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Tim Kantz (FCRH '98)

Coffee With a Conscience
Tim Kantz, FCRH ’98, works with coffee growers in Guatemala to make good on the promises of the fair-trade movement.

By Eileen Markey, FCRH ’98

Tim Kantz
Tim Kantz (center), co-founder of Café Conciencia
Coffee is the biggest success of the decades-old fair-trade movement, which guarantees a just wage for workers to counteract the more rapacious tendencies of the free market. Fair-trade coffee is on supermarket shelves across the country, each bag bearing the promise that farmers were justly compensated for their crop.

So when Tim Kantz (FCRH ’98) visited worker-run coffee cooperatives in Guatemala in 2005, he was disappointed to see people still living in terrible poverty. The reason? They were selling their crop in raw form to big suppliers, who then roasted and sold the coffee, taking in substantial profits. If the villagers reserve some of their crop and roast it themselves to sell directly to customers, he realized, they'll keep more of the wealth their work produces in their own communities. The goal is sustainability: self-sufficient communities with no hungry bellies.

“The fact is that fair-trade minimum prices have not been increased since they were set in 1988,” Kantz said on a recent visit to New York. “It’s certainly not lifting growers out of poverty.”

That's why in 2005 Kantz and his Guatemalan partner Omar Mejia founded Café Conciencia, a nonprofit organization that markets and distributes fair-trade coffee, connecting farmers directly with drinkers. Working closely with three cooperatives run by indigenous farmers, Kantz helps the communities acquire equipment for roasting and links them with buyers in the United States. The three co-ops, which provide a livelihood for 200 families, harvested more than 190,000 pounds of environmentally sustainable coffee last year, Kantz reported. They were only able to roast a small portion of that, he said, but the project is growing.

“It’s a human right to have decent clothing, shelter, sanitation, working conditions,” Kantz said. “We have to fess up to the idea that our economic choices have an effect” on whether the people who grow our food live decently.

Kantz, a former philosophy major who was involved in campus activism and community service during his time at Fordham, said the University was instrumental in helping him to develop his social conscience. Fordham "provided me with the opportunity to compare and contrast my own life with the lives of people in the Bronx” and throughout the world, he said. In 1995, Kantz traveled to India and the following year visited Guatemala, both with the University’s Global Outreach service program. “Those [trips] provided me with the first chance to see what life is in a third world country.”

Kantz said he credits Martin Fergus, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, with educating him on how global poverty benefits the rich and with introducing him to the Catholic Worker, where he lived during a hiatus from school in 1997.

Sandra Lobo-Jost (FCRH ’97), director of Fordham’s Community Service Program and a classmate of Kantz’s, said he took the Ignatian values instilled by a Jesuit education seriously.

“Even among his own circle of socially conscious folks, Tim understood that [working for social change] was about more than charity. He was thinking about how we have a reciprocal relationship [with those we serve],” she said.

That is exactly the type of relationship Kantz is hoping to build with Café Conciencia.

“For me, however small and uncertain of success, the idea is to see the Guatemalan people take back what’s theirs, because they’ve been stolen from for centuries,” Kantz said, explaining that his vision for Café Conciencia involves helping the workers “control their own destiny and see some sort of equality exist in the world.”

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