Save Alexa’s Farm – Support Project La Roya

Save-Alexas-farm-header

In February of 2013, Thanksgiving Coffee staff visited the farm of Alexa Marín Colindres, a member of the PRODECOOP Cooperative in Nicaragua. We toured her farm, listened to her heartbreaking story, and wondered how we could help. Later that day, we did a blind cupping of 20 of the cooperative’s coffees, and asked that her coffee be included.

We sipped and slurped for two hours to get through them all, scoring each coffee on Fragrance, Aroma, Body, Acidity, Flavor Notes and Balance. One coffee was, hands down, the best on the table – and it turned out to be Alexa’s. We bought 10 sacks (all that was available), and are proud to offer you this special coffee, and invite you to help.

Alexa and her sonsMeet Alexa. She lives with her two teenage sons in the mountains of Northern Nicaragua, where they focus on growing the best coffee possible. She has been a coffee farmer for many years and has worked with the cooperative PRODECOOP since 1992.

In 2013, Alexa noticed that the leaves on her coffee trees were affected by La Roya, a fungal disease which attacks the leaves and prevents them from converting sunlight into energy. The coffee cherries turn brown and fall off before ripening, and the tree eventually dies.

Roya affecting coffee trees in NicaraguaLa Roya is thought by many in the coffee industry to be one of the many challenges brought on by Climate Change. This disease is sweeping across coffee country, devastating the coffee trees of many small, family farmers – and threatening their way of life.

For some, this will mean starting over – even on a new piece of unaffected land. For others, it may mean removing or pruning affected trees and replanting where necessary.

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Want to Help? Support Project: La Roya

Alexa’s coffee is fabulous and we want her coffee farm to thrive – so we decided to rally our customers to support her and other farmers battling La Roya. In March 2014, we launched Project: La Roya with our partners at The Social Business Network (SBN) in Nicaragua.

The project will raise $10,000 to help the farmers of PRODECOOP stop the spread of this disease and re-plant 5,000 coffee trees that have been affected. $2 from every bag of Finca de Alexa coffee sold will be invested in Project: La Roya.

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A Trip to Africa: Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

Leaving Jinja

When we left Jinja, we left with a deep satisfaction, having met some really serious people who were in the beginnings of something great. Two hundred elders were one day away from receiving a “Certificate of Completion” for the nine month course in Asset Based Community Economic Development offered by The Communities of SHALOM in collaboration with Drew University. This 3 credit course will give them the tools they need to enter the 21st century global trading environment and may be the only educational accomplishment many of them obtain (The certificate will be of parchment suitable for framing). I can see it now, hanging on a wood slab on a simple brick wall, inside a 12’x12′ square room with a red dirt floor, the only adornment to be found on any of the walls in the home of that proud community leader (and Organic Robusta coffee grower)

Nick and I felt that our trip had an auspicious beginning. We had a two pound sample of what looked to be a beautifully prepared Organic Robusta which we hoped to “cup” when we got to Mbale, and we had a mutually agreed-to trading relationship started if the coffee proved to be of good quality. It was not my primary purpose to search for another cooperative to work with, especially a coop that had never sold a pound of coffee before, but I use about 75,000 pounds of Robusta each year in our very popular, high caffeine coffee “Pony Express” which I now buy from Importers.

IMG_0090At Thanksgiving Coffee go to great effort to make sure we know the farmers we buy from and work with them directly. It is essential to our buying plan that the price farmers receive is high enough that they WANT to continue growing coffee. We want the farmer to love their trees because those trees are providing food, clothing, shelter, health care and education for their family and community. Trees that are loved produce better coffee, they are no different than tomato plants or marijuana plants: care for them, love them, and they will respond. That is the key to sourcing great coffee and sustaining the farmers’ efforts. Quality of life and quality of coffee go hand in hand.

The road from Jinja to Mbale was red clay – dry and dusty. It’s the same material that most buildings are made from. A great and endless building material. This photo is rich in information. A dirt highway comes to a paved road with electricity poles and wires, a billboard advertising a soda of some kind, two motorcycles, people walking and a truck loaded with hand-sawed slab lumber driving to market. The trees are semi arid in their type, not at all tropical. In this dry, dusty Ugandan moment where the paved road began, I started to ready myself for the work ahead, the major reason for my 23 hour trip to the other side of the world – Uganda is 11 hours ahead of California time. Paved roads mean you are getting close to something!

