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.

Brazil: New Crop Poço Fundo (Almost) Here!

I got an email from Mr. Luis Aduato de Oliveira yesterday afternoon. He had some good news and some bad news: the good news was that he was ready to send me some pre-shipment samples. The bad news was that he’d lost my address. No biggie, I told him, that’s some damn fine news. I sent him my address, now he’s sending me samples.

I’m just happy that somewhere between my spanish, his portuguese, and our shared love of great coffee we’ve been able to spend a week together hiking around the mountains of Sul de Minas, Brazil, meeting a handful of the members of his cooperative, COOPFAM, and getting to know a little bit more about the reality of life as a family farmer in the town of Poço Fundo, Brazil. 

And sourcing some great coffee too, of course. 

Finally, though the wait is not quite over, I’ve got samples from the recent harvest on their way. Thank you DHL, UPS, FedEx, whoever you are. Please hurry up. 

I generally consider myself a pretty patient person, and I am mostly. I’m usually pretty good at allowing for the 4-6 months between harvest and arrival of a coffee, the once a year chance to experiment with a quality improvement idea, and the often slow-pace that’s part of the deal when working with coffee farmers. But we all have our moments. I’ll be honest, I’m having one right now.

Poço Fundo is an exciting coffee. It’s a natural, which to me means that there’s huge potential for something that will totally stun you, my dear coffee drinker. More potential for sweetness, more potential for character, more potential for complexity. And we’re hot on the trail—the samples that Aduato is sending represent different lots produced at various altitudes and of various varietals (Mundo Novo, Yellow and Red Catui). We’ve fine-tuned our understanding of what ripeness really is using a refractometer to measure sugar brix (stealing a trick from the wine industry) and we’ve fine-tuned our understanding of the right drying times to maximize absorption of sugar by the mean without producing any of the off flavors associated with fermentation. Now there are a bunch of microlots, representing the culmination of these experiments. From these lots we’ll either pick our favorite, or our favorite few and create a blend of them. And I tell you what: we’re going to roast those coffees as soon as they get it. Well slow down then, and take a long time going through each sample. Probably until we’ve brewed every last bean. But as soon as we’re finished with that, I’m getting on the horn to Brazil. Aduato and I are going to press the button that turns the light green, to get those coffees on the water, and on their way here. Stay tuned for news about the arrival and upcoming launch of our new single origin Brazil. Here’s a photo of the cherries that are now the beans that are soon to by yours!

Patience, grasshopper.

mmm....

mmm....

 

sweet sweet sweet!

sweet sweet sweet!

 

 

 

BCM

Fort Bragg Bakery Grand (Re)Opening

My friends and I grew up on the Mendocino Coast expecting to find something sweet and delicious in that little bakery on Franklin Street, across from the Rec Center and down the street from our favorite art supply store. Fort Bragg was the closest thing we knew to a city, and a trip into town was cause for excitement—and a treat, of course. I can still recall the taste of the homemade bear claws at Schatt’s, which once occupied the space. My mom would buy two, one for my twin brother, and one for me. Getting up at 6:30 to catch the bus in time for our hour-long commute to school wasn’t so bad on those mornings.

It’s been a number of years since that space was a living, breathing bakery. In fact, since I moved back home 6 years ago it’s been through a series of changes, all taking it farther and farther from its heart and soul: the town’s bakery. 

Now it’s back. Thanks to Tricia and Chris Kump, and their amazing staff of talented bakers, the Fort Bragg Bakery is re-opening tomorrow morning at 7:30.

Over the past two months I’ve had the pleasure of setting up their coffee program, training their baristas, and sneak previewing all kinds of delicious breads, pastries, and pizzas. It’s rare that a community with such a deep tradition of finely crafted food and beverages gets wowed like this, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow morning.

