a open community event on April 13. Alonzo, who provides premium organic coffee beans, is one of Dynamite’s success stories. His profits enabled him to build a house for his aging mother on his two-acre coffee farm.

Weston Hall, a Black Mountain resident, was an early childhood development in Uganda. Now a firefighter with the city of Asheville, he is the author of several books and screenplays.