Talking over strong coffee with director Sharron Bates
Chris Koentges, Calgary Herald
Published: Friday, September 21, 2007

Four hundred billion cups of coffee will be consumed in the world this year--about 250 of them at a tasting following the Sept. 29th screening of Sharron Bates' documentary Strong Coffee. Last July, Bates travelled to Northern Peru to investigate what began with a handful of impoverished female farmers growing high-quality, certified-organic, fair-trade coffee and which has become Café Feminino, a thriving co-op of more than 1,500 women, spanning Bolivia, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico.

Chris Koentges: This is sort of a step beyond Fair Trade. What did you learn about the Feminino model?
S.B.: In this particular model, they realize that if you give the money to the women, they tend to be a bit more responsible. Instead of going to the bar, they tend to put it towards their family. Whereas the men, even though they were getting the fair-trade money and the organic money, were still spending it in the bar and none of it was coming back to the family.

C.K.: Is this a widespread problem with fathers in Peru?
S.B.: It's a widespread problem in all third-world countries. Fair trade is a good thing. It's definitely helping. With Café Feminino, the women have to own the land, which is unheard of, to have their name on the land.

C.K.: How did the men respond?
S.B.: A lot of husbands we met are now so helpful and positive and have stopped drinking and have stopped the abuse. We met so many of them that have turned their lives around. They're so proud of what they're doing.

C.K.: Has the model spilled into other industries?
S.B.: They've been asked to get it into the banana industry. This model is pretty mobile. It can go from industry to industry.

C.K.: How did you like journeying in remote Peru?
S.B.: They'd have festivals for us! Sometimes it would take us eight hours to drive to these communities with no running water or electricity. Once, due to truck breakdown, we ended up being almost three hours late. It was almost 30 degrees. When we got there, hundreds and hundreds of people were lined up, playing their instruments, wearing costumes. They'd been waiting three hours. It's been quite the journey.

Strong Coffee runs as a double feature with Dishonor Defied on Saturday, Sept. 29, 1 p.m. at the Uptown Theatre. In addition to Bates, Joanne Sargent, who co-owns Shuswap Coffee Company and was a character in the documentary, will be in attendance to lead a Café Feminino tasting after the film. You can also try a cup at Color Tinto, which just opened at 620 12th Ave. S.W., 261-5809.

© The Calgary Herald 2007