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How do you spell October? F-A-I-R T-R-A-D-E M-O-N-T-H.

Company president Ben Corey-Moran called in to join Helge Hellberg and Mark Mulcahy on the radio show An Organic Conversation. The theme, sustainable empowerment, looks at the two choices we face as consumers: let our buying habits deplete natural resources and entrench communities in cycles of poverty or make choices that are mutually beneficial. Ben discusses the documentary Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean that portrays the story of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative and our partnership with them.

Kick off your Fair Trade Month and listen here.

Who’s That At Our Door?

While coffee sales tend to sag slightly in summertime, socializing increases exponentially. We love giving tours of our space, offering up great coffees to taste, walking the path that coffee takes in our warehouse from the loading dock through the roasting room and production floor, outside to the community garden planted on land we donated. Last week we had a number of visitors (some planned, some drop-ins) that represented the total spectrum of our business.

One was a longstanding customer from neighboring Lake County (he and his wife came to the coast to escape the blistering heat inland) that wanted an exact recipe for brewing coffee into his 2 cup French Press. We shared ours with him and gave him a sneak peak at our forthcoming brewing guide. Be sure to get in touch if you would like a copy of it when it’s available.

Another was from Sadao, the manager at the acclaimed San Francisco restaurant Coco500 and his partner Katie. They were excited to do side-by-side tastings of our seasonal single origin coffees. Coco500 is a great partner to us, as inspired as we are about identifying and showcasing unique characteristics in coffees and thinking about flavor profiles and pairings with seasonal food.

Kieran Smith, an engineer who was volunteering with Fair Trade Vancouver got inspired to bike from his home city in British Columbia to Santiago, Chile (he stopped and saw us along the way, three and a half weeks into a journey he expected to take 9 months in total). He was inspired to lift the veil off of Fair Trade as most consumers know it and talk about ethics in trade and sustainability along the supply chain. We drank espresso, walked around, and he took still photos and shot video of our operations. He asked questions about the cooperatives we work with around the world and how we think about and define “community empowerment”. If we ever get our hands on that video, I’ll be sure to share. In the meantime you can follow along on his blog.

Finally, we were visited by the team from Fundacion MangoMundo a new foundation committed to raising awareness about Nicaragua and connecting more folks to the beautiful arts, crafts, and agricultural products (like coffee) that Nicaragua boasts. They invited Paul to speak to a group of high school students in San Francisco about his work in Nicaragua that began in the mid-1980’s. We drank Byron’s Maracaturra, a coffee that we look forward to year after year that had just arrived from the Matagalpa region grown by an amazing farmer that we have been buying from for two decades.

Each of these visitors came with a unique interest and appreciation for our work. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the technical side – trying to help the home brewer achieve a more perfect cup. Sometimes we get wholly focused on seasonality and educating our customers about what’s fresh and where it’s coming from. Othertimes we are storytellers, focused on being a bridge between our customers and the communities where our coffee grows – talking about exciting projects on the ground and the farmers we know around the world– and some people connect with how we began, as a company committed to using coffee as a medium to get out a message about important issues by partnering with organizations doing meaningful work. We are all of these things, a relationship-focused company that for nearly 40 years has been trying to do better business.

Thank you for helping us grow and evolve and challenge ourselves. We can’t wait to celebrate 40 years with you next year!!

Welcome back Sidama Natural – How we have missed you!!

Excitement is in the air!

This past Wednesday, we received this year’s shipment of our Sidama Natural coffee after a long journey from Ethiopia (considered by many as the birthplace of coffee). This is a perennial favorite of ours and we were all thrilled to cup it and marvel at another beautiful harvest from the Hache Primary Society. This coffee is natural processed, juxtaposed with the more typical washed or wet process methods. In the Bensa region of Ethiopia, the 2,000 farmers of the Hache cooperative pick their ripe cherries and leave them to dry in the sun like a raisin with the fruit still clinging to the beans inside. All of the sugars and fruit juice are absorbed giving this coffee a wondrous jammy, berry, fruity, even port-like sweetness. And these notes of fruit are supported by a full flavored foundation that can best be described as robust yet refined. There is something special about this coffee and you’ll know it when you taste it. Blueberries? A hint of strawberry jam? Yum.

