This week, an insightful interview with Dean Cycon, founder of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company. Hear how coffee is creating meaningful change through ethical business practices rooted in respect for the earth, the farmer, the employee, and the consumer.
Some highlights from our conversation:
Thanks to Dixon Roadside and the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce for their support!
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Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via otter.ai
Brett Barry 0:03
Welcome to Kaatscast, your biweekly podcast from New York's Catskill Mountains featuring history, travel guides, arts and culture, outdoor adventures, sustainability news, and local interviews from the Catskills and the Hudson Valley. Every morning here at Kaatscast headquarters begins with this sound. The grinding of eight cups of Dean's Beans Ring of Fire Whole Bean Coffee. We buy it directly from Dean's Beans just over the border in Orange, Massachusetts. Dean's mission to use specialty coffee as a vehicle for positive change. We wanted to know more and to trace the coffee we brew every day...back to its source...small farm cooperatives in Timor, Sumatra, and Papua New Guinea. This week, a conversation with Dean himself. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the show! So nice to meet you. Thanks for taking the time.
Dean Cycon 1:04
Brett Barry 1:05
So your last name is pronounced Cycon?
Dean Cycon 1:07
Cycon. You got it.
Brett Barry 1:09
And I see why you didn't go with Cycon's Beans...Dean's Beans has a much nicer ring.
Dean Cycon 1:13
Doesn't it? It's a funny thing because I had this...this heroic name that I was going to use and people kept coming to me and saying, "Hey, one of those Dean's Beans is going to be ready," and so my wife said, "Your customers have named it."
Brett Barry 1:27
Some things are meant to be. You are an environmental and indigenous rights attorney before you started a coffee company. What drove you to shift gears and how did that background shape your new business?
Dean Cycon 1:40
I've been involved and interested in social, economic, environmental change ever since I was in high school, and I always thought I would be an attorney because attorneys are sort of at the lead of so many social justice movements. So I went to law school and did all that, but then I found out that frankly, I didn't have the constitution for it if you'll pardon my pun...and so even though I was doing good work on Indian reservations as an advocate, as a...as an attorney, people kept saying to me, "Yeah, this is really great." We're fighting back against these hazardous waste facilities, but we don't have any jobs and until we get some jobs, the young people are going to keep leaving, and then we'll ultimately lose our land anyway...and so I started to awaken to the need for economic development...and so in 1988, just as a happenstance, I was giving a lecture on the causes of deforestation in Brazil, and out of the audience came a professor and he said, "Hey, I have a friend who's got a coffee shop in Providence and he buys coffee from Brazil," right where you're talking about, and he knows the farmers are really poor and you'd like to do something to help but doesn't know what would you meet with him...and I said, "Certainly," so I did a little research and found out that about 85% of the world's farmers are indigenous peoples and they have a very interesting set of problems that other farmers don't have...and so I thought, "Oh, I can work with these populations," and then I found out that there were no international development organizations focusing on coffee lands, they were in the countries, but not focusing on the unique problems of coffee communities. So right then and there, the three of us decided to form the world's first nonprofit development organization dedicated to coffee called coffee kids and I ran the international side of that for no money because I was still gainfully employed and I went to coffee countries around the world and met with farmers and...and started to put together development projects, and then the...based on the farmers...farmers express priorities, and then the other guys; the coffee shop owner and the professor went around the coffee industry to try to raise money and it was a good charitable endeavor, but I quickly came to learn the charity is not change...and so after a number of years of doing that I decided, you know, all we're doing is giving large corporations and excuse not to change their business models. All they have to do is give us a little charitable money and then claim all the credit for what we're doing. So I thought, how would...how would this look different? If a business actually paid real money to the farmers, maybe they could decide their own development priorities and what would it look like if a company really engaged with those communities is buying from rather than give money to some nonprofit but work directly with the farmers...and so that was the model I created for Dean's Beans in 1993 and we've been doing it now for 28 years, successfully every year grown a little bit every year and we're still working with many of the same farmers we started with.
Brett Barry 4:58
What are some of the things that make your business unique compared to other coffee companies?
