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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Cup of Joe at St. Joe’s

SJ Brew sells high quality fair trade coffee in the P.O.D. PHOTO COURTESY OF CLAIRE FITZGERALD ’21

Stemming from a passion for sustainability, students have worked to create SJ Brew, the university’s first student-run initiative to bring ethically procured coffee to campus. 

SJ Brew sells fair trade and organic coffee, offering whole and ground coffee beans. The coffee is available in the P.O.D. Market, selling at $12.99 for one 12-ounce bag. SJ Brew hopes to have their online ordering ready within the next few weeks. 

SJ Brew is a student-run enterprise led by Claire Fitzgerald ’21, student CEO and a Communications and Spanish double major, along with six other students on the leadership team, varying in major and year. 

“It’s been in the works on and off before I was even a student at SJU,” Fitzgerald said.“It was inspired by fair trade study tours to Nicaragua. The students and faculty on the trip, including Dr. [Keith] Brown, saw the value in fair trade, sustainability, and high-quality coffee.”

SJ Brew was first conceptualized by Richard Viebrock ’15. After Viebrock’s graduation, Keith Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, continued the project through his classes and study tours to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. 

Brown and other students worked with multiple departments within the university to build SJ Brew. In the Marketing and Communications department, Lisa Chicchi ’09 and Ryan Starr helped with branding, including creating the logo. Rajneesh Sharma, Ph.D., associate provost of Assessment and Strategic Planning, and Paras Bhagat, finance professor, helped establish financial accounts within the university. Shaily Menon, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, assisted with logistics and general support.

“It’s all-volunteer, from students to myself, but also it has taken a long time,” Brown said. “We’ve gotten help from so many people around the university.”

SJ Brew’s coffee is produced by 270 women through the Café Femenino Nicaragua Program, which upholds high standards of working conditions and employee treatment. 

Similar to the stock market, the market and pricing for coffee fluctuate dramatically. Fair trade sets a floor price offering wage protection. This minimum price is paid for products imported irrespective of the market price, providing producers with a fair wage regardless of demand fluctuation.  

“Fair trade provides economic, which is the most important, but also environmental and social benefits for farmers,” Brown said. “When I say environmental, our coffee is organic. When I say social, fair trade gives farmers a price premium for community initiatives that they can spend as they see fit.”

The pricing premium, extra money on top of what is earned for their product, goes to farmers directly, which can be spent collectively by the community. 

According to its website, the Café Femenino Nicaragua Program helps marginalized rural women overcome oppressive hardships they face in coffee-growing regions. \

The farmers send the coffee beans to Golden Valley Farm roasters in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The SJ Brew team works on financing, advertising, merchandising, and distribution. Once the online ordering is in operation, SJ Brew will ship from campus using sustainable packaging. 

While choosing the name of the company, SJ Brew decided to tie its mission to source coffee ethically and sustainably with the values of St. Joe’s. 

“We decided upon SJ Brew because of its strong connection to SJU,” Fitzgerald said. “SJ also can serve as an acronym for social justice or Society of Jesus. I think that this coffee fits in really beautifully with our school’s values—solidarity, being engaged citizens and caring for the whole person.”

Fitzgerald acknowledges that while fair trade is an important step towards equitable living, it’s not an accessible choice for all to support equality due to pricing. 

“It’s important to remember that it’s not our only tool for change and shouldn’t be regarded as so,” Fitzgerald said. “Sometimes buying ethically or sustainably isn’t accessible to people. I think that as innovation and demand grow for these products, things will become more accessible.” 

SJ Brew is also committed to allocating money to make study abroad travel more accessible to all students through a study tour or study abroad in Latin America.

“This student-driven initiative recognizes that some students cannot afford to study abroad,” said Sophia Dell’Arciprete ’22, web developer for SJ Brew. “SJ Brew donates 50 cents every time a bag of coffee is bought on campus, or in the P.O.D., to the Charles F. Shreiner50 scholarship for study in Latin America.”

Besides expanding their ways of distribution, SJ Brew also hopes to build strong lasting relationships with the coffee bean farmers. 

“The long-term goal is not only to pick and choose our own farmers but also to send students and maybe even ideally some faculty and staff back to those same communities,” Brown said. “ This is more of a long-term relationship with the people who are growing our coffee.”

Ultimately, SJ Brew wants to bring quality coffee to campus while supporting the hands who produce it, according to Fitzgerald. 

“I think SJ Brew has the potential to start conversations on campus about conscious consumerism,” Fitzgerald said. “I think that ‘voting with your dollar’ does have genuine power, as companies follow consumers’ wants.”

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