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ISSUE 118 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/8/2005

Caribou Coffee criticized

By Dayna Burtness
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 8, 2005

The word on the street is that on March 12, Caribou Coffee opened its doors to the Northfield community. I’m disappointed. I grew up in Coon Rapids, Minn. – the sprawling suburban capital of the “Chain Store nation.” If you can name a Midwestern chain, Coon Rapids probably has it, in two locations. We’ve got Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Walgreens and every fast-food and restaurant chain you can think of, including at least two McDonalds. If you live in Coon Rapids and you want to eat, drink or shop somewhere that isn’t in every city on the map, the odds are against you.

The contrast between the Chain-o-polis that is Coon Rapids and downtown Northfield is one of the reasons why I love this place: Northfield has character. Just try to name a chain store that has as much personality as Hogan Brothers, Chapati, Las Delicias, or Oo La La. Try to think of a big corporate coffee shop that has more local charm than Goodbye Blue Monday.

I can’t, and that’s why I would like to ask that when you head out of your dorm room, apartment or pod to get your caffeine fix, you think carefully about what kind of values you want to support with your money.

Now, I will be the first to say that I have had quite a few of Caribou’s Vanilla Coolers in my day. I hate to admit it, but they are delicious. However, I stopped buying Caribou products once I learned the environmental and cultural reverberations caused by purchasing these sugary coffee concoctions. When I think about the consequences of the coffee I enjoyed at Caribou and Starbucks, the memories aren’t so sweet.

Little did I know that each time I purchased my favorite blended coffee drink at Caribou, I was slurping social injustice and environmental degradation. Coffee farmers who try to compete in today’s world of free-trade and globalization are pressured to produce more and more coffee.

In South America, for example, one way that farmers accomplish this task is by clear-cutting the rainforest to plant high-yielding but sun-loving varieties of coffee. This does increase yields, but it also devastates the bird population to an unbelievable extent.

Without any natural predators, the insect population thrives. As a result, the farmers use toxic pesticides in order to kill the insects. As John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning state in their book Stuff, the unforeseen consequence of this action is that the pesticides poison the land, the local fauna and the farmers.

To add insult to injury, farmers are paid less than the costs of production which have been inflated by the expensive petrochemicals. Ryan and Durning also note that the land and the farmers suffer in order that big chains like Caribou and Starbucks can keep their costs low and their profits high.

Since no one would want to buy a product with such a widespread and unjust story attached to it, I’m sure you all can already feel the withdrawal headaches forming in your temples. But don’t despair: No one needs to give up their daily fix!

In fact, there are ways for us to enjoy our joe with friends, as well as be good to the earth and to coffee growers. It’s called fair-trade and shade-grown coffee, and it’s served in the Cage, Stav Hall and Northfield’s very own Goodbye Blue Monday coffeehouse.

When we purchase fair-trade and shade-grown coffee, we are directly supporting smaller-scale farmers who practice more ecologically sound growing practices. The farmers benefit because they receive a fair price for their goods – at least $1.26 a pound, compared to the unlivable free-trade rate of 60 cents a pound – and we as coffee-drinkers also benefit through the enjoyment of a quality drink that has a good story behind it. For more information, visit

When I talked with some folks at Blue Monday, they said that about two-thirds of their coffee is some combination of fair-trade, shade-grown and organic. When I called a Caribou in Lakeville, the worker didn’t know what fair-trade meant.

On top of all this, I’d like to point out that Blue Monday always has student artwork up on the walls, interesting music, free wireless internet, funky murals and of course, all of your friends. The Caribou in Northfield will look exactly the same as the one in Coon Rapids. Yawn.

We have to pick which kind of story we want to buy into. I urge you to support local, unique, environmentally beneficial and socially just experiences over corporate and bland ones. It’s not just about the coffee ... sip on that.

Contributing writer Dayna Burtness is a sophomore from Coon Rapids, Minn. She majors in enivrionmental studies.

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