Dean Cycon 5:03
Well, the thing that makes us the most unique that nobody does programmatically is...it's a fundamental part of our business that we have a development relationship with the farmers we work with...and so it's not just okay, we'll give you some money for the beans, and then we'll make a donation to coffee kids or save the children, and then they'll work in your community for a couple of years and then leave. No, we work directly with the farmers to help them define their developmental goals, then we jointly create a program or two or three to address them, then we bring in trainers for the farmers to be able to manage their programs themselves; totally unique, you know, not relying again on the large development organizations or the state, and then we fund it. We fund it from our sales. We don't go looking for USA ID money or donations from our customers or any of that stuff...and so our business model is totally unique in the way that we work with farming communities and we've gotten a lot of international and national awards for it...over the years.
Brett Barry 6:12
You work with farmers in South America, Africa, and Asia. Can you describe some of those relationships from...first of all, discovering those farming communities, and then fostering business relationship with them?
Dean Cycon 6:27
Sure. We often need farming communities when they send representatives to the Annual Specialty Coffee Association Conference held once a year at some city in the United States. It's where the farmers, the brokers, the roasters, retailers from all over the world gather. So I'm often approached by or I approached groups and talk about working together and that what will happen is I'll usually visit or someone from my staff will visit that cooperative; we only work with cooperatives, and then we'll maybe start to buy from them as we get to learn about them, but it takes about a year of getting to know them before we would dare to assume that we have any sense of who they are, in order to enter into a long-term development relationship with them, but that's what happens. So then we start having community meetings, and...and working with the farmers to identify their development goals, and then working with them to design something that meets those goals, then working with them to get them the capacity for them to manage those programs. So they may be women's loan funds, they may be building wells in Ethiopia, they may be reforestation projects now in nine countries to fight climate change. They may be alternative income, so people can't rely on coffee, you know, nobody ever got rich growing coffee, except everybody but the farmers...and so that's what a relationship looks like and as I say with some of the farmers, we've been working for over 20 years with the same farm groups...and so we see a difference. We see a difference in...in farmers...kids going to college for the first time ever, we see a difference in the quality and the quantity of food at home, but the biggest difference and this is what I'm really thrilled about is the difference in the attitude of the farmers we work with because change isn't about providing goodies or forcing people to act different. Changes when someone internalizes a different feeling about themselves, and then advocates on their own behalf; and that's what we do. We help the farmers to see themselves as active agents in their own development and their own change, not just passive recipients of northern largesse or northern abuse from the market.
Brett Barry 8:59
Can you talk a little bit about the supply chain so if we could use maybe our favorite coffee which is Ring of Fire...which we always go back to...which is a blend of beans from Timor, Sumatra, Papua New Guinea?
Dean Cycon 9:11
You got it.
Brett Barry 9:12
What's the journey from farms to coffee pot?
Dean Cycon 9:15
Of the beans? Okay, so the nice thing is when I started these beans, every organization work with grew the coffee, and then sold the cherry because the coffee bean is the pick of a cherry, so the cherry (the raw product) onto a processor and that was it, then they got paid for the cherry, which was pennies...pennies on a pound. Working together with the cooperatives over the years, every group we work with...now, does their own processing, does their own grading, does their own bagging and does their own exporting...so all that supply value now remains within the communities that we work with. That's a substantial difference that basically getting a couple of pennies for a beam, now they get a well from us, they get somewhere between $2.50 and $3.50 a pound, that's a big difference over 40 cents or 20 cents a pound. So that's kind of the change in the supply chain over time, but the voyage of the bean is starts...farmer picks it off the plant, they soak it in water overnight, and strip away the cherry, then they dry that being on a patio, then they send it through a machine that takes the paper, it's called parchment...pergamino in Spanish, they take the parchment off the beam and they grade that been into different sizes, and then put it in export packaging after being picked through by women because women are the most precise and these things the beans are picked through for quality, then bagged stuck in a container locked right on the...at the farm processing unit; and the next time it's opened up, is it our...our beanery in Orange, Massachusetts. So we often take pictures of the beans as we unload them, and then send them back to the farmers so that they can see we've got their bags with our name and their name on it and makes them very proud.
Brett Barry 10:47
And then, how long does it sit in Orange before it's roasted and sent off to the customer?
Dean Cycon 11:29
Maybe a week we get started because we try to keep, you know, what...what they used to call just-in-time inventories. But, you know, you can't rely on that really an international trade anymore. So we get, we generally get a shipment that's going to last us a few months and we overlap them by a few weeks, but once those beans get in, it only takes a few weeks before there, we start roasting that lot. So by and large, no bean stays in our warehouse over three months.