At a gas station close to Mbale we came upon this sweet fruit vendor. We ate some bananas for lunch, something I don’t think of doing in the USA. Bananas in the tropics are like candy – and you look upon them as safe energy food. I thought I was taking a still shot but the video was on and I was lucky to get her little hip rotation presentation of her wares and that wonderful smile as it formed. She made me feel special in a male/female kind of way. I felt that she actually saw me more deeply then I could ever see her.

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Here you see the way they do building in Uganda. They are, surprisingly, not artisan bricklayers – they just are bricklayers. I could see holes in the backyard where the bricks came from: you rarely see truck loads of bricks being transported to building sites because the bricks are made on location.

I went to Uganda to visit the Interfaith Cooperative of Jews, Christians and Muslims called Mirembe Kawomera. This cooperative has an incredible story – and Thanksgiving Coffee Company became the story teller for this miraculous group. We have purchased their entire coffee crop each year since 2004, and their coffee has been Certified Fair Trade and Organic the entire time. We market this coffee to faith-based groups, Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and to people who believe in and work for Interfaith healing in a troubled world.

Peace Kawomera Sign

 This cooperative presents, perhaps the greatest coffee story ever told, and we have seen our efforts to promote this cooperative bring a modicum of fame (Oprah’s O Magazine) and recognition (Tufts University Jean Mayer Award). We sell the coffee to over 200 religous groups and congregations nationwide and our supply of green beans was running out when I left for Uganda. The supply was running out because the 2012 crop, which was slated to be shipped December 2012 and to arrive in Oakland in May 2013, was eight months late. I went to Mbale to find out why.

I had some clues before I left:

  1. The contract required that all the coffee be from the central washing station.
  2. In a Skype call to the Mirembe Kawomera Coop (PKC) manager ard the full Board back in October 1013, I  asked what was causing the delay and I was told that they could only produce 110 sacks that they brought through their washing station.

Because our contract was for 250 sacks (37,500 pounds purchased at $3.05/pound), they did not know what to do and were instructed by our Importer (in the USA) to blend in other Ugandan coffees with the washing station coffees to fill the container – and ship it to Thanksgiving Coffee Company for sale as PKC washing station coffee. This presented a problem of certifiable authenticity of the product Thanksgiving Coffee presents to our customers.

The system of authenticity had broken down and I was there to see if I could verify that 110 sacks were actually run through the central PKC washing station. I needed to verify that each farmer’s delivery was recorded with their name, amount paid and farm location – and that all of this was recorded in the Cooperative’s records for the Fair Trade and Organic Certifiers to verify through their own field trips to farms.

This was a serious effort on all our parts to get back on track. We all knew that the transparency issue is essential to the trust we use as a basis for working together. Similarly, our customers depend on trusting that what they wish to support is what they are buying – that their purchases are going toward the economic development of a community of courageous people who believed that by coming together in an interfaith coalition coffee cooperative, they could better their personal lives, and their community life as well.

Here’s a video clip from the first meeting to discuss our mission. I asked each member of the Board to help me remember each one of them when I got home because I was not good remembering names and putting them with faces.


To be continued…

-Paul

A Trip to Africa (series archive)
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery
Day 6 – The Mystery Coffee’s Story

A Trip to Africa: Day 3 – On the Road

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

Paul's Hotel in Uganda

After two days in Jinja in the poor countryside we would return to our hotel for a touch of our comfortable western style life. Hot showers, fruit sliced properly, Gin and Tonic: Uganda was a British Colony back 60 years ago. In the background you can see the Colonial Style architecture beyond the pool. The Hotel manager who came to greet us at our arrival was in a suit and tie, very British in accent. He was from South Africa and considered his “posting” here at the hotel as a purgatory and informed us he was leaving “his post” in two weeks to return to Johannesburg to resume his life.

Driving to Mbale, Uganda

In this photo, we are approaching the coffee growing region of Mt. Elgon, just outside of Mbale. In the distance you can see the mountain. It rises up rather spectacularly as you approach it.

Nick in a Tea Field

Here is my traveling partner, Mr. Nicholas Hoskyns. Nick is a Brit who lives in Nicaragua. He is an expert in many fields and specifically cooperative management and business practices. He is the President of a British Charity called ETICO, an acronym for “Ethical Trading Company.” Being British I thought it appropriate to photograph him in a tea field! In his hand he is holding “two leafs and a bud”, the most delicate of the new growth and most flavorful.

By this time, I was getting excited to visit the Mirembe Kawomera Fair Trade Cooperative. This is a cooperative that consists of Jews, Christians and Muslims who came together to work in a coffee cooperative system to obtain the benefits of selling into the Fair Trade and Organic specialty coffee export market. It is the only such Interfaith cooperative in the world and their story has been documented in a 60 minute documentary called “Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean.

