90+ Profiles: Getting to Know Rick Peyser

Chron-Peyser

Who are you and what do you do in coffee?

I’m Rick Peyser, Director of Social Advocacy and Supply Chain Community Outreach for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR).  In my current role, I lead a team that works to improve the quality of life for producers and their families in our supply chain communities. Most of our work is focused on projects that directly touch coffee farming families at the household level to help them diversify their sources of income and improve their access to nutritious food, clean water, water for irrigation, education, healthcare, financial services, and technical assistance.

How and when did you get started in the coffee business?

I started my career in specialty coffee at GMCR on October 19, 1987, also known as Black Monday—the day that the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 20% of its value. I started at GMCR to develop and direct the company’s nascent mail order program. At the time, I needed to build the company’s mailing list, and I did so by collecting the names of visitors to our three retail stores. Before long, I was directing the marketing and merchandising for our retail division, which eventually grew to twelve stores, eight of which roasted coffee on the premises. In September of 1993, GMCR became a publicly owned corporation, and shortly after that I was asked to direct the company’s public relations, which I did until 2006, when I had the opportunity to direct our supply chain community outreach efforts. I was honored and thrilled to have the opportunity.

What jobs have you held in the industry?

Other than my roles at GMCR, I have held the following roles:

Board Member and President of the SCAA; Chair of the Environment/Sustainability Committee/Council Board Member and President of Coffee Kids

Board Member of the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO)

Board Member and Founding Member of Fundacion Ixil

Board Member of Pueblo a Pueblo

Co-Founder and President of Food for Farmers

Member of the Coffeelands Trust Advisory Board

What people and/or things inspire you, coffee-wise?

Small-scale coffee farmers and their families inspire me and provide me with the fuel to maintain my focus and my energy. I admire their work ethic and their tenacity in the face of often-difficult challenges, and I’m always humbled by their generosity and friendship.

What would you like to see change in the industry?

I would like to see small-scale producers of fine coffee receive a better return on their investment, so that they, their children, and future generations have the same opportunity to advance in life as those who consume enticing cups of their coffee. I believe the path to realize this vision starts with pre-competitive collaborative efforts within our industry.

If you were to pass away and become re-incarnated as a drink, what drink would you be?

I would return as a cappuccino made with Fair Trade organic coffee from El Coyolar, Nicaragua, and fresh milk from my neighbor’s dairy farm in Underhill Center, Vermont.

What do you consider to be your greatest contribution to coffee?

I believe that my work in helping to generate awareness of chronic seasonal hunger in coffee communities may be my greatest contribution to our industry. In 2007, while interviewing small-scale coffee farmers in Nicaragua as part of a study by CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture), every interviewee told me that their family had three to four months of extreme food scarcity every year. When CIAT reported their final results after interviews with coffee farmers in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico, I learned that 67% of those interviewed had between three to eight months of extreme scarcity of food every year. I shared these results at the 2010 Symposium. Most in the audience were as stunned – as I was – that these “thin months” existed. The SCAA asked me to return the following year and update the information presented. Rather than do more interviews, I traveled to Nicaragua and Chiapas, Mexico with a colleague from GMCR and a two-man film crew to capture the images and voices of farmers who were struggling with food insecurity, as well as participants in programs who were working to overcome this challenge. This resulted in a twenty-minute documentary, narrated by Susan Sarandon, known as “After the Harvest”. In this same year, I co-founded Food4Farmers, a nonprofit to help coffee communities in Latin America address the problem of chronic seasonal hunger.

“After the Harvest” premiered at the SCAA Symposium in Houston in 2011. The film moved many audience members. I hoped that action would follow awareness, so in the fall of 2011 I called a few friends in the industry from Counter Culture Coffee Company, Starbucks, Sustainable Harvest, and Coffee Bean International. This group met in February 2012, and formed the Coffeelands Food Security Coalition, which funded its first food security project in Jinotega, Nicaragua. The Coalition is expanding in membership and is looking to do more in the future.

What do you think others would say is your greatest contribution to coffee?

Some may agree with my assessment about generating awareness of food scarcity, others may feel that my Presidency of the SCAA during a year when the Association experienced severe fiscal challenges may have been my greatest contribution.

What’s next for you?

I will continue to be a voice for coffee farmers and their families, with the hope that they and their children will have the opportunities in life that they deserve and that we all want them to have

Has coffee affected your “non-coffee” life? If so, in what ways?

Coffee is such an integral part of my life that it is with me wherever I am.

Who’s the person you’d most like to see us interview next? 

Karen Cebreros, of Track the Impact.

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