Stop in for the best pastry you’ve had in years, or lunch that feels like it was made by your friend who’s a chef in her home kitchen out of ingredients from her farm in the back yard. The pizza is great. Omnivore or vegetarian you’ve got a number of great options to choose from. Chris and Tricia are perfectionists…when the chevre isn’t quite as good as they want it to be, they just make their own. It’s like that with everything you’ll find as soon as you step through the door. Plan on buying a loaf of bread or two to take home with you. You may have never seen crust and crumb dance together like this before. And of course, finish your meal with a great cappuccino, carefully pulled shot of our Organic Northern Italian style espresso, or cup of delicious brewed coffee. We crafted a special dark roast blend that’s nutty, chocolatey, and richly toasty. Alongisde the dark roast will be a seasonal rotation of one of our great single origin coffees roasted light, and our signature Fair Trade Decaf as well.

I’m not sure if bearclaws are on the menu, but I’m sure that somewhere between the tart tatin and the pain au chocolate  I can find a number of reasons to look forward to getting out of bed on these rainy winter mornings.

 

-BCM

Continuing challenges in coffee from a Peace Corp worker in the DR

Here is an inspiring communication from a Peace Corps Volunteer working in the mountains of The Dominican Republic. He contacted me a couple of months ago looking for advice on how to bring the coops coffee to market. I put him in touch with friends of mine who have been through the same coffee/Peace Corps experience so that he could get the best of their experience. This communication is between he (Charles) and Chris who did his Peace Corps work in Nicaragua. If you want a first hand report from the mountains of the DR in real time, a report with real facts and real frustrations and real commitment and a read that will expose you to a world both harsh and beautiful, read this young man’s words and if you are so moved, send him a word or two of support. It is young men like him who represent American ideals best. charlie.seltzer@gmail.com.

– pk

DR from peace corp Charlie.jpg

“I am 17 months into my Peace Corps service and helping a coffee cooperative in the Southern, Dominican Republic. The
cooperative is located in a rural mountainous municipality, Peralta, of roughly 15,000 that are dispersed in 7 communities. Coffee, like many mountainous communities in the Dominican Republic, is the most important aspect for the economy and environment in Peralta; more than 2,000 families depend on coffee for their income. As the case
throughout the coffee producing world, poverty is high amongst coffee growers; a survey done by the Dominican Council of Coffee (CODOCAFE) revealed that 9/10 coffee producers live in poverty in the province of Azua (where my community is).

To improve this situation, CODOCAFE has a project (PROCA´2) (that will end this December) to improve coffee growers standard of living by increasing the quality and competiveness of Dominican coffee. The project has several specific objectives but the underlining one is to have coffee producing organizations (OPCs) throughout the country that are able to support small scale growers so that coffee is profitable and sustainable. The project facilitates the organizations get new plants, credit (maintenance, rehabilitation, harvest), extension services, infrastructure improvements, repair roads, diversification, and promotion of the high quality coffee. Unfortunately, this project will end because it has helped the OPCs a lot and before they didn’t have these opportunities.

The cooperative that I am working with, San Rafael Inc., serves the small and medium sized farmers and offers extension services, credit (very small amount), mutual service (they help out with funerals), and commercialize the coffee. However, it is not necessary to be a member in order for the cooperative to purchase your coffee. The cooperative has roughly 200 members but only 100 or so are active (pay the monthly quota) and about 70-80 participate in the monthly assembly. The cooperative has many problems but the lack of trust, organization, and a vision have impeded the cooperative’s (community’s) development. The cooperative is the only community organization that offers these services but they have struggled to gain the trust of the rest of the community and educate the importance of being organized.

My objectives with the cooperative are very broad and vague. Unfortunately, my work has not been the most efficient but that is the way work is in the Dominican Republic because of the lack of organization and stability. After doing a needs assessment, understanding the circumstances more and talking to lots of people we have determined that the main problems for the coffee are age of trees, age of producers, harvesting without defined criteria, and market and credit access I have been supporting the CODOCAFE with the PROCA´2 project. What I have been working on is:

1. Organic transformation. We applied and received a working capital
grant to transform and certify farms. Hopefully by next winter, the
2010-11 harvest, we will have organically certified coffee to
distribute.

2. Nursery. A fundamental problem is the age of the trees and the
producers have to travel roughly two hours to purchase plants (very
few, if any, have nurseries on their farms). The cooperative is
establishing a nursery of coffee (tipcio y caturra, dos variedades de
Arabica), avocado, lemon, and maderables in the community. This will
definitely help the production of plants, but it still will be
difficult to plant the trees because the nursery is still far from
most of the farms.