Brett Barry 11:59
And then, freshness wise. Is it more important to consume the coffee close to the roasting date that it is from the raw bean to the roast?
Dean Cycon 12:14
Yes, the beans retain their freshness green for about six months, that's in our facility. But once it's roasted, the clock is ticking...now, if it's roasted and put in a vacuum-packed or nitrogen flushed bag, the nitrogen displaces the oxygen in the bag...and so the development of the bean is arrested. So those bags, if they're nitrogen flushed, they're good for three to six months until you open them, then they're good for a week to 10 days before you can notice a difference in the taste. So that's kind of the profile.
Brett Barry 12:50
We're always amazed when we order, we usually order five pound bags of the Ring of Fire, and it arrives and the roast date is sometimes the day before we receive it, which is amazing.
Dean Cycon 13:01
We tried to roast and ship the same day. So if you order on a Tuesday, we really tried to roast it and ship it on Wednesday and the cool thing about...staff at Dean's Beans is they take such pride in that. So it's like a race and I say, "Guys, it's Monday. It's seven o'clock at night. Let it go. It's okay if we do it tomorrow. No, we want those shelves to be empty," you know, it's like...it's a point of pride to the folks at Dean's Beans to get those packages out.
Brett Barry 13:31
Talk about your employees. How many people do you have there and are there some that have been there since the beginning or...or very early in the company?
Dean Cycon 13:40
Yes, there's one person who's been there since the beginning. That's me. When I started Dean's Beans in '93, it was at my farmhouse in New Salem, Massachusetts. It was a little 7 lb. roaster and I had like four bags of beans that I bought...burnt the first batch and was off and running after that. Now we have 15 (I think) 15 employees, and Charlsie (our office manager). She's been there (16 years). John, whose her husband's been there (12 years they met) married there. Brendan (the roastmaster) has been there. I'd say he's been there 10 years and Torin, whose our production supervisor on the second roaster. He's been there eight years, so by and large people stick around. I mean nobody leaves because it's the best job in the area. We've got 100% health care, nobody pays, co-pays, deductibles, nothing. Dean's Beans pays 100%. So we have great benefits, great pay, great camaraderie, and yeah...so it's a great place to work so people try to stick around as long as they can, including me.
Brett Barry 14:52
How different is your story at Dean's Beans from the big brands with the catchy theme songs, the holiday commercials, those little plastic scoops in the cans? How did they operate in general and how is that different for the farmer (most importantly) I would think?
Dean Cycon 15:08
Right. Well, you know, it sounds trite to say it, but it's night and day, and the reason is because I didn't start Dean's Beans because I was a businessman who wanted to grow a company; sell it, get rich, and think about something else to do or make a living writing, you know, how-to books after that. The grow it and sell it model; I think is incredibly destructive to American economy...and so Dean's Beans has always been an experiment, experiment for my highest values...our highest values as a company...how can we manifest them...How can we make life better for the farmer, the environment, and the consumer...and we take that seriously and since I'm not trying to maximize profit, my eyes are on the prize of sustainability and making things better. So it's an experiment, if we do something isn't working, we change it, and you can't do that in a large corporation because you have hierarchies of decision making, you have stockholders who are expecting another...another payout at the next quarter. So we don't have to worry about that, you know, I give a talk at business schools and colleges around the country. One of the talks I gave is called the...the myths of business school (the cultural myths you learn at business school). One of them is that growth is not only the goal of a company, but it's the legal requirement for the directors and officers and that's simply not true. As a lawyer, I can tell you, that's not true. So, you know, our fundamental principle is how do we make life better for everybody. Last week, for example, we sent out about $40,000, to different co-ops, so that they could create food packages for families that are in quarantine because of COVID or can't work their land because of COVID, which is impacting farmers, in different countries in different ways. So, you know, big companies don't do that, you know, they make a contribution to a nonprofit, and then make a big, you know, make a lot of noise about it, but we give the money directly to the farmers based on their priorities, as I've said...and, you know, we also, you know, we're working on child hunger issues here, we've given out about $120,000 to local schools for child hunger and we're not making a big deal out of it. It's just the right thing to do and that's going to be going forward. I think that's going to be our focus domestically is child hunger. Yeah. We're very, very different from from big companies and on the farmer end, we're very good friends with the farmers we work with, we know their names, we know their grandchildren's names, we...we've sent kids to college, we've paid for farmers to visit farms in other countries to share skills, you know, we have a really, really intimate relationship with a lot of the farmers we work with around the world and that's a long term to, again, we've known some of the farmers we've worked with for 20 plus years.
