Coffee lover helps farmers

By Katrina Delos Santos and Jamie Andrea Turalba

Henry & Sons president Michael Harris Conlin is on a mission to grow the Philippine coffee industry and provide sustainable livelihood to Filipino farmers.

“The legacy I would like to leave is for our Filipino farmers to get there and be able to get a living in farming because our farmers are getting ‘extinct’. I want them to thrive and make money,” says Conlin.

Henry & Sons is a coffee solutions company that offers premium roasted coffee beans, top-of-the-line espresso machines under the Ricmas brand and training to coffee shops and companies.

Conlin’s father, Henry, started as a passionate abaca rope maker in 1975 and became one of largest abaca rope manufacturers in the world with three factories in the Philippines.

Henry & Sons ventured into the coffee business, driven by love for Arabica variety which grows in the highlands of Luzon.

Conlin, however, learned that coffee farmers in La Trinidad, Benguet could only harvest and produce 50 kilograms of coffee, which was too small to supply the needs of coffee shops in the country.

Conlin then organized a team of millennials to investigate the condition of farmers and discovered the five basic needs the farmers were not able to meet—need for water, good health, education, livelihood and market. That was when they decided to put up the Foundation for Sustainable Coffee Excellence and from there, The Giving Cafe, a social enterprise.

“We want to create change. We want to put together a platform where we can help coffee farmers meet those five basic needs and we want it to be sustainable. We want it to be [adopted] by other companies and we want it to be able to be sustainable in that it generates income for the people who adopt The Giving Cafe,” Conlin says.

Henry & Sons president Michael Harris Conlin
Conlin then decided to incorporate his father’s business—abaca rope which is now apparent in TGC’S interior design.

“The concept basically reminds us of [our] past; the rope, the banig on the ceiling. The funny thing is usually the banig is on the floor but now we use it as a roof. We also use ‘tubo’ right in the middle [of the ceiling] that [are] cut. We stitched it together and we put it up,” he says.

Conlin says TGC is a platform that entrepreneurs and enterprises can easily adopt.

His team plans to help those who would like to be social entrepreneurs and establish their own coffee shops by providing them the tools and the platforms needed to be successful in the industry.

“The coffee shop industry has been growing and improving. A lot of people start to drink specialty coffee. They are starting to learn about the types of Arabica, the origin. So it’s really an exciting time for coffee.”

The FSCE has two more platforms besides TGC in helping the coffee industry and the farmers of Benguet; The Giving Caravan and The Giving Cart.

The Giving Caravan started at the Bonifacio Global City and was there for at least two months giving out free coffee and “promote love, friendship and thanksgiving.” Conlin says the caravan is not just about giving free coffee but is also about creating awareness for the programs their foundation has in La Trinidad.

“[The farmers are] not having enough harvest, not having enough coffee, and having a hard time elevating their quality [and] if we’re giving away coffee, we’re giving away also 200 cups of coffee a day. It’s not going to be sustainable if there’s no income,” he says.

Conlin and his foundation aim to drive social change and help provide livelihood to people. “I think we have to make it more sustainable. Not just giving away free coffee but what we do is we can sell Giving Coffee, we can sell comfort food, and give up small proceeds from the foundation and that way, we’ll be sustainable and we’ll work for the long run in the next 10 years,” he says.

Meanwhile, The Giving Cart mobile stations hope to “encourage people to help while enjoying their coffee at bazaars, markets and, if sustainable, at malls.”

Conlin says another plan is to feature the Bloom Coffee line, the newest addition to TGC’S goal in helping the farmers and the people of La Trinidad, Benguet through its five programs— Cup to Seed, The Giving Well, Beans for the Little Ones, The Coffee for Great Minds and Beans Within Reach— and make people see that there is future in coffee farming.

“The five programs that we have take care of the farmers, not just our coffee farmers but it’s applicable to [other] farmers,” says Conlin.

TGC also teamed up with Vikings, a famous buffet restaurant in the Philippines, to provide 180 flu vaccines for the children of the coffee farmers through the Beans to the Little One’s program. For every kilo of coffee purchased by the restaurant from the company, P30 goes to the vaccinations.

In terms of education, TGC helps through the Coffee for Great Minds, an educational scholarship program. The Beans Within Reach program is an annual activity of TGC which features the coffee of the farmers through the Bloom competition.

The five programs conceptualized by FSCE are supported by some local government officials in Benguet. 

“We have our advocacy. TGC offers a list of motives and experience that highlights Henry & Sons’ expertise. That’s the dream we have.  The more of these we have, the more farmers we can help and the more impact we have in society,” Conlin says.

TGC is set to officially open on July 14 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Highway Hills, Mandaluyong City.

Topics: Henry & Sons , Michael Harris Conlin , Philippine coffee industry , Filipino farmers
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