As it is with all great seasonally produced foods, sometimes not being able to have the foods we love most every day makes the anticipation and their return all that much more special. Our Sidama Natural is our featured coffee right now, usher in the fall by treating yourself or someone you love to this exceptional coffee.

The Fire

On Monday, July 5th at 9:15 pm we received a call about a fire at our building. Fire fighters were on the scene shortly after containing the blaze. It was not a small fire; the crews worked diligently until 3:00 am trying to put it out and used nearly one million gallons of water.

The Thanksgiving team arrived at the building on Tuesday morning to find it still smoldering. The smell of propane, and burnt plastic and charred wood filled the damp coastal air. It was a heartbreaking scene. But the calls were flooding in; our community extended every manner of support from office space to radio time to baked goods and lots of kind words and condolences. The question for us as we surveyed the scene was not whether this was the end of the business but rather, what would our next chapter of business look like?

After assessing the damage, our spirits were lifted when we realized that the core assets were in tact. Our warehouse that stored all of our green coffee had not been damaged and our antique roaster was also spared. We set to work to salvage all existing inventory and resurrect operations out of our warehouse next door to the burned area. By Wednesday afternoon we were getting our first orders out the door, thanks to the very accommodating folks at UPS. And by Friday we received two truckloads of fresh roasted coffee that we had contracted out to three Bay Area roasters who had extended offers of support.

The media was quick to note that the cause of the fire was declared arson. The investigators have been doing a phenomenal job and the case is still under investigation. We are asking that anyone with any information about the cause of the fire call the Mendocino County Sheriff’s tip line at 707-467-9159. We are leaving this in their very capable hands and focusing our energy on moving the business forward.

We have been truly overwhelmed by the community’s response to this event. We cannot begin to give enough thanks to the fire crews, investigators, local businesses and community members who reached out to us and made us feel loved and supported.

While it feels strange to work in the shadow of our burned out former home, there is much to be thankful for. There were a few moments last week when I stopped and took a step back to look around. Our team was working so hard to keep things moving forward, with their sights set on making this business stronger than ever. People were doing things they’d never done before, taking on roles that were new to them, and we were all working together to develop impromptu systems that would keep us afloat. We weren’t talking about it, but our hearts were in the same place and you could feel it.

We’ve been around for nearly 40 years. The road has been long and winding and not always smooth. This was certainly a sobering experience but it showed us how much we are loved and what a strong place we hold in both our local community as well the specialty coffee community.

The rebuilding process is already underway and many of us are excited about new possibilities in a new space. We are filling orders more or less on schedule, though or product offerings at this time are limited. We continue to get asked what people can do to help and at this time there is really only one thing, keep buying our coffee. And be patient with us. If a coffee you know and love isn’t available right now, try something else. You may discover a new coffee to love. Our online retail business has been delayed but this week we will begin to fill orders. In some cases you may get the exact coffee you ordered in a package that looks familiar. In other cases, we may fill your order with a similar coffee in a logoed but unlabeled bag. Again, we really appreciate your patience.

Thank you for your continued support. If you don’t already follow us on Facebook, please become a fan so we can keep you in the loop about rebuilding (and I’ll post an album with recent pictures of our first week post-fire). Here’s the link:

It’s been a long week and it’s a long road ahead but we know this too shall pass…

As the ashes settle and the dust clears, we remain Thanksgiving Coffee Company “Not Just a Cup, But a Just Cup.”

The New Crops Have Landed!!

This business requires patience. From the time we taste a coffee sample to the time that coffee arrives at our door ready to be roasted can take several months. It’s especially difficult to be patient when the samples are really really really good.

