On January 11th, Garth Smith, founder of the Organic Products Trading Company and major figure in the specialty coffee trade, passed away. The news deeply affected his many admirers and friends in the coffee trade: those who worked with him considered him a mentor, a pioneer, and a visionary.
Garth began his coffee career with Coffee Bean International, where he was a colleague to SCAA Past President Paul Thornton. Paul remembers, “Garth seemed to quickly realize the impact that could be made to small coffee farmers by offering opportunities to make improvements in their lives. It was clear, even this early in his career of coffee, where Garth’s heart connected the most: supporting small growers and embracing organic and fair trade coffee initiatives and live a life around the spirit of love, and everything that relates to love, and supporting those who need support the most.” Garth left CBI to found the Organic Products Trading Company with his wife, Gaylene. This was one of the first companies dedicated solely to the nascent organic coffee movement, and Smith became a leader and educator in the cause of sustainable agriculture in coffee. Roasters Guild chair Mark Inman remembers, “Garth was welcoming, encouraging and informative, never tiring of the infinite amount of questions I threw at him. I credit a lot of my interest in sustainable agriculture, and to a greater extent, coffee, to him.”
In 2004, the Smiths founded a new organization, the Café Femenino Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to recognizing the work of women throughout coffee’s supply chain and dedicated to enhancing their lives. Just as Smith had pioneered the organic coffee industry a decade before, he was now addressing another vital aspect of the sustainability of our trade. In retrospect, Garth’s entire career–indeed his life–was dedicated to making people’s lives better. The Specialty Coffee community grieves Garth Smith’s loss, and extends our condolences to Gaylene. Above all, however, we pay tribute to the immense contribution he made during his lifetime. A memorial fund has been established by the Café Femenino foundation, and can be found here.