Parsons student's design takes the pressure off coffee pickers

A new take on an old method could improve conditions for coffee bean pickers.
Written by Beth Carter, Contributing Editor on

Recently, coming hand-in-hand with a more sophisticated coffee-drinking culture, the where and how we get the coffee we drink is a much more pervasive topic among Americans looking to get their caffeine fix.

Economic issues, like that of fair trade, have become part of many coffee-buyer's decision making process. A much less considered topic, however, is not how the coffee is sold, but how exactly the coffee we drink is collected and produced at its origin.

Parsons School of Design product design student Gabriela Ravassa, however, has considered this, and done something about it. Coffee bean pickers in Colombia, her native country, haul as many as 170 pounds of beans in huge buckets that cause a lot of physical distress and can result in severe injury. The hours of labor and potential musculoskeletal injury give them an average wage of $16 per day.

Ravassa has developed a new picking bucket to improve these harsh conditions. The old containers were hard on backs, left bruises in the thighs and are hard to hold, increasing the amount of beans that are lost to spills.

The new bucket, as Ravassa calls Coco, looks similar to the existing containers but has added a few ingenious upgrades. She chose to stick with the old style because it goes along with the successful picking methods that have been used for 170 years in the Colombian coffee farms.

To hold the basket, there is what Ravassa calls a "continuous handle," and idea she got from three-handles laundry baskets that should help the workers hold the buckets more securely than before, decreasing spillage.

The changes, though they appear to be few, are drastic improvements. At the bottom of the bucket there is an indent that emulates the angle that legs make when they are walking, in hopes of taking way the jabbing and bruising of the old way.

The strap on the new bucket is modeled after a kidney belt and includes a custom clasp to encourage the farm owners to purchase the straps and belts for their workers together. The buckets will be made out of injection molded polypropylene and be around twenty dollars a piece, only about five dollar more than existing buckets.

Ravassa thinks that even with the price increase she can convince farm owners to use these buckets- not only are they better for the workers, but she maintains that on account of fewer beans lost to spills the managers (that already spend money to prevent bean loss) will think of this as another way to get maximum output.

Images: Parsons

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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