The cooperative has been awarded many honors. Thanksgiving Coffee Company has promoted their coffee under the Mirembe Kawomera (Delicious Peace) label since 2004 and promises that only the coffee that their members grow is found in the packages and that each package sold adds $0.25 cents to a fund that we send to them each year to be their “in kind” contribution when they seek grants for projects to improve their community. To date we have sent $95,000 and they have built a central coffee washing station with grants from USAID, a climate change program with a tree planting project and in the works for this year will be an expansion of their central washing station and a cupping lab for tasting their coffees of each farmer prior to export so they all can taste the fruits of their individual labor on their farms.

Last year, we had some hang-ups in the coffee supply chain. Mirembe Kawomera was unable to produce a full container of coffee for us and the shipment was eight months late. Orders were coming in and we could not substitute any other coffee for their package. What was going on? Nick came with me to examine the books and help with the supply chain logistics.

Roadside Store in Uganda

What’s going on in this photo? The facade on the store is a Persian mosaic – Muslim occupants I would guess. I probably could have gotten off here and settled into a simple life of walking two miles to get the day’s water from a well that ten kids were filling five gallon plastic containers for their families (40 pounds) and carrying it back many miles instead of being in school or playing little League baseball. Actually Uganda is soccer crazy. They seem to favor Arsenal in the Upper leagues of Europe.

Tomorrow we will visit the Mirembe Kawomera facilities to meet with their Board of directors and talk about their issues and my issues.

To be continued…
-Paul

A Trip to Africa (series archive)
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery
Day 6 – The Mystery Coffee’s Story

A Trip to Africa: Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & The Dry Mill

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

Mango Trees in Uganda

Our first day in Uganda was a real experience. The farmers met under a giant Mango tree that had just produced over 1,000 pounds of ripe mangoes and was beginning to flower for next year’s fruit. These trees grow wild and can be found everywhere. In the shade of the tree people danced and celebrated. The heart of Rock and roll and the Blues came from these people – I could feel the rhythms vibrate my body and I was moved to dance … but just couldn’t get in there with them. I felt the beat but didn’t feel I had the moves.

The kid who was drumming was good! (see below)

 

 

Roadside Crossroad in Uganda

Back on the road north to our primary Destination, The city of Mbale, the home of Mirembe Kawamera Cooperative. This is the famous interfaith cooperative of Jews, Christians and Muslims working together in a small outlying mountain village in the shadow of Mt. Elgon in the northeastern part of Uganda. This photo shows a typical roadside crossroad. Hard to say what is going on there but in the background is another Giant Mango tree and to the left down the road a couple of hundred feet are banana trees.

 

Roadside store in Uganda

This homestead along the road had solar electric panels right in front of their house.

 

Solar Panels in Uganda

The two hour trip from Jinja to Mbale was filled with a life force so different, visually. These pictures show how western culture mixes with people who have too little but need the same things we need. Food, clothing, shelter and commerce. This little store sells what is needed, not what is wanted. The difference narrows the selections down to what is available to sell.

Carrying Coffee Sacks in Uganda

This was our first destination in Mbale, The “dry mill” where our coffee is readied for export after being received from the primary cooperative in the mountains. This is where the coffee is graded (sorted) for defects and the parchment is milled off of the coffee and the burlap sacks are filled with 152 pounds of green coffee beans. Yes, those guys are carrying 150 lbs of coffee.

To be continued…

-Paul

A Trip to Africa (series archive)
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery
Day 6 – The Mystery Coffee’s Story

A Trip to Africa: Day 1 – Arriving In Uganda

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

Lake Victoria - Uganda

We arrived in Uganda (Entebbe Airport) at midnight. In two hours we were in Jinja to visit a coffee cooperative that is producing organic Robusta coffee. This might be the only organic Robusta in the world – so I was eager to meet the farmers.

Our hosts and drivers were from Communities of Shalom, a US-based interfaith social justice organization based at Drew University that has been doing Economic Development work at the cooperative for the past nine months. They work to build community strength and empower coffee farmers to run their cooperatives effectively – so that they can benefit farmers and their families.

We awoke the following morning to see Lake Victoria from our hotel window. Lake Victoria is the headwaters to the Nile. I felt the water, just as I did the Mississippi River 50 years ago when I first crossed it. It felt good!

Coop Chairman's Farm in Uganda

On The Coop chairman’s farm we posed for a picture. Note the large Mango tree in the background and the Banana tree under it to the left.  The weather was mild, about 80 degrees, and the sun was beginning to warm the top of my head. Fredrick’s farm was about as self-sufficient food wise as one would enjoy here in the USA.