Brett Barry 18:06
What is fair trade and why should we care about?
Dean Cycon 18:08
Fair trade starts with the recognition that the international marketplace in most commodities is unfair. The prices set in the north, the terms are set in the north...people because it's a commodity. It's what they call fungible, which means freely exchangeable. Great. So if I don't want to pay the money to that Guatemalan farmer this year or his farm is affected by rust or landslides or COVID, I'll just buy from another farm. My consumer won't know they don't care because I don't tell him about the farmer. I don't have a long term relationship, but in fair trade, the theory is that we're going to pay the farmers always pay them more than they need to make a living and that's that minimum price has been determined internationally between buyers and sellers. Right now, it's $1.41 for organic fairtrade coffee. The marketplace coffee that the C-Market is right now, I think it's $1.09. So you can see it's already substantial, but that's the minimum, real fair traders don't pay the minimum, you we negotiate directly with the farmers and come up with a price we can both live with. So as I said earlier...with us, it might be $2.50-$2.56 a pound...$3.50, sometimes $4 a pound...never, we wouldn't ever go anywhere near that $1.41, but the big companies, that's what they pay. So fair trade becomes sort of a minimum entry point for big companies to try to capture a growing consumer interest, a growing consumer market. So on our side, we guarantee that we're going to pay at least a minimum on their side, the farmers are going to form democratic cooperatives, which allows these very disparate in faraway farmers to band together and access the market directly. Because if I'm a farmer and I grow 10 bags of coffee, I can't sell the Dean's Beans, I have to sell to a broker, right? There goes your price, there goes your direct access, but if I band together with 30 other farmers who each grow 10 bags, we have 300 bags and that's a container. Now I can sell that container directly to Dean's Beans or equal exchange or any of a number of good fair trade companies out there. So that's on their part, they get the democratic cooperatives, but the thing that most people don't know about fair trade is it's really an entry point for so many other things, and it's a shame that especially the big companies that dabble in fair trade, like Starbucks, Green Mountain that are 4%-5% fair trade, they don't even understand this stuff, and what I'm talking about is, for example, the incredible ability of women in fair trade to rise up and achieve their own goals because gender equity is a requirement of fair trade cooperatives and half the cost we work with are run by women. That's just amazing. You can't find that in any other commodity chain. Also, cooperatives allow people to have a voice for the first time, you know, when you're a small farmer living up on the hillside and in Guatemala, you don't have much voice in your economic life or your political life, but if you band together with 500 other people...you can.
Brett Barry 21:30
More on fair trade in a moment after a refill of this coffee cup and an acknowledgement of our friends at Dixon Roadside and sponsor of this episode. Dixon Roadside serves a unique twist on comfort food, using fresh ingredients sourced from the bountiful farms and small businesses of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley. Open for takeout with a heated patio and indoor seating in Woodstock, New York. And now, back to our discussion on fair trade with Dean Cycon of Dean's Beans.
Dean Cycon 22:12
There's so much that the co-ops allow that people don't really understand here, the education, the information, the access to credit, women's rights, indigenous rights, the ability to care for your land, that's the heart of fair trade, it's not the price, people get hung up on the price and say, "Well, we're direct traders, we pay more like, well, you may pay more once, but then you don't stay with that." That farmer group getting a one shot deal of a good price. That's nice, but it's not life changing. So fair trade is a really interesting experiment on...on justice, but in all honesty, I don't like to call it fair trade. I like to call it fairer trade because it's still based on the seat price. Ultimately, it doesn't require long term relationships anymore that got changed once the large companies got involved has they tend to do them the rules got changed to fit them and it's really about what a company does in its...in its relationship with the farmers and there's no formula for that. You that's on a company by company basis and I wish more companies would really get close to the farmers to understand how much impact we can have on their lives and we can still have a good life up here. That's what we've proven. You don't have to be greedy.
Brett Barry 23:33
And this goes for everything...you could say the same thing about...