This past Thursday was a big day for us here at Thanksgiving Coffee Company. Just after 8:00am a truck backed up to our loading dock full of sacks of new crop Nicaraguan coffee. These coffees are particularly special for us because our relationships in Nicaragua go back so many years. We don’t just buy from one cooperative there, we buy from three: Solidaridad de Aranjuez (our Joya de Aranjuez coffees), SOPPEXCCA (our Flor de Jinotega), PRODOCOOP (Dipilto coffee which serves as a backbone to many of our favorite blends and will be featured this year as a special single origin). We also buy from one small scale family farm owned by the Corrales family (Byron’s Maracaturra – a perennial favorite). The arrival of these coffees is thrilling because coffee, like many crops, is seasonal. We buy limited quantities of the highest quality each year and when these coffees run out, we have to wait for the next year’s harvest to arrive. We were all eagerly anticipating this delivery; especially our roasting team who was chomping at the bit to get these beans fired up and out the door to our loyal customers who, like us, know that the exceptional quality, complexity, and character of these distinct coffees are worth waiting for.

Towards the end of July, we’ll be celebrating the arrival of these Nicaraguan coffees as well as the balance of our Northern Hemisphere coffees (like Musasa, Rwanda) that are also recent arrivals to our dock. Keep an eye out for your invitation to party with us here at the warehouse.

Here are some pictures of how the day went: the arrival, unloading, sample roasting, staff cupping, and finally the beginning of production roasts.


Response to Uganda’s proposed anti-gay bill

The anti-gay legislation being promoted in Uganda is hateful and deplorable. We have publicly denounced it since we first learned about it. However, there are more direct and appropriate ways to condemn this legislation than going after Fair Trade farmers. We work in partnership with the Peace Kawomera Cooperative, a group of 1,000 Jewish, Christian, and Muslim farmers working together under a conscious initiative for peace. This is an incredible collaboration given the recent historical landscape of brutality instigated by Idi Amin. These farmers have chosen tolerance as a guiding force for economic development and this is a remarkable example that the world should recognize and applaud not shun and condemn on account of misguided and hate-filled choices by their government.

I understand the perspective of advocating an across the board boycott to induce economic hardship in a country that depends on money from exports as a means to send a strong “message” about this homophobic and hateful legislation. But not all trade in Uganda can be considered on the same plane. The economic reality in Uganda today is deeply rooted in a history of exploitative trade by multinational corporations. Fair Trade seeks to help support producers to overcome that history and in so doing, encourages community led development initiatives that promote education, health care, and access to better infrastructure. This type of bottom up growth and development positions communities to better respond to the kind of legislation we are seeing in Uganda today. Meanwhile, it should not go without mentioning that much of the support of this bill has been driven by organizations in the United States. It is not the Fair Trade farmers in Peace Kawomera that are the voices on this issue.

Our stance with respect to your suggestion of boycotting this coffee and cutting off this community that we have worked so closely with for five years is that we don’t believe that is the best way to combat the current anti-gay bill being discussed. In fact, we would even more emphatically support the critical work, message, and example that the Peace Kawomera Cooperative is setting. Each day these farmers choose tolerance as their way forward. The children of farmers are seeing that peace is a solution and a path to a brighter future. Supporting this Cooperative promotes the growth of a strong base of citizenship that can see beyond differences (whether that be based in cultural, ethnic, racial, gender or sexual preference diversity) and is successfully collaborating for real economic development.

Please consider the implications of what “direct action” in this case looks like. Going after a group laying the foundation for a more tolerant Uganda won’t solve the problem on the table. However, we encourage everyone to speak out against this proposed bill.

You can sign a petition here:

A New Year of Positive Growth for Mirembe

2009 was a busy year for the Mirembe Project and 2010 is shaping up to be even busier. A feature in Smithsonian Folkways Magazine, new computers for the PK Cooperative management, and a showcase of Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” coffee at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City has gotten this year off to a rolling start. This project continues to grow, build, and change and you are an integral part of it. Thank you for your continued support.

PKC Gets New Computers

In December, I sent an appeal to some of our supporters asking that they consider donating money to the Cooperative to support the purchase of new computers for PKC’s growing staff. This was a unique request from Thanksgiving Coffee. Ordinarily, we don’t have channels to manage supporters’ charitable donations. However, in this case there was a very specific need from the Cooperative and we were able to coordinate a community leader to spearhead this effort. Many thanks to Debbie in San Jose for being the central point of organization and for the final effort to make sure the money made it to Atlanta in time to be carried to Uganda. Six communities came together to support this fundraising effort. We were successful in raising $885, enough to purchase two new desktop systems for the Coop’s seven person staff!

