Coffee fuels billions of people globally each morning, and is accessible at almost every fast food restaurant, home, and business around the world. Senior Zack Schultz isn’t just fueled by it, he owns a coffee business in Haiti, and knows about everything from planting the seeds to the final packaging.
Schultz first discovered the coffee industry through missionary work he did in Haiti with his family. They helped at tent-city relocation spots, where rural families gathered for free food and tents offered by nongovernmental organizations.
“So many people were sleeping in the streets that the government had to close half of them down,” Schultz said.
The government worked with churches and food distribution programs to relocate these people to less-populated areas. For six weeks, Schultz helped build short-term relocation homes and developed relationships with these people.
“Haiti was originally a French slave colony,” Schultz said. “The French love their coffee, so they brought over their best beans to plantations. When Haiti became a free state in 1804, the people kept France’s coffee, which is considered the gold standard of coffee.”
Founded in 1991, Mission Discovery aims to “meet the physical and spiritual needs of the world’s poor” according to its mission statement. It offers construction, ministry, and medical aid trips to Africa, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, and the United States.
“Our main effort is to inspire hope and help the Haitian community as best we can,” Mission Discovery secretary Katie Oliver said. “Together, our staff and participants have built several churches and continue to construct and set foundations for future church buildings. We have drilled water wells and led medical mission trips as well.”
Schultz said he realized the biggest tool for introducing people to Christ is by meeting a need.
“If they are hungry, they won’t listen to anyone. Being there, I saw their problem was that they didn’t have jobs because they didn’t have working knowledge to start operations,” said Schultz.
Schultz and one of his Haitian friends, Ancias Joseph, met with Rebo Coffee Company, the largest Haitian coffee producer, over Christmas break in 2015. Rebo told Schultz they only sell domestically because they don’t have the supply to meet global demand.
Growing up in Haiti, Joseph watched people deforesting Haitian land until it was barren in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Notwithstanding, Schultz and Joseph still found buyers for their coffee, as well as a seed supplier. Joseph’s family had land in Haiti they weren’t using, so the two planted seeds on it.
They taught farmers about the growing process, which the farmers applied to the 5,000 trees planted. After the first harvest this coming June, the farmers will gather and replant the seeds in the spring to use all 24 acres.
While building short-term relocation homes, Zack found another morning motivator in addition to his serving heart: he developed a taste for coffee, and he reached out to local friends and farmers to find out more about Haiti’s coffee business.
“When democracy came to Haiti, people were allowed to do whatever they wanted with their land. Before, you had to go to the mayor’s office to get a permit to cut a tree down on your land. This brought devastating effects to the countryside,” Schultz said.
Central government control suppressed entrepreneurism within “private property,” discouraging businesses like Rebo Coffee Company.
Haitians live mostly at subsistence living, but are disconnected from most markets, both foreign and domestic. Schultz and Joseph’s business said they aimed to “connect the dots of the market,” according to Schultz, by distributing their seeds to other local farmers who were interested in joining their coffee-growing business.
“It is devastating to Americans to see the third world in general, but most understand that it is the third world because … people don’t know how to make money well,” Schultz said. “Americans can just bring know-how, what little I have, to learn more about coffee, to educate myself and themselves, and to connect the channels between the people in the city to the countryside farmers who have land.”
The two are currently working with eight to 10 farmers holding 10 hectares, which is 24.7 acres. They are looking into export, import, and transportation value into the U.S. The two plan to reinvest their seeds back into their company to exponentially increase their product, possibly to sell through a private label, because their 5,000 seeds don’t even fill their whole land.
“I would prefer a coalition of farmers working together to create a higher standing of living for their kids, and to increase the lifespan for future generations. It’s much less about the financial gain,” Schultz said. “What’s most important is these people’s lives that can be greatly impacted by an idea. I feel blessed for this opportunity, and to go into business in a different country.”
Schultz said that the hardest part for him was the physical distance from the project, as well as inexperience.
“Working and going to school leaves me with no time to check on our site,” Schultz said. “I’m 21, I have no background in international business. I’m just learning as I go.”