Dean Cycon 23:36
Brett Barry 23:36
Fishermen and clothing sellers?
Dean Cycon 23:40
Right...right. It is a choice.
Brett Barry 23:43
And, you know, not buying fair trade leads to other things that are grabbing headlines right here, right? Border crossings and things like that are...
Dean Cycon 23:51
Yeah. We broke that story in 2000. When I realized from...from traveling because I travel a lot back and forth, especially Latin America, you know, that a lot of the people crossing the border, you know, and then let me be gross about it were found dead in a van in Texas or Arizona desert. We contacted the five Mexican consulates along our southern border and ask them who these people were who have been found dead, so many of them, and they said they were agricultural workers, primarily coffee farmers. So we started looking into that and started trade programs specifically to address that, but the question you asked is, you know, if you don't pay fair trade, does it lead to these things? And the answer is yes, because if...if a farmer can't make a living on the coffee because every time we buy a pound of coffee, we're paying basically less than it cost the farmer to grow it. So pushing him further and further into debt. That's where we are right now with non-fair trade coffee. What are farmers do? The young people tend to leave and what do they do? They try to come north, so that they can send money back to the families and we broke that story as I say...in the year 2000, the last time we had this massive migration crisis, and then when it reared its head again in the last couple of years, it was the exact same issue. So we looked at who's coming across the border, the largest number of people coming across the border are from Guatemala, the largest number of Guatemalans coming across the border are from Huehuetenango Province. Huehuetenango Province is where we buy our coffee, it's one of the largest coffee producing provinces in Guatemala...and so we went back and started to talk to the farmers there what's going on and basically between climate change, making it difficult to grow coffee, and price, making it impossible to sell coffee, and have a living for your family. It's...it's easy to send the young people north.
Brett Barry 24:22
So I think a lot of people don't put that together.
Dean Cycon 25:33
Well, the sad thing is 2 is the price of coffee on the shelf is ridiculous. It's actually between $15 and $20 a pound. We don't see that because we get it in 12 and 10 ounces now, right? But that $15-$20 a pound isn't going back to the farmer, right? So coffee companies are making a fortune. They're actually making a killing in literal terms. So in the seventies, the United Nations looked at these figures and said, "Okay, it's a three to one ratio for every $3 a retailer gets the farmers getting $1. Now it's a 10 to one ratio, or even a 20 to one ratio. So the...the income disparity between the farmer and us retailers, has grown enormously over the last 10-20-30 years, it hasn't gotten better. So coffee companies are making a ton of money, you know, when you're charging $20 a pound for something you paid a buck and a half for, you know, at best. You're making a lot of money. I always asked them. I don't even get asked to speak at conferences anymore because it's too embarrassing. I keep asking, you know, when the questions raised as it is so much these days, what can we do about the pricing crisis? What can we do about saving the farmer? I say it's simple. Pay more money for the coffee. How hard is that? You know, no, we have to base it on the seed price we have to do...no, no, you don't. Pay more money for the coffee and that ends the crisis right there. We want to stop migration at the southern border, pay more money for the coffee, not the consumer, the coffee companies. Coffee companies could pay $1 more easily a pound and that would radically change farmers lives and what would it mean at the other end? I got 19 bucks instead of 20 bucks for the coffee, really?
Brett Barry 27:55
When you go to the supermarket or you go shopping for anything (Dean) clothes, fish, vegetables? How much thought are you putting into those purchases? Do they reflect what you're doing at your company? I know that when we sometimes it takes a long time to pick a product on the shelf because we do have to these days make some of those considerations to understand. Is this organic? Is it fair trade? Is it? Has it exploited one population or another? How challenging is that for the average person?
Dean Cycon 28:23
It's...it's challenging for me, you know, and I mean, I live with this stuff. I don't come down on people for not eating everything organic and wearing everything pesticide free and, you know, it's just...it's overwhelming. It's simply overwhelming. Besides that, it's incredibly difficult to get real information. That's the advantage of the organic label. The advantage of the fair trade label is at least gives you some guidance into what you're buying, but by and large, when you're buying clothing, when you're buying more generic foods, spaghetti, you know, you don't really have a way of finding out what the grower and conditions are like and since so many products say all natural, which has of course no legal meaning, but it looks good or say grown without pesticides, but there's no proof. It's really, really difficult. So I don't come down on anybody. I mean, I chose coffee because coffee was a rapacious and horrible industry. When I started in it in 1988, when we founded coffee kids, it's gotten a lot better, but it's got a heck of a long way to go. So I just...I just staked my claim on coffee. I could have just as easily done it on shoes, then that become instead of Dean, you know, but it's a very difficult thing for consumers. So I think that if you want to take the time, you know, stake out a few things that you can then research deeply, but don't...don't knock yourself in the head because you can't do everything.
