Sisters' Story coffee of Guelph, Ont., supports 47 Canadian women's shelters

Across Canada, 47 women's shelters and centres receive a donation every time a coffee lover makes an online purchase from the new Guelph, Ont.-based Sisters’ Story Coffee.

Coffee project has already changed women's lives in Peru. New initiative aims to help in Canada

Sisters' Story Coffee and beans, roasted and packaged in Guelph, Ont., uses beans from a women's coffee co-op in Peru. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Across Canada, 47 women's shelters and centres receive a donation every time a coffee lover makes an online purchase from the new Guelph, Ont.-based Sisters' Story Coffee.

If a purchaser selects the Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region (WCSWR) or Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis from the drop-down menu on checkout, 15 per cent of the sale proceeds go to that organization  helping vulnerable women.    

"At our organization, these funds will be used to directly support programming that helps women and children experiencing domestic violence in our community," Jennifer Hutton, CEO of WCSWR, said in an email.

Sisters' Story Coffee is a new brand started by Sumac Community Worker Co-op, an organization that owns Guelph's Planet Bean, a coffee company founded in 1997 by Bill Barrett.

Idea brewed 2 years

Last week, Sumac announced the official launch of Sisters' Story Coffee, with it a connection to, and financial support for, the 47 Canadian women's centres. But the idea for Sisters' Story Coffee was born two years ago, according to Barrett.

"We started looking at alternative ways of doing our business. We've had this really cool relationship for many years with a women's co-op in Peru, Café Femenino. While Planet Bean is a regional, local company, we thought can we take this thing national and have more impact for the farmers in Peru?"

Bill Barrett and Lisa Schincariol McMurtry of Planet Bean cafe, with Sisters' Story Coffee. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Sisters' Story Coffee purchases only Café Femenino coffee beans, which are then roasted by Planet Bean. The co-op is in the Andes Mountains of northern Peru, a South American country with a Pacific Coast and a population of about 33 million.

Sisters' Story is a separate brand for purchase online only, according to Barrett. A business model allows Sumac to make a significant donation to the organizations.

"Because we're a social enterprise, we share some of the revenue that's associated with selling Sisters' Story to organizations across the country."  

According to Lisa Schincariol McMurtry, Sisters' Story Coffee community liaison, the match between the Peruvian co-op and women's centres here is ideal.

"The agencies really like the idea of working in solidarity with women around the world and women across Canada, and embracing an ethical fundraising model. They really appreciate that Sumac carries their values throughout their whole operation."

Café Femenino key role

While coffee production in Peru and other regions of the world falls substantially to women, they do not share in much of the economic benefit despite their hard work. Many women also suffer sexual violence, and they and their children suffer physical violence.

Barrett said many women in parts of Peru thought their experience of abuse and exploitation was unique to them, but they learned that is not the case.

Planet Bean cafe, Guelph, Ont. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

So, while we might assume that aid and social support usually travels from "north to south," this is a case where the reverse is happening.

"What Café Femenino decided to do was say to roasters and coffee sellers here that if you are selling our beans, we want it to support a local women's organization," said Barrett.

Hutton appreciates the decision to donate to violence against women organizations came directly from the Café Femenino farmers themselves. "Seventy per cent of women from that region are survivors of physical and sexual violence."

In trying to correct the inequality and mitigate the violence they were experiencing, the Peruvian women created Café Femenino as their own brand, and they sell it through fair trade and organic channels to coffee companies like Sisters' Story.

The growth of business from co-ops such as Café Femenino has seen investment in local Peruvian economies and education for children — and especially young girls, according to Hutton.

Women have faced increased pressure and have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, so it is especially amazing to see this women-supporting-women initiative come together at this time.- Jennifer Hutton, Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo

"Café Femenino over the years has changed the home economy," he said. "The women are making money and husbands are giving more support. They're investing in their kids and girls from remote rural villages are going to college."

In Waterloo Region and Wellington County, and at women's centres across Canada, sales of Sisters' Story Coffee, made from beans from Peru's Café Femenino, is a timely investment, according to Hutton.

"During the pandemic, we have seen rates of violence against women increase around the world," Hutton said, noting women have been dealing with additional burdens at the same time.

"Women have faced increased pressure and have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, so it is especially amazing to see this women-supporting-women initiative come together at this time."


Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.