The Louisville Courier-Journal had a very good article on Fair Trade. It provided an understandable overview of the Fair Trade issue and the coffee crisis, highlighting Guatemalan farmers and one of the members of Cooperative Coffees and one of the first coffee houses I liked to go to, Heine Brothers.
One quote stood out for me:
Most [coffee farmers] have few other options than selling to “coyotes,” predatory middlemen who can siphon off up to half the speculator-driven worldwide price of raw coffee.
This is why “relationship” coffees — typically offered by independent roasters such as Cooperative Coffee members, or those listed on the sidebars — are so important. Importers and roasters that have relationships with and deal directly with farmers and cooperatives cut out the middleman, provide better prices to the farmers, and can monitor growing practices. Better coffee, and nearly always better for the environment. When you buy coffee from one of the big four at the grocery store, this is not what you are promoting.