Brett Barry 29:53
What effect is climate change having on coffee growing regions?
Dean Cycon 29:56
It is literally deadly. Climate change has already resulted in the rainfall patterns, the intensity of rainfall, and the timing of rainfall change and what that means then is, you know, we're talking about plants, plants aren't like people, they can't turn on the air conditioner or put up an umbrella or whatever, a plant lives in a very narrow band of environmental conditions, and you change those conditions, the plant can't thrive. So what's happening in a lot of countries right now is the lessening of the rainfall and the erratic nature of it, it's coming a month later, means that the flower doesn't develop, then the flower doesn't develop, the beam doesn't develop, the beam doesn't develop, you have no coffee. So crop productivity is down dramatically in a lot of places around the world and that's just the rainfall, then there's a heat, the heat dries out the soil, and without the rainfall and extra water, the soil gets fried, and the plants don't survive. If the plant weakens, then what? Then, it becomes more susceptible to predators and that's why we had this thing called rust, in which is La Roya in Spanish. It's a fungus in the soil. That's pretty inner most of the time, but when the plant weakens, then the rust blooms...and so rust was destroying 30%-40%-50% of the crop throughout Latin America over the last 10 years, you know, we don't see it in the marketplace because there's other coffee from other places, but if you're a farmer, if they lose their tree, it takes five years to grow that coffee tree to a production tree. So they're lived five years without income because the overwhelming majority of coffee farmers have no other income. It's a sole source income that crop...and so what do they do? Well, they leave and they come up against our southern border for one thing or if they're in a cooperative and fair trade cooperative, they have...they have social services, they have loan funds, they have assistance, we've funded the planting of thousands of new coffee bushes, you know, and created loan funds so the farmers can get through, but it's...it's really rough. I mean, imagine if someone said okay, not only are you losing your job, but for the next five years, you're not gonna have any income. How many of us could handle that? That's what's going on as a result of climate change.
Brett Barry 32:33
Stay tuned for the conclusion of our interview with Dean, including effects of the pandemic, and Dean's personal favorite coffee beans. Help support our own local economy by checking out the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce. Providing services to businesses, community organizations, and local governments in the Central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and become a business member like us at centralcatskills.org.
And then, another crisis (shorter term), hopefully the pandemic. How has that impacted your business?
Dean Cycon 33:16
Well, there's the impact on the farmers, and then there's the impact on our business on our side. On the farmer side, it's really a country by country thing because in some places COVID hasn't gone up into the mountains. It's more in the cities, so it impacts the ports. It impacts shipping, impacts processing, but then the truckers who come up into the hinterlands to get the coffee, they bring it with them, and then it starts to spread. So in some countries like Peru and Colombia, there are serious problems, but in other places like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, it hasn't really hit the farmers, so it varies. It really varies. At Dean's Beans, we lost 80% of our business overnight, you know, back in April and I promised everybody nobody would lose a job. Nobody would take a hit on benefits or income...because I figured, well, we've got a line of credit and this is probably only going to be a month or two, you know, and frankly, if we had capable leadership, it would have been a month or two, but we didn't. So it got longer and longer, but then a funny thing happened. Our web sales tripled, so even though we were down $300,000 in wholesale, we were up $500,000 in web sales, so we actually gained more money. So everybody was able to stay on and we made two shifts and we made a lot of accommodations for people to stay home with their kids and we still do that and it's been very, very successful. But, I felt kind of bad that we were making money when people were suffering, so that's when we decided to get into child hunger. It is a big problem in western MA. So I figured if these 10 communities around us have been supporting us for the last 28 years, and now they're in trouble, we need to support them. So we've taken all that extra money we've earned and then some...import it into child hunger programs. So it works out.
Brett Barry 35:15
That's great. What's your personal level of involvement in the day to day at Dean's Beans and how's that changing?
