by Sophie McNeil Wolf

It takes five to seven years to harvest coffee beans once they have been planted. Considered a fruit, it’s a delicate process to sell coffee as produce. Like other fruit, there’s only so much time before the coffee goes bad. If the market is selling for $2 a pound, but a farmer is offered 50 cents, he has no choice. This is where fair trade and Paul Bonds with Bean Fruit Coffee Company come in.

“Each year is a game of hope,” Bonds says. “You hope that plantings, hope that weather, hope it’s processed in time, hope it gets dock to dock, hope that it’s roasted, hope it’s brewed correctly.”

As the owner of Bean Fruit Coffee Company, Bonds is the only fair trade certified coffee roaster in the state of Mississippi.  But what is fair trade exactly? It’s a schematic to insure farmers are paid well. Instead of accepting low prices at market, farmers are insured they’ll be paid market value for their coffee.

“Coffee, a fruit; it’s is a delicate product. It’s produce. Once it’s picked, the farmer must move it,” Bonds says. Co-oping with farmers, the labeling of fair trade allows them to plan, budget and make sure they are fairly compensated.

Becoming a full time coffee roaster has also been a game of hope for Bonds.  Working for seven years in manufacturing and only leaving his full time job at Eaton Aerospace in late 2012, coffee started as a huge hobby for Bonds. “I had the opportunity to try a really great cup of coffee,” he says. Mark McKee, roaster at the time at Mississippi Coffee Company, brought him in for a “cupping” to try different coffees. “That was quality coffee. Six months prior, I thought it was disgusting. I drank mochas and lattes, but that’s sugar. “

Bonds learned that coffee was one of the most underpaid and unappreciated industries. “It takes a lot of time, work, and hands getting it from seed to cup.” Comparing coffee to wine, an inexpensive bottle of wine is $10 while Bean Fruit’s 12oz bag of beans is $12. If coffee was on the same measure with wine, Bond says, coffee should cost you $125 a pound. “It’s more work, more pressure and more logistics from seed to cup than vine to bottle.”

Bean Fruit uses coffee from around the coffee belt, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn — countries like Guatemala, Brazil, Panama and Columbia. He currently has a direct trade relationship with a man in Maryland who imports his family’s coffee from Ethiopia. Once shipped to him, Bonds uses a commercial drum roaster to produce the final product bagged for stores and shops.

Having a full time job, Bonds always felt like a square peg in a round hole; it wasn’t the right fit. His love for coffee and the love of the farmers and the process were too much to deny. “When a farmer supports themselves, they invest and improve quality. Their quality of life is better and quality of coffee. Consumers benefit.”

Bonds took a pay cut to do coffee full time, but he’s doing what he loves.  “My biggest support comes out of Jackson. That’s what attracts me to this area. What Fondren has, one thing you can’t really get in most places in Mississippi, is that sense of community.” Bonds names Fondren businesses like Sneaky Beans, Campbell’s Bakery, and Lemuria Bookstore, who all sell Bean Fruit Coffee, as part of his growth.

Giving back is a big part of the business for Bonds. Fifteen cents of every green (unroasted) pound of coffee he buys is donated to We Will Go Ministries in Jackson to help the homeless. Another 15 cents per pound goes to Grounds For Health, an organization that provides cervical cancer screening and education for women in coffee producing countries, a nod to his own mother whom Bonds lost to cancer.

Being charitable with each pound purchased and supporting local business hits a sweet spot, Bonds says. “I compete by offering a higher quality product. Having that – and being local is a perfect combination.”