Emily Kerr first fell in love with the Dominican Republic's lush produce in 2003, as a college student studying abroad. A year later, she returned to explore organic farming practices on a fellowship—and promptly became smitten with the country's small-scale organic coffee. Grown on remote plots high in the mountains, where the altitude and cool air delay ripening of the beans, it was the most intensely flavorful java she'd ever sipped. But while Kerr knew the beans could fetch a premium in the United States, the farmers sold instead to domestic buyers for low and inconsistent prices. "I could see their frustration," she says. Most could barely afford to feed their families.
A year and a half later, Kerr was working for the Greenmarket in New York—the nation's largest farmers' market—when "I had a bolt-of-lightning moment," she recalls. "Why not globalize the farmers' market concept?" In 2009, using about $7,000 of her savings, she founded Liga Masiva (a Spanish phrase she coined that roughly translates as "diverse groups working toward a common goal"). The company connects Dominican farmers with ardent coffee drinkers abroad via its Web site (ligamasiva.com)—and by cutting out middlemen is able to pay the growers up to 200 percent more than they'd otherwise earn.
"I lie awake at night," she says, "thinking up ways to make the direct connection with farmers more fun and more interesting." Currently, her site features stories about the growers, alongside information about how, exactly, they produce such vibrant coffee—which is always packaged within an hour of being roasted, and shipped that same day (a 12-ounce bag costs $15). "The farmers talk for hours about how Liga Masiva has impacted them," Kerr says. "But I know we're enriching customers' lives, too."
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