Dean Cycon 35:22
That's changed a lot. It used to be. I did everything from roasting to grinding to packing to driving around in my, you know, my Subaru delivering with my elf costume on at Christmas, and now (20 years later), I've just got such a competent staff that they do everything and I'm still the kind of moral force and overseer of the whole thing and the guy with the crazy ideas, I still do that and I still pretty much head up the development work. That's my passion working directly with the farmers, but even before the pandemic hit, you know, 'cause I'm 67 at this point, I wanted to slow down Dean's Beans and do other things such as write novels. So I told everybody, if you guys can handle it, I'll only show up two days a week, then you don't have me to worry about. So the team agreed and they really wanted to see me write my novels. So I started doing that, and then when the pandemic hit, I went down to basically one day a week and that's where I am and it doesn't...it doesn't seem like it's going to change because I mean, I'm...I'm on the phone all the time. I'm emailing all the time. I'm still involved on a day-to-day basis, but I'm only there a day a week, which allows me to do my writing and research.
Brett Barry 36:40
While you already know our favorite blend, do you have a favorite?
Dean Cycon 36:45
Well, my favorite coffees are Sumatran and Timor. So I'm two-thirds of the way to ring a fire. I love Ring of Fire, but I like Timor in a medium roast, which we're now offering also. For me, the coffee...it's the taste of the coffee, but it's also the story behind it and we're the only people buying direct from Timor that have a...have a relationship with a community. We've been working with the community of Atsabe (Ermera Province), almost 10 years now; buying their entire output and we've done everything from bringing solar powered computers in because there's no electricity and most of the village, so the kids can have access to computers and start learning to alternative crops to buying desks and school uniforms, so that kids can have some dignity in their school, not sitting on the ground, you know, it's been a range of things that...that the communities decided would help. It's a small community of about 200 people, so having such a relationship and the coffee is so good. It makes it sort of extra favorite to me because of those...those qualities of the people. So Timor is really my favorite and Sumatran is, you know, right up there neck and neck with it.
Brett Barry 38:02
The stories are important. I think that knowing your story always improves the experience.
Dean Cycon 38:07
Yeah. Now there's great stories out of Africa, but I don't like African coffee. Why? Because it's too acid for me. Why is it too acid? Not because it's inherent in the bean, it's in the processing because farmers in Latin America and Asia (generally) let the beans stay overnight, before they start to process them. That's it, but in Africa, they wait two or three days before they process them...and so the beans fermenting more, which makes it more acidic. So it's...it's the same basic beam, but the processing brings up the acid and it's too much for my old tummy.
Brett Barry 38:46
Well, this has been great. Is there anything that you wanted to say that I maybe have missed?
Dean Cycon 38:51
Well, only that it's very difficult to see past the marketing terminology because everybody says sustainable, everybody calls the farmers their partners, everybody uses photographs of smiling farmers picking coffee, it's very difficult to see past that and, you know, if we're talking about washing machines and we were making claims like our washing machine gets closed 10 times cleaner than their washing machine. That's called fluff (marketing fluff) and it's no big deal. Everybody knows it's fluff, but when you're making representations that we treat the farmers fairly and, you know, their lives have changed because of us, you know, if that's not true, it's a very different thing than fluff. Because at the end of the day, consumers think okay, well, that problem is taken care of. We don't have to worry about it and they move on, when in fact nothing has changed and I've been in the coffee industry now since 1988 and on the farm level, there has been some change with some groups, but the majority of the farmers are still unaffected by fair trade organics...and as I said, you know, the spread of wealth has gotten worse and worse. So it's harder and harder for farmers to make a realistic living. So that's why fair trade and organics is important, you know, I mean, yes, it's important for the environment for us, but really at the end of the day, it's important for keeping those families together and on their land down there. So that's...that's what I'd like to leave you with because we can make that choice.
Brett Barry 40:23
Well, thank you so much, Dean. It's been a pleasure meeting the man behind the beans that we enjoy here every day for quite a few years now. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
Dean Cycon 40:32
Oh, it's a pleasure. Love the Catskills. Keep up the good work.
Brett Barry 40:36
Let us know when you're in this neck of the woods
Dean Cycon 40:39
I will. Thanks, Brett.
Brett Barry 40:43
Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Please don't forget to subscribe and we'll see you again in two weeks. I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening.