Madison's Singing Rooster returns profits to Haitian coffee producers.
"Let's just blame all of this on Google," says Molly Nicaise, cofounder and president of Madison-based Singing Rooster Coffee.
She's recalling her nonprofit company's founding in 2009. Nicaise and her husband and partner, Christophe, had been longtime volunteers in Haiti as well as entrepreneurs, and they observed the limitations of outside aid in the country.
"We saw what the 'culture of giving' was doing for the Haitians," says Nicaise. "There was such limited infrastructure that if a crisis happened someplace else in the world or an aid organization lost funding, everything came to a screeching halt. And then they could no longer support the clean water, the hospital, etc."
After one trip, Nicaise came home particularly frustrated and turned to a Google search of Haitian products to try to find a way to help.
"Not too far down on the list was coffee, and that's a great commodity," she says. "Haitians have been doing coffee for centuries, and they do it well." In 1949, Haiti was the world's third-largest coffee supplier.
"So why doesn't anyone know about Haitian coffee?" Nicaise wondered. "I did a bit of research and saw there was pretty good infrastructure on coffee processing that went on in the '90s. Basically what they need is open access to markets and someone to come in and sell their goods and pay them well."
That's the idea behind Singing Rooster: high-quality Haitian coffee, bought for a fair price and sold around the world.
"The big buzzword in a lot of funding agencies is 'impact' or 'impact assessment,'" Nicaise explains. "We put money in the farmer's pocket immediately. We pay a minimum of $3.50 a pound [for] green [beans] to farmers."
Nicaise says most Haitian coffee farmers get under a dollar a pound, adding, "If a farmer is Fair Trade-certified, maybe he's getting $2 a pound." She says that certification is expensive for farmers; being certified organic even more so.
Singing Rooster holds to its price promise. "No fluctuations," says Nicaise. "That's what we pay you, and then we give premiums for things like more sorting or higher altitudes."
All proceeds go back to the farmers. Singing Rooster also puts up "matching grants for business growth."
Nicaise says this model carries the crucial benefits of autonomy and pride for farmers, while allowing them access to new technology to improve their product. If Singing Rooster helps bring in a $400 machine that will improve the beans from 30% to 90% export quality, farmers see those numbers and "get it very quickly," says Nicaise.
"A lot of our customers are other nonprofits who work in Haiti. They buy our coffee wholesale," says Nicaise. One of those is Engineers Without Borders at UW-Madison.
Nicaise is just getting around to making the coffee more available via retail locally. It is sold through the SERRV store at 2701 Monroe St. And Nicaise will be at this year's Fair Trade Holiday Festival at Monona Terrace on Dec. 7, selling Haitian coffee and Haitian art. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go back to Haiti.