Mango & Banana trees
Here you can see the coffee trees being shaded by the Banana trees and the large trunk in the background of a very tall Mango tree shading all the undergrowth, keeping the ground cool and the moisture in this soil. I loved the Sign that reads “Organic Power Plant,” a broad-based double-meaning  set of words. One cow’s manure will fertilize 1,000 coffee trees per year and the urine tea provides nitrogen. No waste here. Plus, milk and cheese for the family. Organic Power Plant indeed!
Robusta drying
Robusta coffee is processed using what is called “The Dry Method.” The cherries put out in the sun to dry. Fredrick had some recent pickings drying on a plastic mat when we arrived and about another 25 pounds of ripe cherries ready for sun drying with the cherry pulp still on the cherry. You can see how they turn black when they dry. In this photo I am smelling the de-hulled and finished coffee that was taken from the paper bag next to the sack of cherries.  The beans were clean and sweet smelling and foretold, I hope, a bright future in the cup.
A job well done!
When I congratulated the farmers on a job well done, Moses (the Community’s political leader) and the farmers were happy campers. This is because last year, the sample brought back to me was dirty and moldy,  so I rejected it and sent instructions for them to follow for the next harvest season. This time, I was there to buy their coffee if it was clean and smelled sweet. Robusta is not a coffee variety that is noted for its flavor but it is useful in many other ways (body in Espresso blends for one). I agreed to purchase the coffee and I became the coop’s first international buyer.

In this photo, my associate and Board member of Thanksgiving Coffee who is an expert on coffee supply chain infrastructure (how to get it from there to here), was explaining something we found by pure luck. It was, as I explained to the farmers, perfect timing that we arrived to see a potential disaster averted. Nick was showing them the problem. On the mat in front of him, the black drying cherries had a white mold softly covering the skins. The cherries were allowed to dry too slowly. They were probably not covered at night and the dew promoted the mold growth.
But, as luck would have it, there was a fresher lot to the right on the same mat and it was mold free. The lessons were there to be drilled home. All it took was a smell test and everyone knew what was needed, especially when I told them that the moldy smell was just a smell, but could they imagine drinking a coffee that tasted moldy ?  The batch was separated and the potential for the coop coffees improved…if word gets out to all the farmers in the Coop.
To be continued
– Paul

A Trip to Africa: Intro – I’m going to Africa

Paul KatzeffBy Paul Katzeff, CEO & Co-Founder, Thanksgiving Coffee

On January 12, I depart my comfortable home on the North Coast of California to visit coffee Farmers and Cooperatives in Rwanda and Uganda. I haven’t visited them on their home turf for almost a decade. Over the last several years Ben Corey Moran, our former Director of Coffee, deepened our relationships with Cooperative leaders and farmers in Africa. It is my intention that this visit will strengthen those ties.

AfricaI’ll be traveling with Nicholas Hoskyns of Etico, an import/export company that has imported our Nicaraguan coffees for the past two years. In 2004 he accompanied me to Rwanda on a USAID consulting job to help The Cooperative Coffee Sector plan its “cupping lab” construction project for cooperatives. He has a vast knowledge of Cooperatives and their organizational structures.

The trip’s focus will be on collaboration: How can our relationship improve quality of life for both coffee farmers and coffee roasters? I believe that quality of life and quality of coffee go hand in hand. There has to be opportunity for a better life in all parts of the coffee trading chain, from the farm to the cup. It is the farmers’ love of their trees that makes good coffee great. Back here in Ft. Bragg , California, it is our pride in what we create for the coffee lover that makes great coffee remain great.

There are some sticky issues that need attention, which have made this trip necessary. Primarily, about crop financing, shipment dates, and creating a system of transparency that demystifies the transfer of money from Thanksgiving Coffee to the individual farmers.

I want to have a first person experience in discovery and learning. And I want to share this 10 day adventure with you. I use the word “adventure” with a certain amount of respect for its broad application. I am not “going on an adventure,” but I know it will be an adventure. What I wish for is the most uneventful yet spiritual adventure. No ceremonial high points and no high fives or WOW’S! I’m hoping for a low key visit with a slow easy gait, and a smile on my face when I return home.

To be continued…

-Paul

A Trip to Africa (series archive)
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery

Recognizing the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains

A group poses at the 7/3/13 Event

Our partners at Ético: The Ethical Trading Company, along with the British NGO Social Business Network are pioneering the first ever initiative to Recognize the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains.

Traditionally, the price for commodity products (like coffee) include only direct input and labor costs, and fail to recognize or take into account the supporting unpaid work, which is done mainly by women.  This is the first time that rural women’s unpaid work has been recognized as a necessary input into production – one that should be valued and remunerated.

