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May | June 2020
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I AM WRITING THIS COLUMN AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE to the magazine’s final delivery to the printer, under the misguided thought that the later I wait, the more accurately I will know what will be happening when you read it. The truth is that even if I wrote this column 24 hours before you read it, in the world of a massive pandemic and financial calamity, there is no way of foreseeing what might have transpired between the writing and the reading.
Over the past couple of decades, we have become accustomed to ever-increasing amounts of information, all leading to a sense that we can predict and control future outcomes. We understand coffee compounds down to the molecular level, we track roast profiles with precision based on a multitude of variables, and we create detailed business plans with a range of financial assumptions and outputs. We, especially those of us near the consumer end of the coffee supply chain, have believed that we live in a world of relative certainty that our parents and grandparents would have never assumed.
Ironically, those closer to the start of the coffee supply chain, the field workers and farmers, live with constant uncertainty. Will there be enough rain or too much rain this year? Will the market pay enough for this crop to plant the next crop? Will a coffee disease in another country increase the price paid for my coffee, or will it migrate and destroy my crop? Will the political climate in my country, region or town allow me to get my crop to market?
I find myself thinking of my past visits to coffee farms across the world, and what I remember most from these visits gives me hope. Farming is often a difficult life; however, year after year I see farmers striving to improve the quality of their coffee with no assurance of the payoff. I see joy and pride in day-to-day activities and a connection to the environment, to neighbors and to family. That is the silver lining that I am discovering in dealing with the uncertainties that are now persistent in my world.
I miss the physical connection with my coffee community and long for the days when items like planning my trade show schedule and redesigning my booth populated my to-do list. I take heart from the support I have received from my advertisers, my staff and my readers, and I know that I can adapt to working in an uncertain world. I know that none of us is untouched by this pandemic. In some way or another we are all part of at-risk groups, frontline groups, socially responsible groups and affected groups. Recent events have revealed our commonality on a human level, reminding me of the truth in the words of an inspirational songwriter, who once said, “In the end nobody wins unless everybody wins.”