Last month, the good folks at Operation Groundswell let us know about the fantastic trips they lead to Central America to reconnect people with where their food comes from. Their trips are inspiring, educational and adventurous, and often end up in coffee country…so we thought you’d like to hear about them. Enjoy!
-The team at Thanksgiving Coffee Co.
From Seed to Shelf, Ethical Consumerism From The Ground Up
– Wendell Berry, American novelist, activist, cultural critic, and farmer
We seem to have forgotten that…
At least, I had forgotten that until I left my corporate job and my NYC apartment in 2011 to begin a three-year journey around Latin America and Australia. Working on a winery in Mendoza, Argentina during its harvest taught me the importance of a farmer’s vigilance and dedication – as well as how fickle a crop can be. WWOOFing on an organic farm in Byron Bay, Australia, brought out my inner child as I delighted in pulling carrots, radishes and peanuts out of the ground.
Volunteering at a coffee cooperative in Guatemala instilled in me the importance of fair wages and food justice. This was the same girl who had grown up with a plethora of food in the pantry, always answering the slightest hunger rumble with a more-than sufficient meal without giving a second thought to how that food got there.
But now I know how food gets to us. I know that a cup of coffee is never just a cup of coffee.
I know that every ingredient has its own journey, and that frankly, not all journeys are created equal. Local or industrial; organic or conventional; commodity crop or Fair Trade, slow food or fast food. These words were not just created by marketers; they have a real impact on the way we eat. That’s why I teamed up with Operation Groundswell to lead From Seed to Shelf: Ethical Consumerism from the Ground Up in Guatemala this fall.
From Seed to Shelf is a nine-day exploration of where our food, and coffee, comes from and what it goes through before hitting the shelves of our local grocery store.
We’ll go into the jungle to taste raw cacao straight out of the pod. We’ll farm alongside coffee farmers while hearing about their daily struggle to live off the world’s second-most traded commodity. We will peel back the curtain of industrial agriculture and see the challenges our food producers face every day. We will research issues such as food justice, land distribution, and malnutrition in real time and with real people who face these issues every day, every week, every year.
Guatemala’s unique political and economic landscape will serve as the setting for our adventure. We will get our hands dirty working on a community-initiated project, stretch our legs as we ascend an active volcano, and cleanse our minds in the beautiful hot springs of Fuentes Georginas.
We created this program knowing full well that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” But ignorance is not bliss; come to Guatemala this fall and take a step towards closing our food knowledge gap.
Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization committed to providing authentic, ethical, and affordable travel opportunities to people all over the world. For seven years, OG has facilitated backpacking and service-learning programs to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America carrying out small scale development projects and building a community of travelers that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.
For more information on the Seed to Shelf Program, click here.
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.
But what about the other 250 sacks along that back wall? Where did that come from and how did it pass defect inspection? And where was it going? Who had produced it, who had sold it? Who had purchased it and who had financed it? This was on my mind as we hit the road to Gumutindo’s dry mill, and it would play an important role in the days to come.
These mystery sacks of zero defect, 17 screen (large bean size) ready for export coffee were a sharp contrast to the coffee in parchment set aside for Thanksgiving Coffee’s shipment. Where did they come from? We asked the Board and the General Manager. It was as if we had caught a thief . They could not account for the purchases . There was no record of this coffee being purchased by the cooperative from its members.
Then, as the pressure built for disclosure ( I threatened to dissolve our relationship of 10 years) JJ, the cooperative’s founder revealed that the coffee was for Coexist, a Washington DC based charity with whom Thanksgiving Coffee had developed a relationship a year before.
Coexist had found the Mirembe Kawomera Cooperative through Thanksgiving Coffee’s website and since it was compatible with their mission, they contacted us to ask if we would help them create a Coexist Package to sell Mirembe Kawomera coop coffee to help raise funds for the Interfaith school that the coop members sent their children to in Mbale. We saw this as a win for the Interfaith Community and for Thanksgiving Coffee. We were going to sell more of the this coffee, and share it’s story with a wider audience!
We spent much of the fall of 2013 creating a Coexist package. It should only have taken a couple of weeks but the Coexist people just kept leaving Thanksgiving Coffee’s decade of work out of the story both on their package and on their web site. We finally came to a set of compromises which enabled the bag printers to get the packaging complete and we began to fill their orders and although our story was not all over their web and package, we looked forward to their selling the cooperative’s coffee.
Now, this organization was going around Thanksgiving Coffee, buying directly from the Cooperative. I was shocked and angry. It is one thing to not represent us in the development of the story and how we brought this incredible Interfaith story to the world (and the reason Coexist executives were able to discover them), but it is quite another thing to disrupt a business relationship based on a decade of trust and mutual inspiration.