The initiative developed in 2008 during a visit of the Body Shop with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua.  Ético gender advisor Catherine Hoskyns conducted a pilot study of women’s labor in sesame production.  Her initial findings revealed that when women’s indirect labor (eg. cooking food for field laborers) and more general domestic work are included, this counts for around 22% of the total labor input in sesame.

The results of the study were used to apply an additional cost to the price of the sesame oil for cosmetics, and has since been used to apply similar costs to the sales of coffee from Nicaraguan Cooperatives.  The Cooperatives use the increase in price margin to organize women’s empowerment activities in their communities, such as education, savings and loans schemes and labor organization, which bring women together and strengthen the cooperatives.

Nick Hoskyns, Founding Director of Ético, states, “when you bring together committed partners, you can use business to effect real change….with such good collaborators, we have shown that we can still make trade fairer, just as we did with the establishment of Fair Trade.”  Hoskyns credits cooperative organizations with being instrumental in the implementation of this initiative and using the additional funds so effectively for women’s empowerment.

At Thanksgiving Coffee, we’re proud to partner with Ético to implement projects at origin.

La Roya: rust that kills coffee trees

by Paul Katzeff | CEO, Thanksgiving Coffee

Roya affecting coffee trees in Nicaragua

“Rust” is a word with an ominous sound. It ruins older cars, renders tools useless, and is a major reason for the use of paint to preserve everything made from iron. In Central America there are two kinds of rust. The kind that corrodes iron and the kind that kills coffee trees. The latter rust, called “La Roya” is a Fungus that is pernicious. It lives on the leaves, sucking the life out of them. They fall off and do not return. Coffee cherries never ripen, and the tree eventually dies. This is not a good thing for a coffee farmer whose survival depends on coffee.

Unripened coffee cherries on a rust-affected tree.La Roya is worse than a 60 cent per pound market price, which is a monumental crisis, but there is always another season, and hope for higher prices for the farmer. La Roya is no crop, then three to five years of rehabilitation of the coffee farm. In other words, it is the end of family life on the farm. It is the end of a way of life, of culture, of living on the land. It means hunger, it means migration to the cities, it means over crowding and the deterioration of family life as country people are forced to work in urban factories making clothing for two dollars a day.

La Roya is here and unless a major battle is waged to beat it back, Central American coffee will be a thing of the past, and coffee prices will rise as the supply of quality coffee is diminished.  This is not Chicken Little talking here. This is absolutely a disaster about to happen – this year.

Alexa and her sonsThis February, I was in the Nuevo Segovia Region of Nicaragua on a coffee buying trip. I visited the farm of a member of the PRODECOOP Cooperative. Alexa and her two teenage sons live two kilometers from the Honduras boarder. Many of their coffee trees are affected by La Roya, and are starting to lose their leaves. They got a crop this year, but next year they expect to get 50% less. I have no idea how they will be able to continue making a living. They produced 10 sacks (1500 lbs) this year, for which we paid $ 2.75 per pound. That was double the world price and the highest we could afford to pay.

Alexa views the damage to her farmAlexa’s coffee is fabulous and we want her coffee farm to thrive. We want her to be able to refresh her trees and beat the Rust. Next year, she will need to get $ 5.50/lb. to survive on her farm. Will you support our effort by paying $2.75 more per pound for her coffee next year? Would you pay more than $15.00 for a bag of her coffee?

Well, first you have to taste it. We will present her coffee to our public in July when it arrives. It is going to cost her about $8,000 to rehabilitate her farm. We are going to try to raise that money between now and December.

That’s the way Direct Trade works – we are all in this coffee thing together.

Paul Katzeff, CEO
Thanksgiving Coffee Company

Dukunda Kawa—Climate Change Adaptation

Project Need

A majority of the 1,810 family farmers of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative have never driven a car. They mostly live without electricity and consume food that is grown within 100 miles. They farm small plots of land without the use of tractors or other motorized machinery. While these farmers bear little responsibility for the causes of climate change, they are among those who will be most impacted by its consequences.

Dukunda Kawa—Bikes to Rwanda

Thank you to all of our supporters!

In January, Thanksgiving Coffee Company partnered with the non-profit organization Bikes to Rwanda to raise funds to help bring hundreds of “coffee bikes” to the cooperative that produces our Rwandan coffee. With overwhelming support from our customers, both here in Mendocino and across the country, we raised over $2,500 to construct a bike shop for the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in less than two weeks! A sincere thank you to all who supported this project.

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