The following reflection was written by Wells Neal, Senior Director National Market.
I continue to be happily surprised anytime I relearn the lesson that less is usually more.
Such was the case, on a recent visit to a hospital/full care nursing facility account of ours in the Tug Hill plateau area of upstate NY. I was meeting at the request of the Food Service manager who is my contact there, in response to a complaint from many of the residents at the nursing home that our Vienna roast decaf was “too strong.” When dealing with in- patient care, decaf is the dominant coffee consumed. In upstate NY, the phrase “too strong” is code for, “I wish you had a lighter roasted alternative.” I proceeded, armed with medium roasted decaf samples to brew for a group tasting, along with the knowledge that we would soon have this new product and everyone would be happy.
Having spent quite of bit of time over the past few years in nursing homes visiting loved ones, I was aware that as straightforward a visit as this one appeared to be for me, I knew it was a very important one to the residents. I’ll digress briefly, as this was a lesson I never fully appreciated until my own parents were in the position of requiring “full-care”. As hard working people become less able to take care of themselves, it becomes increasingly more frustrating for them to accept that they can no longer participate in decisions that affect their lives; others have to do it for them. Understandably, and perhaps for this generation in particular, many resent having to be in this position of forced deferral.
As the group of octogenarians gathered around a table for the tasting, I began to serve coffee and talk about why I was there, who Equal Exchange is, and the story behind our coffee. I started by telling the residents that I had driven the 90 miles to say hello because I was responding to their remarks about the coffee and I was hoping that I had an alternative that might work for them. As the nurses’ aides were putting chips of ice in the coffee to cool it down, I began talking about Equal Exchange and thinking to myself, “this has got to be tight, right to the point, with no meandering!” And so I started off by saying, “Equal Exchange is an organization of people that works directly with small farmers…” I was interrupted immediately by a very senior citizen who said quite stridently, “That’s good that you work with small farmers. Small farmers need all the help they can get!” I looked around the table and decided that was it, sort of an “amen” moment. They sipped the coffee and voted yes.