3. Youth. The average age of a coffee grower in the Dominican
Republic is 55 years old and the youth are very detached from the
coffee production. To address this we are now training the youth in
organic coffee practices and cooperative management. If the youth
have interest, through CODCAFE, we will offer them credit, plants, and
extension services.

4. Diversification. Due to the decline in coffee profitability and
potential to harvest other products, there is a lot of interest in
diversification. The community wants to diversify with citrus,
avocado, zapote (a local exotic fruit) and macadamia nut. The problem
with diversifying with avocado is the area is very vulnerable to a
particular plague they haven’t efficiently developed a system to treat
them yet (avocados are still very new in the Dominican Republic,
especially in my community). Other problems with the avocado are the
lack of road access, the knowledge of the necessary technology, and a
very crowded market. More challenges for diversification are the lack
of infrastructure and the high altitude. After speaking with
agronomists and an organic fruit broker, the best strategy for
diversification would be getting organically certified lemons, they
grow well and the organic market is not very crowded. However, no
feasibility study has been done yet, which is a SERIOUS problem for
the coffee growers: the lack of relevant information.

5. Institutional Strengthening. All of the other issues would be
easier to be addressed if there was a strong institution, and we are
trying to create a well-managed cooperative. It is difficult because
they do not have the practice or much interest in receiving management
training. Also, the cooperative struggles with corruption and lack of
transparency, although unintentional much of the time. .
Unfortunately the cooperative does not think that their struggles are
attributed to internal problems; they believe they only need more
grant money. I assume weak producer organizations are a problem
across the coffee producing world.

I do not have an agriculture background and this is my first job out of undergrad, so I am learning as I go. Although very unorganized and our results have come slowly, it has been an amazing experience working with small scale coffee producers and I am very excited to continue to learn more. I have talked to my director about extending for another year and he has given me the green light, but we will wait and see.

Besides the coffee, I am working with the youth groups and the public schools about HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy prevention, and environmental education. These activities have been a lot of fun and I would like to see if we could include the cooperative more.

You asked about finding a balance in my experience and that has been my biggest challenge. These communities need so much help in so many areas and it is so hard to neglect them. I feel guilty not supporting the public education or youth of my community but it comes to a point where it can be overwhelming trying to find a balance between project,
learning Spanish, self-growth/discovery, and maintaining and building relationships.

Anyway, thank you very much for your email. I have read “Confronting the Coffee Crisis” and found it very inspirational and helpful for my project, especially the section about Community Agroecology Network. I would love to learn more about your recent projects, especially in the area of research. What are you all working on now?

As I mentioned earlier, I do not have an agriculture background, so all this stuff is new to me. Do you have any suggestions about starting organic transformation projects? What are some successful examples in other countries? The problem with the projects in the DR is that they all have been started by donations and they are not very well managed. What are your recommendations for increasing consumer awareness of our coffee in the USA? I am thinking of contacting the fair-trade student organizations on university campuses?

Thanks a lot for your email and I hope we can stay in-touch.

Best regards,

Charlie

Moment’s in time: Guatemala, 1990 Somewhere in the countryside between Guatemala City and Lake Atitlan

Yesterday I posted a photo of two woman . They were walking to somewhere. They looked relaxed as they chatted . They were beautiful people, ancient in an obvious way. They reminded me of the woman who used to walk down the street in the Bronx where I grew up. On their way to the bakery or dry cleaners, or some friends front stoop to chat some more. I thought (last night) how “the universal” was represented in that moment. Friendship, camaraderie, familiarity, and peace.
When these kids saw this gringo , this American they gave me the Peace sign of the Summer of Love .There was good will in that bus. American foreign policy not withstanding. The children are dressed up for some event and although in the countryside, I think they are from privileged families but we will never know. They are in their mid twenties now. I wonder what they are doing .

kids on a bus

Moments in Time: San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala 1990

atitlan ladies San Juan La Laguna is a Mayan village on the shores of Lake Atitlan. It was a peaceful place when I was there in 1990 but it had been a place of oppression by Guatemalan military for over a decade and you could still feel the tension. I was there looking for organic coffee, traveling with Karen Cebreros, one of the first lady green coffee importers in what was, until then, a man’s world. We visited the coffee cooperative La Voz que Calma de Desierto, meaning, the voice that cries out from the desert. Odd name for a tropics based community but later I found out that the Patron Saint of the village was Saint Juan, who came from the desert.

