Jackie Robinson’s Son, David Robinson, Blazes Own Path in Coffee Growing Field

Robinson's son owns a Tanzanian coffee growing company called Sweet Unity Farms

david robinson jackie robinsons sonIf you’ve had the chance to see the movie 42, which is in theaters now starring Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie, you know a little about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball.

Robinson broke the baseball color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who started him at first base on April 15, 1947. In doing so, Robinson challenged the practice of racial segregation and helped usher in the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackie Robinson was also known for his work in the African-American community when he retired from baseball. He was the first black television analyst in MLB, and the first black vice-president of a major American corporation. He was very active in the Civil Rights movement and in the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank in Harlem, New York. In recognition of his achievements, Jackie Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Jackie Robinson’s youngest son, David Robinson, sat down with Black Enterprise to talk about his father, the movie ’42′ and African-American empowerment.

BlackEnterprise.com: You live in Tanzania?

That’s correct I’ve been there for 30 years.

You have a coffee company there right?

That’s correct we are farmers and we work with family-owned farms in export. Our coffee brand is called Sweet Unity Farms.

How would you compare your coffee with what’s on the market now?

Our coffee is a 100% Arabica coffee. So it is amongst the gourmet or specialty coffees on the market today. You wouldn’t compare it to Maxwell House or Chock Full of Nuts because those are blended with Robusta coffee, which is a lower quality of coffee.

Before 15-20 years ago, that’s all people drank but in today’s world there is a specialty branch that is 100% Arabica so we’re like Starbucks, we’re like Peet’s. There’s a whole level of gourmet coffees that use only Arabica beans and we use only the top 3 grades of Arabica beans. So quality-wise, we’re in the upper-echelon; and in terms of economic concept and distribution of the proceeds from coffee; we’re the only coffee company coming out of Africa that is a branded finished product that is marketed directly by farmers.

A greater share of the final finished product income goes back to farmers and the development of more rural farming communities in Tanzania.

So you farm yourself?

My family and I started a coffee farm 22 years ago. We have a coffee and food farm and we have 280 acres of land in Tanzania. So, we ourselves farm and we’re members of a co-op of over 300 farmers. We work with co-ops across Tanzania so we export our coffee into America and roast it in North America and sell it as a brand called Sweet Unity Farms.

I know I’ve heard of coffee from Ethiopia but has coffee been a product of Tanzania for a long time?

Yes, coffee was originally discovered as a wild bush in Tanzania sometime around 600 AD; but Tanzanians have been growing coffee since about 1895; and between 1950 and 1990 it was the largest foreign exchange crop that Tanzania grew. Right now, we have over 400,000 small scale, family owned coffee farms.

Is your brand one of many coffee brands being exported?

No. Tanzania grows more than 50 million pounds of coffee per year and most of those coffees are sold as a commodity. They are roasted into Starbucks, Caribou, and Peet’s so they’re bought as a commodity and then roasted under other people’s brands.

So is Sweet Unity Farms the only coffee brand out of Tanzania?

Yes, we’re the only brand that farmers themselves have exported out of Tanzania and imported into America as a finished branded product. We are capturing the value-add in the business by creating our own retail brand.

Where can your coffee be found in America?

You can buy it on the web at sweetunityfarmscoffee.com but we also sell to corporate office coffee programs. The financial services company, Deloitte, for example, has our coffee on many of their office floors. We’re also in certain airports in Florida.

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