That is enough reading for today. In my next post I will tell you how we handled this situation, how it changed our plans for the next three days of our trip and caused Nick and I to re-route out flight back thru Washington DC to meet with Coexist’s Executives.
I took this photo of a local artists interpretation of a street market. Total Chaos! The picture was hanging in our Hotel Lobby.
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.
We happy to announce that our partners at the Peace Kawomera Cooperative have just received notice that their climate change adaptation project has been approved for funding by the Dutch NGO Progreso! This exciting news comes on the heels of three years of hard work developing a community-based plan to protect coffee production, and ensure sustainable livelihoods through the diversification of income, restoration of the local ecosystem, and increasing levels of food security. With deep gratitude for the support of Progreso, the leadership of Peace Kawomera, and the support from our loyal customers, Thanksgiving Coffee would like to raise a toast to what it means to live in a world where we are all connected, and where we invest in and enjoy the rewards of shared responsibility and mutual benefit.
Please read below for a description of the project, written by Peace Kawomera’s Chief Agronomist John Bosco Birenge.
Peace Kawomera is a coffee farmer cooperative located on one of the slopes of Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda, near the city of Mbale. It is farmer owned and run by the management staff and Board of Directors. It started in 2004 dealing mainly in coffee production while selling it to their sole buyer in the USA Thanksgiving Coffee Company.
Since then, coffee production has been increasing alongside farmgate prices to cooperative members. The cooperative has begun to diversify to other cash crops like vanilla and cocoa, all of which grow as intercrops within the main coffee plantings. The farmers are now grouped into 25-member Farmer Field Groups, totaling 63 farmer groups in all.
“We thank you for purchasing our coffee. The price you pay enables us to send our children to school.” — Mrs. Florence Namaja Wabire.
Though farmers have been growing these crops, they seemed not to realize the negative effects of their other activities on the environment. In 2010 coffee production plummeted, as did food production. There is also growing awareness of the negative impacts of climate change which include increasingly unpredictable differentiation between wet and dry season, increasingly intense rains and flooding, longer and prolonged dry periods, as well as subsequent changes in the local ecosystem. Additionally, the is a growing awareness of the more localized negative impacts caused by farmers’ activities such as:
Deforestation for cooking/charcoal production
Brick making and firing
Poor disposal of wastes i.e. in water streams and bodies.
The above few mentioned activities have affected not only cash crop production but also have a huge and significant negative impact on food crops. Specifically these activities have lead to deterioration in soil fertility, and have affected water quality in the area’s watershed.
It is expected that the impacts of climate change will continue to disrupt local weather patterns, both extending dry periods and intensifying wet periods. The impact of these erratic changes in weather will make it difficult for farmers to plan and manage their farms, and it will increase the likelihood of losses due to drought, flooding and landslides, and disruptions in the normal crop cycle of coffee.
Farmers Eias Hasalube and Hakim Aziz beneath the canopy of Mr. Aziz's restored coffee farm.
Given the above, the farmers are searching for strategies they can employ to adapt to these changes without sacrificing their livelihoods. This is happening at the time when farmers are anxious to reap a lot out of their coffee due to its regaining reputation on the international scene, increasing market price and increasing differential and quality premium through the specialty coffee market and the good price from US-based Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a buyer since 2004.
The above-mentioned activities of environmental degradation are mainly driven by economic need arising from high rates of unemployment locally. Therefore, this project seeks a two-pronged strategy to increase the value and production of shade grown coffee, and interventions to fortify the ecosystem against the impacts of shifting weather by planting valuable grasses in swale formation, increasing the intercropping of strategically important shade trees in coffee plantations, and reforestation of hill tops and ridges to create a conducive micro climate for coffee. This fortified ecosystem will be better able to protect coffee from severe rains because of increased canopy cover, and will be able to reduce erosion by controlling runoff. Additionally, through the selection of appropriate shade trees, the project will increase the production of high-mulching organic matter which will improve soil quality, a critical step towards improved coffee quality and production, as well creating habitat for the biological control agents here referred to as natural enemies of the pests.
Agro forestry provides additional sources of income especially from sales of fruits from the planted trees, sale of harvested grasses from swales, sale of firewood and of seedlings from the nurseries to other communities.
Agronomist and project leader JB Birenge demonstrates simple construction of living barriers used to control erosion.
This will also reduce the gap of unemployment and improve on food security for the area’s farmers by increasing the diversity of foods immediately available to farming families. Protecting and restoring the environment will reduce the impacts of climate change, enhance biodiversity, and improve on ecological systems which are all aimed at improving coffee production and food security.
