Kelly Clarkson: Five Things My Trip to Peru Taught Me About Fair Trade

Kelly Clarkson, Singer and Songwriter

When I was asked by Green Mountain Coffee to take part in its Great Coffee, Good Vibes, Choose Fair Trade campaign, I was intrigued. I drink a lot of coffee on the road with my crew — it helps get us through 4 a.m. wake-up calls and late-night shows. But to be honest, I didn’t know much about Fair Trade, what an amazing system it is, and how it makes such a huge difference for farmers around the world. It's a simple concept: Fair Trade means farmers get a fair price for their crops.So I accepted Green Mountain’s offer to take me to a coffee farm in Peru to learn about the benefits of Fair Trade firsthand. I learned that Fair Trade helps give farmers the opportunity they need to live better lives. Here was my chance, my window of opportunity to lend my voice to help these farmers get theirs, and I’m so incredibly glad that I did.

In June, I stepped off a plane in Chiclayo, Peru, a dusty city in the South American desert near the ocean. I’d already flown thousands of miles, but my journey was just beginning. The next day, I drove four hours – mostly on bumpy dirt roads – to coffee country, to a small community in the mountains called Agua Azul. Good coffee grows in the mountains — that was the first thing I learned! As the car winded around switchbacks and through bamboo forests, I couldn’t help but think the trip I was taking up to the coffee farm is the exact same trip the coffee takes to eventually get to my coffee mug, just in reverse. All of the effort it takes to get great coffee into that mug was starting to dawn on me, but I never thought I’d learn so much. Here’s a sampling of some of the lessons I learned:

1. Coffee comes from a tree! I couldn’t believe that I actually didn't know this! A coffee tree is around the size of a large bush, about 10 feet tall, with red or yellow “cherries.” They grow in the mountains, along slopes and in the shade of taller trees. And the hike to where the coffee grows was no easy task.

2. Coffee farming is incredibly hard work. Every day during harvest in Peru, coffee farmers hike down steep slopes, carrying large baskets to harvest the ripe cherries. And that’s just the beginning. After the cherries are picked, the bean is removed from inside the cherry using a machine called a de-pulper. I met Sabina, a farmer who is a small woman in stature, but huge in heart, and she showed me how to use this machine. I tried it for a few minutes and my arms quickly became really tired! But Sabina could have kept going on that machine for an hour, no sweat. Then there's the work of drying the beans, bagging them for the mill, and all of the processing steps afterwards to make sure the coffee is the highest quality. I had no idea how much work was involved to make a single pound of coffee, and it made me realize how hard the task is, and how much farmers deserve to get a fair price for the coffee they grow.

3. There are amazing people behind your cup of coffee. I’ll never drink a cup of coffee again without thinking of the farmers I met. They are incredibly hard workers, and so proud of the work that they do. They were so welcoming, helping me learn about coffee and Fair Trade so graciously. I think that, no matter where you are in the world, if you’re working hard, you deserve to be compensated fairly for what you do. These farmers are mothers and fathers, and have families just like us. Fair Trade helps them support those families.

4. Fair Trade provides farmers with opportunity. I got a chance to talk with many coffee farmers about their lives and about Fair Trade. I visited a school where, because of Fair Trade, the kids are getting the right foundation for their education since the money coffee farmers make from Fair Trade contributes to schooling in the community. I visited a bank formed by the women of the community—they are empowered because of Fair Trade, and own their own coffee farms. Fair trade gives farmers an opportunity to support their families, helps keep kids in school, provides access to better healthcare, and the list goes on. Many family farmers live in remote locations and lack access to credit, so they are vulnerable to middlemen who may offer cash for their coffee at a fraction of its value.  Fair Trade guarantees coffee farmers a fair price for unroasted, green coffee, and also links farmers directly with coffee,, creating long-term sustainability.

5. Fair Trade means a great cup of coffee, but it also helps improve lives for farmers. When I started my journey, I wasn’t sure what Fair Trade meant, but it's simple. Choose Fair Trade. The wonderful people I met in Peru work so hard, care so much, and are so proud of the coffee that they grow. It tastes amazing because of the care that they take to make it that way. Every parent I talked to on this trip, every farmer, when I asked them about Fair Trade, would tell me: “It’s how we educate our children; it’s how we better ourselves for the future.” How could I not want to spread the word about that?

Choose Fair Trade. When it comes down to it, Fair Trade is really an easy decision we can make every day. So the next time you’re in the grocery aisle, whether it’s coffee, or sugar, or chocolate – seek out the Fair Trade Certified label, and choose to purchase Fair Trade. It’s a small choice that helps to make a huge difference. To learn more about Fair Trade and my journey to Peru with Green Mountain Coffee, visit ChooseFairTrade.com.

Kelly Clarkson has sold over 20 million albums worldwide, and has had 10 singles in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. She has received three Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, one Country Music Association Award and 12 Billboard Music Awards. Clarkson is currently recording her very first Christmas album, Wrapped In Red, which is set for release on October 29. She also serves as a Green Mountain Coffee Fair Trade Ambassador.