Together, Thomas and Sylvia married their interests in organics and international development, and in 1996 as husband and wife, they launched ForestTrade, a wholesale supplier of organic and sustainably produced tropical spices, vanilla, essential oils, and Fair Trade Certified™ coffee. The idea for the company was developed as a way to promote rainforest conservation in fragile tropical ecosystems. And, by working closely with indigenous farmers in supplier countries, Thomas and Sylvia maintain supervision over every link of their supply chain, ensuring environmental sustainability, organic integrity, and social justice every step of the way.
Today, ForesTrade sources directly from more than 5,000 small-scale, indigenous farmers in Indonesia and Guatemala, who are sustainably managing 92,000 hectares of land. Customers for ForesTrade’s wholesale spices and coffee include many other sustainably managed members of Green America’s Green Business Network™, such Stonyfield Farms, Ben & Jerry’s, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.
What’s more, ForesTrade’s presence in Indonesia provided a ready-made infrastructure for assisting with disaster relief after the devastating tsunami at the end of 2004.
“Being engaged in Aceh and Sumatra for the past ten years … we’re very well rehearsed in disaster relief, because many, many times our warehousing has sheltered victims of ethnic cleansing due to conflict in the area,” Thomas says. “We were primed for immediate response.”
In addition to using the ForesTrade warehouse to store relief supplies (later loaded onto coffee trucks and driven to displaced persons in the Indonesian highlands), ForesTrade partnered with the nonprofit Coffee Kids on a tsunami relief fund for the Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association, raising more than $300,000. The fundraising effort began by supporting the immediate needs of the population, then moved to rebuilding damaged infrastructure, and finally, in February 2005, began awarding tuition and living expenses to Acehnese students who lost family members in the tsunami and were faced with the prospect of having to halt their studies.
Thomas says next steps for the ten-year-old company include an expansion of the brand into the retailing of consumer goods.