The Voice: Winter 2003

The Voice

The Humble Bean opens for business

by Sally Jongsma

Recent grads Eric Van Wyk and Laremy De Vries are managers of The Humble Bean offeehouse.  They serve gourmet coffee drinks along with their own homemade cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, and biscotti. Dordt College finally has a late-night spot to relax, study, or talk over a cup of coffee. The Humble Bean opened its doors for business in late November after a series of construction hold-ups and delays. Located on the lower level of the new Campus Center, the coffeehouse serves up cappuccinos, espressos, lattes, mochas, and smoothies as well as a good strong cup of coffee and some of the things that go so well with it.

The Humble Bean is run by recent alums Laremy De Vries and Eric Van Wyk.

“There’s something so good about sitting with a cup of coffee in a relaxing space,” says Van Wyk. Both he and De Vries say that as students they missed having such a place nearby.

“We were actually thinking about setting up a coffeehouse off-campus when this opportunity came up,” says De Vries. But the opportunity to open one on campus seemed like a better option, since they did not have to come up with the capital to buy equipment or rent space. They run the coffee shop as a business and pay a percentage of their proceeds to the college to help cover the cost of running the facility.

De Vries and Van Wyk want the Humble Bean to be, first of all, a warm and comfortable place for students to gather. But they also hope that faculty will take advantage of the opportunity and join students in conversation there. They encourage professors and forums to schedule afternoon meetings on the premises, and they welcome people from the community as well.

Some weekends they plan to have solo musicians playing in the coffee house, and they expect to cooperate with the Student Activities Committee in arranging bands to play in the main lounge area of the Campus Center, located outside the coffeehouse doors.

The Humble Bean is adjacent to the Defender Grille in the Campus Center, but the managers say that even though there’s some overlap, the two businesses provide different services and have different goals.

“We’re specializing in coffee—good coffee,” De Vries says, adding that already before it opened many people told him they hoped the coffeehouse would serve good strong coffee.

The good coffee they serve is Equal Exchange, a gourmet, fair trade coffee that is purchased directly from democratically-run farmer cooperatives on farms that use organic and sustainable farming practices. Van Wyk and De Vries say they are committed to using Equal Exchange coffee as their way of trying to make a difference as Christian businessmen.

“What we buy affects people’s lives,” says Van Wyk. He and De Vries like the fact that for a price usually less than that of other gourmet coffees, they are assured that the farmers who grow the beans will get a fair price for their product and will have access to medical care for their families. They also appreciate the option of buying shade-grown coffee that helps preserve wildlife habitats, adds nutrients to the soil, and prevents soil erosion.

“Many people want to feel more con-nected to where their food comes from,” they say. They also plan to sell bags of coffee and make brochures about it available.

“We see it a bit like the way groups of students helped change policies on using styrofoam cups on campus. By urging people to bring their own mugs and encouraging people to consider stewardship issues, things changed,” says De Vries. He and Van Wyk hope to raise awareness of how coffee is produced in just such a way.

But their goal isn’t first of all to promote a particular coffee, but to serve up a good cup of coffee in a comfortable place. The health department finally gave the okay to open for business just before Thanksgiving. Van Wyk hung some of his paintings on the walls, the furniture shifted into a comfortable arrangement for conversation, and the cash register began ringing. Next time you’re on campus, check it out.

Equal Exchange coffee

Equal Exchange Coffee Dordt College students have been selling Equal Exchange coffee on campus for the past few years. In supporting fair trade coffee, the Humble Bean will take on the role previously filled by SHAMAR, the student environmental club on campus. Their goal has been to try to help students make a difference by giving them something concrete they can do to help those living in poverty in Latin America.

Besides the exposure SHAMAR and the Humble Bean have given fair trade coffee, students who take Political Studies 201 are also introduced to it as an illustration of how North Americans can directly affect people living in poverty in other parts of the world. In the introductory political studies course, students study a specific international political issue each semester. They studied poverty this past semester.

“Each year we do a case study to make the issue concrete,” says Dr. Fred Van Geest, professor of political studies. “We ask why the current situation has arisen and what has led to such intense poverty in places like Latin America.” Such questions lead to other questions about access to resources and capital, which leads to International Monetary Fund and World Bank policies. Students learn that many poor coffee farmers in Latin America are caught in a system over which they have little control. They are dependent for their livelihood on middlemen and companies who pay wildly fluctuating prices for the farmer’s coffee bean crop.

“Equal Exchange makes a good case study in how to give farmers another option,” says Van Geest. He helped arrange a campus visit by Cornelio Rivera, a small coffee farmer who has been traveling around the country sponsored by a faith-based organization named Witness for Peace. In a clear and concise way Rivera described how he believes international monetary policies affect small farmers like himself, says Van Geest.

Companies like Equal Exchange work with local democratically-run cooperatives offering them a fair and minimum price for gourmet-quality coffee. Through these cooperatives farmers can get small loans otherwise unavailable to them, they have better access to medical care and education for their families, and they farm under healthier conditions for both themselves and the land they farm.

“Such a case study helps students, who often feel helpless after learning about such conditions, feel that they can make a difference,” says Van Geest.