Where to get beans from Charlotte’s newest coffee company, with a mission to directly support farmers

When you buy a bag of Farmers First Coffee Company beans, now on shelves in Charlotte, you can see the face of the Peruvian farmer who grew those beans.

According to Matt Hohler, who co-founded Farmers First with his business partner Robert Durrette in November 2017, they purchase their coffee at a price that is 50 percent higher than the standard fair-trade price. That means a 50 percent bonus goes directly to the farmer who grew those coffee beans.

Pick up a bag of Rosa’s Coffee and you see the sketched outline of a dark-haired woman, smiling slightly, from Bajo Ihuamaca, Peru. Rosa Lloclla told Hohler and Durrette she was facing steep interest rates for a loan as a coffee farmer and didn’t have enough money to build a dignified bathroom or to install a solar dryer to improve the drying process of the coffee. With a 50 percent bonus, she will be able to do both — as well as plant 2.5 more acres of coffee.

Hohler, 28, became passionate about the people behind coffee, and their stories, when living in Honduras and teaching English for a year after college. A donation from his grandmother led him to a woman working with a nutrition center within the coffee community, feeding 115 kids school meals each day.

“It kind of opened me up to the reality that coffee farmers face, especially from a health standpoint, and how much they struggle,” he said.

Honduras is where he met Durrette, 31. But it wasn’t until Hohler went back to Ohio for a master’s in public health that he was ready to meet up with Durrettea again, this time in Peru, to get a coffee company off the ground.

They spent 10 months learning about methods of brewing coffees from different regions, and connected with an importer, who introduced them to different farmers.

“We were able to meet these farmers first and we were able to ask them, most importantly, what do you need?” Hohler said.

They heard that the job doesn’t pay enough (many earn less than $2,000 per year), and that the farmers want their story to be heard.

They partnered with a roaster in Shelby, NC, and decided Charlotte was just the right place of opportunity for a business like theirs.

They were originally branded as “Levanta,” which means to “lift up and to wake up.” As in, wake up with coffee and lift up the coffee farmers who grew the beans in the first place.

Hohler moved here in November, led a successful Kickstarter campaign for initial funding, rebranded as Farmers First and started selling wholesale beans Jan. 1, 2018.

Farmers First has partnerships with three coffee farmers now, in three different regions of northern Peru, to offer a variety of tastes. There’s Rosa, there’s Daniel, there’s Emiliano. You can’t overlook their faces on the bags of beans, or the cards that come with the beans, imprinted with their stories.

Durrette is in Peru, in search for a fourth farmer, and they have a goal to one day partner with 500 farmers.

At this time, Hohler is working to expand the reach of their beans in Charlotte, as well as some other states. Locally, he said you can find their 100 percent Arabica beans ( $15 per bag) at both Pasta &Provisions locations, Earl’s Grocery, Rhino Market Uptown, Laurel Market and Unwind Tea and Coffee in Pineville. The bags are available online as well.

The point is to inspire buyers to support a locally rooted company with a global impact.

“What we provide is an opportunity to just know more, and understand that there are big issues behind this industry,” Hohler said, “that your decisions as a buyer can make a direct influence.”

By Katie Toussaint

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