On January 31st, a friend to Thanksgiving Coffee Company as well as the PK Coop, carried $455 to Uganda and later this week $430 more will be wired from Evanston, IL.

We are so grateful to the folks that came forward to support this effort: the Jewish Reconstructionist Community of Evanston, the Unitarian Universalists Congregation in Santa Rosa, Congregation Hakafa in Winnetka, the Center for Spiritual Living in San Jose, Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia, University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and a few individuals.

On behalf of the folks at the Cooperative, many many many thanks! These new computers will aid in significant improvements in operations and organization.

Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” featured at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is an annual event in Nevada City. Over the course of three days, hundreds of environmentally focused films are shown – from features like Food, Inc. to smaller independent work such as Tapped (a compelling film highlighting issues with the plastic water bottle industry and water rights). Thanksgiving Coffee Company was approached to be a sponsor and we realized this festival was a great fit and a great location to promote Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” coffee as well as the trailer for the upcoming documentary “Delicious Peace Grows in a Uganda Coffee Bean” by independent film makers Ellen Friedland and Curt Fissel. 2-wild-and-scenic

Mirembe Kawomera Delicious Peace coffee was served all weekend at five concession venues around town and the trailer was shown three times with Jenais and Ben available to speak briefly at two of the showings. The audience was enthusiastic about the coffee, the project, and the trailer.

Learn more about the festival and view the four minute trailer that was edited specifically for Wild & Scenic 2010.

The Music of PKC Highlighted in Smithsonian Folkways Magazine

For the last few years, our friend, Rabbi Jeffrey Summit from Tufts University, has made three trips to visit the farmers at the Peace Kawomera Cooperative. One primary focus has been field recording the music of PKC’s coffee farmers. Rabbi Summit recently wrote a piece for Smithsonian Folkways Magazine about his work. It’s a great article about music as a means to communicate information, some of the challenges of trying to record in the field, as well as the tremendous labor required by the farmers. Below is an excerpt from his piece but please take a look at the full article:

3-field-recording“There is only one way for an excellent cup of Mirembe Kawomera coffee to get to my kitchen in Massachusetts, and it starts with a farmer in eastern Uganda walking into the field, looking carefully at a coffee tree, and picking the scattered coffee cherries that have ripened. Time is of the essence: cherries must be picked within a three–to–four–day window of ripeness. After picking, the cherries are sorted, washed, hand–pulped, dried, picked over, and bagged to be taken to the cooperative office. My fieldwork has made me acutely aware of this web of connection between us and coffee farmers in Uganda…”
– “Mirembe Kawomera (Delicious Peace) Coffee, Music and Interfaith Harmony in Uganda” Jeffrey Summit, Smithsonian Folkways Magazine, Winter 2010

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A Visit to Peace Kawomera (Uganda)

Construction is two-thirds complete. Below the ground floor sits a strong foundation firmly grounded in the fertile red earth. Above it, a cool storeroom for bulking coffee. Another storeroom one floor above will alternately double as a utility space, a vanilla, cardamom, and fruit processing facility. Above that pilings reach to the sky, awaiting the final construction push: offices, a meeting hall, and a roof to protect from the equatorial sun and rain…

As you can see from the photos, I’m speaking of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative’s new headquarters—their first office, warehouse, and operations center. Of course, this new construction is also a metaphor for the tremendous growth of the past 5 years and the inspiring hope for the future. Now, after literally dreaming it into being, working with hearts and hands, and thanks to our effort at Thanksgiving Coffee and our customers committed support, this young cooperative has moved into place as one of Uganda’s finest coffee producers, highest price earners, and most innovative social entrepreneurs.

I visited for three short days, but shared many beautiful moments…

…Truckloads of fresh picked coffee brought to the cooperative by farmers who have been carefully trained in the highest quality procedures, happy with the knowledge that they would receive the highest price on the entire Mt. Elgon, home to over 100,000 coffee farmers.

…Attending an exciting meeting of one of Peace Kawomera’s 25 new farmer groups, well attended and representing more women than men in a localized grouping for future farmer training programs, coffee collection, and our upcoming reforestation initiative.

…Sharing a good laugh with my old friends Elias Hasalube and Nakidoto Alisati in front of the shop outside their homes.

