These ships go to sea for sustainable coffee

That De Gallanta large, centuries old ship, stands at odds with the other ships bobbing up and down in Penzance harbour. She has no engine. Only swooping sails drove them and their cargo here, thousands of miles across the Atlantic – from the mountains of Colombia to this small port in Cornwall at the foot of the United Kingdom.

On this particularly cloudy day, the ship’s crew unloads sacks filled with coffee beans, cocoa and cane sugar and heaves them onto the docks. Soon they will be carted to nearby cafes and restaurants.

All of these items have something in common. “I really wanted to focus on produce that wouldn’t grow in our bioregion here,” says Alex Geldenhuys, shipbroker and founder of New Dawn Traders. Their “experimental sailing cargo company” has a mission, says Geldenhuys. “To create a form of commerce that interacts with the world without imposing it.”

Inexpensive bulk carriers eclipsed commercial sailing ships in the 1950s because they did not require expensive repairs and crew trained to sail. However, modern cargo ships are responsible for a multitude of environmental problems – the noise pollution that disturbs marine life, the cross-contamination of seawater and ecosystems and, of course, incredibly high carbon emissions. According to the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations, if maritime shipping were a country, it would be the sixth largest emitter of CO2 and responsible for more CO2 than Germany every year.

A bag of coffee <em>Las Brisas</em>.  ” width=”auto” data-kind=”article-image” id=”article-image-89244″ src=”https://img.atlasobscura.com/nFW5D3dQz8X_owALYwaHKKLOeUOu7ccWPjIvkfH9L4Y/rs:fill:12000:12000/q:81 /sm:1/scp:1/ar:1/aHR0cHM6Ly9hdGxh/cy1kZXYuczMuYW1h/em9uYXdzLmNvbS91/cGxvYWRzL2Fzc2V0/cy9iMjRkYzc5MzZk/YTUxNTI0ZDdfMjAw/NTIxX0pCX05EVF8w/MzUuan/>B”<figcaption class=A sack full Las Brisas Coffee.

The reality of the true cost of shipping led Geldenhuys to found New Dawn Traders in 2013 after the company spent some time working on a cocoa plantation in Brazil. Looking around at all the delights of nature, she and a group of friends wondered: How could they bring such products back to Europe with minimal environmental impact?

Their answer was to revive an ancient form of shipping that relies mostly on wind power – apart from the occasional engine used to move in and out of a port. Sure, journeys are slower and less predictable, but the reward is products that are as close to carbon neutral as possible. Through an online store, customers can buy a variety of sailing cargo products such as honey, wine and rice, while bakeries and restaurants buy products in bulk.

Although New Dawn Traders does not have ships of its own, it acts as a vital link for small, like-minded suppliers worldwide. The company charters two ships a year, traveling to multiple countries with non-toxic products from places like Portugal, Costa Rica and the Caribbean. This year, after 18 voyages, New Dawn Traders will buy their own ship.

Much of the cargo they transport is destined for Europe, which is one of the reasons New Dawn Traders is headquartered in the UK, more specifically in Cornwall. Cornwall has a rich maritime history with a trading past dating back to the Bronze Age. Geographical advantages matter. Cornwall lies at the crossroads of the English Channel, Atlantic Ocean and Celtic Sea, and steady north-easterly winds drive ships along trade routes.

But running such a unique business doesn’t always go smoothly.

The crew of <em>De Gallant.</em>” width=”auto” data-kind=”article-image” id=”article-image-89243″ src=”https://img.atlasobscura.com/LL0k8RVFdj4znyaI2Rhc00OuIPwn3j3vJzrhwVENrzQ/rs:fill:12000:12000/q:81 /sm:1/scp:1/ar:1/aHR0cHM6Ly9hdGxh/cy1kZXYuczMuYW1h/em9uYXdzLmNvbS91/cGxvYWRzL2Fzc2V0/cy9jMjQ0OTUxZi03/YTRmLTQzMTgtOGFj/OC0zZGNlNDAzNmY4/MTUxMWYxZTQwNWMw/OGUzOTBmYTRfMjAw/NTIxX0pCX05EVF8y/NDkuanBn.jpg”/><figcaption class=The crew of De Gallant.

“After the hard work of delivering a case of olive oil or a packet of coffee all the way from Portugal or Colombia to Cornwall, once we disembark we compete against every other coffee our customers have access to,” says Geldenhuys live in a culture where we have so many choices and hundreds of brands vying for our attention regardless of their different ethics.”

New Dawn Traders doesn’t want to compete with freight trading, she says, but wants to create a so-called “zero-compromise system” that has little to no environmental impact. Shipping, while not mainstream, is gaining traction – along with solar, electric and hydrogen-powered travel. In many cases, these are symbolic trips designed to remind consumers to watch food miles.

A single sailing ship operates on a smaller scale, transporting 35 tons rather than the average 10,000 tons of a modern cargo ship. But size is not everything. Sailing cargo opens the door for micro-producers who have access to an export market that was previously closed to them. Small, independent manufacturers often lack the business tools, marketing contacts or actual product volume to trade internationally. Shipping by ship promotes food sovereignty as multiple producers can join forces to fill a container for export.

A shorter, more direct supply chain also makes for a more intimate and transparent product. The last delivery of coffee by the De Gallant come from 11 growers who form a cooperative in Tolima, Colombia. Her fincas or farms, have been grown by the same families for generations. The end product is named Las Brisas, which can be appropriately translated as “the breeze”. Geldenhuys estimates that over more than 5 months the De Gallant sailed an estimated 7,000 nautical miles for this coffee.

Hauling a sack of coffee onto the dock at Penzance.

Yallah Coffee Roasters, a Cornish retailer that sells New Dawn Traders coffee, roasts the beans until they are dark and caramel-colored and sells them for £14.00 ($17) a bag. It doesn’t come cheap, but the product is popular with a dedicated customer base who appreciate fair trade values ​​and a brew with a unique provenance story. A report by Carvela Coffee found that the price paid to coffee farmers for this year’s supply was almost 20% above the market price.

The environmental and ethical implications have inspired even non-sailors to go to sea. Deanne Malenfant echoed this De Gallant as a volunteer in Amsterdam. A doctor by trade, she now works as a seaman and finds it the perfect way to “get away from it all” at sea.

Like the rest of the crew, Malenfant believes that moving cargo the old-fashioned way puts the emphasis on the entire journey of imported food, not just the end product.

“So many people just don’t know what’s in that banana they eat every morning,” she says. “We often count the calories of food, but maybe the carbon footprint should be labeled instead to make people more aware.”

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