We’ve written before about product life stories and how they’re bringing new transparency to the creation and distribution of consumer products. Dole Organics did it for bananas, and now Crop to Cup is doing something similar for coffee. Crop to Cup, founded last year, buys directly from African coffee farmers and represents them in consumer markets. With the goal of improving farmers’ livelihoods, Crop to Cup trains and educates them in sustainable practices, and it coordinates the coffee’s processing, export, import, roasting, marketing and distribution. Not only do farmers get paid fair prices, but they also have the opportunity to realize additional per-pound bonuses connected to sales on the coffee drinker’s end. Meanwhile, Crop to Cup also reinvests 10 percent of its profits in farmer communities. So far, so good, but not new—most fair trade companies work that way. Where the innovation and product life stories come in, however, is through what Crop to Cup calls the digitization of coffee farming. Through Crop to Cup’s website, consumers can trace their coffee back to the farmers who produced it and interact with them (along with roasters and other drinkers) through message boards, forums, ratings and reviews. The result is that drinkers of Uganda Bugisu AA coffee, for example, can read profiles of the farmers who produced the beans, including Bernard Walimbwa’s 17-member family, which manages roughly 30,000 coffee trees in the Bugisu Region of Uganda. The company’s founders explain: “By training and working directly with family farmers we’re able to control quality of our coffees. By virtue of full disclosure and farm-level transparency, we’re able to ensure a fairly traded product without costly certification schemes. We involve the farmer and their ultimate customer—the coffee drinker—in a dialogue to determine what’s important.” Crop to Cup’s site is still rough around the edges, but its approach is a promising one, from both an ethical and a marketing perspective. As our sister site trendwatching.com noted in its (still) made here briefing, consumers’ desire to find out about product origins will only increase. Time to get working on those stories!