Crummer’s Dr. Whittingham Puts Theory into Practice with Newly Launched Coffee Company
Years of consulting trips to Costa Rica’s coffee-rich farmland inspired Dr. Whittingham to launch Artifx Cafe, designed to create real income for small farmers and positively impact their communities.
Nestled deep in the high-altitude, cool mountain climate of Costa Rica, the country’s mineral rich volcanic soils host acres of vibrantly green, undulating coffee fields.
The wet soils allow the coffee trees to thrive and have made Costa Rica one of the world’s premier coffee exporters.
The coffee farmers trudge through the steep mountainous regions, picking the coffee tree’s fruit – called coffee cherries. Often times, they strap 60-plus pounds of coffee cherries on their backs and head down the mountain as they bring the fruit to a lower elevation.
On a good day, a single picker may bring in up to 200 pounds of coffee cherries through this labor-intensive process, equaling about 40 pounds of coffee beans.
Once at a lower elevation, the coffee is sun-dried and warehoused for up to two months before it is exported.
Along the way, brokers, distributors, roasters and finally cafés all get their share of profits from the world’s most popular beverage. The average coffee farmer, however, doesn’t see a big cut of those profits.
It’s a system Dr. Keith Whittingham noticed years ago when he started taking Crummer cohorts to Costa Rica for consulting projects. His years working with teams on the Nespresso Global MBA Challenge, further highlighted this issue.
Now he’s putting theory into practice, with the launch of Artifx Cafe, hoping to cut out the middle-man and generate awareness around where your cup of coffee actually comes from.
An engineer by trade, Dr. Whittingham’s interest in sustainability was first piqued when he started learning about renewable energy.
It’s an interest that evolved into a lifestyle and led him to becoming one of Crummer’s leading voices on the importance of sustainability.
With experiential learning at the forefront of Crummer’s mission, Dr. Whittingham first visited Monteverde, Costa Rica, 11 years ago as he searched for opportunities for student-led consulting projects.
He met a coffee farmer who mentioned that his family was looking into bringing visitors to their farm to teach them about sustainable living, but they didn’t know how to curate that idea into a business.
It was a perfect project for Crummer MBA students to work on.
Within 9 months, Dr. Whittingham had brought down a team of students and was helping this family bring their business idea to life.
His work with this community and the connections he formed made him realize this wasn’t going to be a one-off project.
“I had a strong sense that it was important to build a deep relationship with a community, and I decided let’s go back, let’s dig deeper,” said Dr. Whittingham.
Seven consulting projects and 9 Global Sustainability courses later, visits to Monteverde, Costa Rica, have become premier Crummer experiences for sustainably-minded students. Along the way, the partnership between Crummer and Monteverde became an important part of each community. Crummer is welcomed with open arms every time a new team of MBA students touch down in Costa Rica.
“After three years of visiting, I realized many people come by once and never go back again,” said Dr. Whittingham. “Now the reception there is totally different; they know we are here to stay.”
Creating a Company
Years of working with and around coffee farmers in Latin America brought the idea of creating a sustainable coffee to the forefront of Dr. Whittingham’s mind.
He saw first-hand the stories of farmers and their families struggling to get by, while other large companies made huge profits on the coffee the farmers produced.
“This was something over the years that I said I need to do. There was something inside of me where I had to do it,” said Dr. Whittingham.
Artifx Cafe, was launched to bring more sustainable income to coffee farmers and help lift their communities out of poverty.
Admittedly, Dr. Whittingham says it’s a little unorthodox for a professor to start a company, but he says that being a part of the Crummer and Rollins “ecosystems” has been instrumental in helping launch Artifx Cafe.
“The more and more I’ve spoken with Crummer Dean Deborah Crown and Rollins College President Grant Cornwell, it just fits so well with our mission,” said Dr. Whittingham. “I am very, very appreciative of the support I’ve received from the Crummer and Rollins community.”
Winter Park companies are taking notice too.
The Ancient Olive, a premium oil and gourmet food shop on Park Avenue is one of the first partners to start carrying Artifx Cafe.
“Keith came into the store and approached me, told me what he was about and what he was doing. I was sold as soon as he started to talk about it as far as carrying the product,” said Tracy Kuch, co-general manager of the store.