…The Peace Kawomera central washing station up and running, carefully selecting only the best ripe coffee cherries. Double sorting the cherries, then depulping, cleaning, and washing the cherries before preparing them for drying and carefully constructed drying tables. Fully integrating the best practices from the world’s most advanced coffee washing stations with a careful eye to efficient and economical operation, treating the sugar contaminated water before allowing it to return to the water table, and hand sorting dried coffee, this new washing station simultaneously hits the three interconnected goals of improving quality, decreasing production costs, and reducing environmental damage.

…Trading happy smiles with happy kids and their parents, proud members of Peace Kawomera.

…Cupping the (really really good) new crop Peace Kawomera with Lydia Nabalubi and her new protégé Christian, two powerful and committed young Ugandan women who are leading the charge towards quality improvement forward.

Now as I write this from the airport in Entebbe, ready to board my short connection to Kigali and looking forward to visiting our partners at the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, I’m thinking about the friends I’m leaving behind, the work we’ve done, this strong, inspiring, and growing cooperative, and the hope and strength we have for the future.

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I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Evanston, IL. Today is my final day on a journey that took me from the Economics of Peace Conference, to the Interfaith Youth Conference, to the Islamic Foundation School, to tonight’s upcoming final chat with the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (one of our strongest centers of support for Mirembe). I’ve done quite a bit of speaking, but thankfully I’d gotten to do a lot of important listening as well.  I  heard Sam Keen speak about working on our relationships, Rabbi David Saperstein talk about taking action, Saleema Abdul-Ghafur discuss the challenges she’s faced working with Malaria No More. Everyone spoke sincerely and openly about staying focused on the assets we have and connecting them with the world’s needs. The words were hopeful and inspiring.

I feel fortunate to be involved with the Mirembe Project. The momentum is growing, the awareness is growing, people are seeing the difference between charity and justice. This project is building justice from the ground up and it is strengthened daily by your support.

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Mirembe Kawomera meets hip-hop’s heavyhitter Brother Ali

In my unique position of creating a person-to-person market for Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” I get lots of suggestions for growth strategy. “Do you know who you should really talk to? (Fill in the blank with famous celebrity-activist name).” Sure. I’d love to talk to that person, just tell me how to reach them.

Early last week, my mother suggested I get in touch with Brother Ali, an amazing hip hop artist whose work I’ve been following since 2004. She had heard an interview with Brother Ali on NPR and, like so many of his fans, was drawn to his thoughtful messaging about loving ourselves, our neighbors, and promoting peace. The values on which the Mirembe project has developed and Brother Ali’s positive messages certainly have a lot in common. I thanked her for the suggestion and then went about my business. How could I actually reach him?

Historically, this project has had little success cold calling big name people. I went to Ali’s website and checked out his tour schedule for the promotion of his new album Us – one I had already bought and had been listening to (the track Crown Jewel particularly) on repeat for the better part of a week. On Friday, October 16, he was going to be performing in Santa Cruz (not exactly a stone’s throw from Fort Bragg but a feasible location nonetheless). I had never seen Brother Ali live, he would be performing with other Rhymesayers artists: Tokie Wright and Evidence of Dilated Peoples. Best case scenario I would maybe get a minute of Ali’s time to tell him about the work we were doing. Worst case scenario I’d catch some underground hip-hop.

The five hour drive to Santa Cruz was well worth the show. It can be hard to find great hip hop performances these days. Beats are over-produced, MC’s are arrogant, and rhymes lack substance….this show had none of that. BK-One spun great beats all night and Tokie, Evidence and Brother Ali all rocked the mic.

Best still was that all of those guys came right out to chat up fans when the show was over. And Brother Ali took my hand and gave me his full attention for a few minutes (in spite of being surrounded by adoring fans making all kinds of requests for autographs, photographs, hand shakes etc). He seemed genuinely enthusiastic about our work and the project. He encouraged me to post to his site and said he would try to get in touch – so far no response to my post yet. Even if nothing comes of it, I really have to give Ali a lot of respect for his sincerity and focus and messaging. We would all be better people if we listened to his words and tried to put them into action in our lives.

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