These two woman were just walking down the road in their special clothing woven on hand looms for thousands of years. The patterns indicate status and family identities. I returned with a contract to purchase their coffee and it was the beginning of a decade long relationship with the cooperative. We sold their coffee under the title, Mayan Harvest Coffee and rebated to them .25 cents for each pound sold. Over the decade the coop received rebates well in excess of $50,000 which was used to build their first coffee drying patio. Today La Voz is one of the sought after Guatemalan Organic Coffees and Karen Cebreros is still a green coffee buyer and importer. I took this picture after we had passed each other on the path and I realized that I had a camera and they didn’t. On my next trip to La Voz I found them and gave them each this picture.

Nighthawks’ Coffee

Untitled-1There was a time in the history of America when a roadside café was the place to get a cup of coffee. It was a time when the taste of coffee was not judged good or bad. It was a time when coffee was just “a cup of Joe” to wash down that American breakfast of eggs scrambled, toast and home fries and three strips of bacon. Cream and sugar filled half the cup so what was there to complain about?

I plied the highway between Ft. Bragg and San Francisco every week from 1974 to 1985, first in a 1963 Chevy Panel Truck that could carry 15 sacks of coffee, and as the company grew, in a rented U Haul trucks of various sizes. I believe I made 400 round trips during that period of time. Often stopping at the Wheel Café in Cloverdale, just off Hwy 101.

It was your basic Truck Stop with local nighthawks and 18 wheel long haul truckers side by side talking about hunting, guns, government socialism, and all sorts of interesting but bizarre conspiracies. And this was in a pre 9/11 era.

One night I decided it was worth a photo. I had my tripod and Minolta camera with me so before I popped in for my 2AM “American Breakfast”, I set up my camera and took this 2 minute exposure. Nobody moved!

The photo reminds me of an Edward Hopper painting called Night Hawks and of the 70’s posters which used his painting as a concept to highlight Marlan Brando, James Dean and Maralyn Monroe. This photo reminds me of the many nights I spent on the foggy night roads with oversize loads of green coffee and a kind of fear that only overloaded night trips on country roads could bring.

The Wheel Café is no more, gone the way of the new highway that skirts the town to the east. I don’t stop there anymore!

Delicious Peace coffee gets a beautiful new look

When the 2008 harvest coffee arrived at our warehouse in July of this year we tasted the fruits of a four year partnership that was really working. The coffee was sweeter than ever before with a new found clarity and complexity that demonstrated the unique character of the beans. This beautiful new crop, coupled with the news that Peace Kawomera had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with USAID and leveraged a $250,000 grant for the construction of a central washing station, was proof that four years of hard work, trust, and transparency was paying off. The Coop is taking major strides forward. In honor of this progress we began giving the coffee line a bit of a makeover. First there were new brochures, with pictures and quotes from six farmers representing the different faiths. We want you to see not just one but many of the faces that are growing your delicious coffee. Narrowing the gap between grower and consumer is an important aspect of building a more just economy, it’s what makes the farmers’ market so wonderful and now we are applying it to the global market as well.

Over the last few years many of us have become very attached to the package label image of the little boy in front of a wall displaying etchings of the three symbols of interfaith cooperation that Peace Kawomera is best known for. This project has grown up with that little boy as the cooperative has grown from 250 to over 1,000 farmers. But now, in light of the progress we have seen, it’s time to introduce you to more faces in the community you support when you buy Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” Cofee. Each type of Mirembe Kawomera Coffee: light, dark, and decaf will now have a new unique label.

Mirembe Kawomera Light mirembe_light_for-facebook

This is a picture of Deena Shadrack. She is a leader in the Abayudaya (Jewish) community and has served on its board of directors. Deena is a strong advocate for womens’ rights, a coffee farmer, and a mother to many. She is pictured here holding a ripe jackfruit.

Mirembe Kawomera Dark mirembe_dark_for-facebook

The woman pictured here is Hadija Wankusi. She is a prominent singer in the Muslim community and a leader in the choir. The choir uses song to teach the community about issues such as health and fair trade. Hadija’s home is across the street from the Abayudaya synagogue on Nabogoye Hill. She’s been a long time friend to the Abayudaya and a bridge builder among the different faiths. Her daughter, Sanina, serves on the Peace Kawomera board of directors and represents the perspective of women and youth.

Mirembe Kawomera Decaf mirembe_decaf_for-facebook

The students pictured here attend the Nankusi Elementary School, the local public school. Most of these students are the children of farmers in the Peace Kawomera cooperative. Through a combination of the social premium, a payment that is built into the rules of Fair Trade, and the rebate system that we have set up directly with the Cooperative, Peace Kawomera paid for a renovation at this school that resulted in a new roof. The income received by farmers goes to pay for uniforms, books, and fees for the students.

We are thrilled to introduce you to more members of the Cooperative and anticipate that our labels will be revolving so that you will continue to see new faces of the beautiful people growing your Delicious Peace.

Moments in Time: Nicaragua 2006

DVC00059We were on our way to Matagalpa. it had just stopped raining and the street vendors were out in force trying to recapture the lost time spent underneath a canopy somewhere . There is allot to see in this photo although the reason I took the photo was the oddity of mattresses with a U.S. flag as bedcovers. I wonder if Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck would disapprove . Sleeping on an American Flag might be considered un-American, causing new laws to be placed in the Patriot Act .

The vendors are standing on a roadway made of six sided bricks known as Samosa Stones , named so because in the Revolution, these stones were ripped up to make barricades to block streets and thwart the tanks.  Both vendors are wearing baseball caps, the preferred hat in a baseball loving Nicaragua.

Moment in time: Rwanda 2005

STC_0555Rwanda, 2004

One of my favorite ways to photograph a group is to catch the group posing for a photo being taken by someone else. Here, Alan Odom poses with a group of coffee farmers after a successful first meeting with their cooperative members. Alan works for a coffee importing company, InterAmerican Commodities that we use to help us bring the coffee from there to here. In the coffee industry these importing companies provide services in areas such as contracts, financing, customs, insurance, and storage once the coffee lands in the USA. Alan was with me on this trip because it an opportunity he could not miss for his company.

The Genocide in 1994 had wiped out the coffee production in Rwanda. To help rebuild it, USAID funded a development project (2002) led by Michigan State University and Texas A & M. Tim Schilling; an Agronomist professor at A&M was hired to lead the rebuilding. In 2004 Thanksgiving Coffee Company was asked to send a representative to Rwanda to help develop a market plan for Rwanda’s reentry into the coffee trade, this time, not as a commodity with no identity, but as a Specialty Coffee with a real story to tell. Joan Katzeff volunteered to be part of the all expenses paid trip (Paid for by U.S. Taxpayers).  Thanksgiving Coffee was one of just four companies singled out to help this ravaged but resurgent coffee Rwandan coffee industry.

Joan’s first trip to Africa connected Thanksgiving Coffee with The Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund, which was headquartered in Rwanda where the last remaining Mountain Gorillas (380) live on the edge of extinction. Within six months our GORILLA FUND coffee was the first Rwanda Coffee to be sold in the United States and Thanksgiving Coffee received the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s first Sustainability Award in 2004 for our creative efforts to introduce the Rwanda Coffee Story to American coffee lovers.

When Alan Odom and I returned to Rwanda the following year to cement the relationships Joan had forged the year before and to introduce the idea of cupping labs to the USAID development project as a further way to improve quality and increase the value of the crop, we met with many cooperatives and tasted coffees from all over the country’s coffee growing region. Being among the first coffee roasters to visit Rwanda, we were able to find the best coffee and sign a three-year purchase agreement with the cooperative. I negotiated the price with the farmers ($2.04/lb for one container of 37,500 lbs.) and InterAmerican did the importing for us. This photo, taken after the deal was signed, conveys everyone’s mood at the time. You can purchase this coffee and taste one of Africa’s great coffees at on our webstore. It was a fine coffee in 2004 but today our Gorilla Fund Coffee is one of the best tasting coffees in the world.

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