The project will be built around a package of incentives designed to facilitate and inspire quick uptake in action by individual farmers. The methodology will be driven by the established network and practice of the Farmer Field Schools. Led by the project manager, a team will create local seedling nurseries and begin the process of educating individual farmers through the FFS groups. After an 6 month period, the leading farmer in each FFS group (determined by objective pre-established criteria around tree planting, swale construction, soil and water conservation) will be given a female goat. These goats produce manure which is high in nitrogen which can be incorporated back into the fields for improved soil fertility. After an additional 6 months the next leading farmer in each FFS Group will be rewarded a goat based upon the established criteria. These goats will be expected to reproduce so as time goes on, the kids will be given out to other members who come second, i.e. responsibility will be upon farmers to know that if such a farmer`s goat kids, the offspring will be expected to be designated by the project to the next recipient farmer. This process of review and award will be conducted 4 times (6, 12, 18, and 24 months. It is estimated that the project will need to purchase 252 female goats (63 FFS Groupsx4 cycles) to get the inventive program off the ground and to a point of self-sustainability.
Nathan Watadena points to land that is targeted for reforestation and restoration.
PROBLEM STATEMENT AND GOALS
Peace Kawomera’s livelihood is coffee produced on the slopes of Mt. Elgon between 1300 – 1700 meters above sea level. They are farmers whose staple foods are cereal crops but also keep some livestock they have diversified to vanilla and of recent though faint cocoa plants. But in amidst all these, farmers have realized the effects of climate change and how it is affecting their first crop which is coffee.
A survey conducted with 12 farmer groups noted that rains come late, and are now more erratic where by the rainy and dry seasons are harsher than ever, this has made it difficult for them to cope with the increased un employment rate which has led to youths making mud bricks for money, stone quarrying, cutting trees for timber and firewood to burn bricks all these leaving coffee plants in the bare environment. Therefore, this project must protect the farmer’s livelihood. This will ensure sustainability of coffee production, food security and better understanding of the ecosystems that work hand in hand.
1 Ensure long term sustainability of coffee farming with focus on quality production.
2 Improve biodiversity
3 Improve on food security.
4 Improve on water quality (water sheds).
5 Improve on soil quality.
6 To create a sense of responsibility towards environment.
7 Educate farmers on positive and negative impact of various economic activities
Diversify economic activity and income generation through promotion of environmentally preferable activities
We’re honored that our work in Rwanda is being recognized by the Specialty Coffee Association of America with the 2012 Sustainability Award. We’re also excited about the power of this story, and creating projects like it with every single farm and cooperative we call a partner. The future of specialty coffee hangs in the balance; climate change poses very real and serious threats. We also have the ability, through our relationship-based trading model, to invest, collaborate, support, and ultimately, protect the future of coffee for us and for the farmers who grow it.
This article is written by Alexandra Katona-Carrol and appears in the April issue of Chronicle, the SCAA’s monthly magazine.
This year, the SCAA’s Sustainability Council is proud to showcase the 2012 Sustainability Award project winner, Responding to Climate Change: Building Community-Based Reliance. The project focuses on sustaining the production of high quality coffee in the face of climate change. It pilots a set of proactive interventions that faces the reality that some degree of climate change is inevitable, disruption of supply is likely, decreases in quality are expected and on-the-ground defenses need to be built to protect specialty coffee production.
The project is unique in that it was developed in a collaborative effort between Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a U.S.-based roaster, and the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, a long-time supplier, with the specific goal of ensuring the future viability of this successful trading relationship. The project is funded by PROGRESO, a Dutch NGO, and administered by Rwandan Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a Rwandan NGO. The collective goal is to establish a pilot project that would allow for refinement of methodology, metrics and funding strategies, which will then be replicated throughout our supply chain, and beyond.
The introduction of practices that increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of the 1,818 farms of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are a central goal. Specifically, the actions of the project create targeted defenses against projected increases in temperature, pests, irregularity in rain and drought, shortened ripening and quality loss, and the resulting loss of specialty coffee. As such, the project deploys a set of widely recognized best practices around shade intercropping, erosion control, and watershed conservation, in response to site-specific climate change risk assessments, thereby creating targeted defenses against these new threats to production.
The project’s strategy revolves around the goal of enhancing resilience: the ability of an ecosystem to withstand extremes in weather without diminishing its productive capacity. To develop this resilience, the project targets a set of interventions designed to protect topsoil by preventing erosion, decrease farm temperature by developing shade canopy, increase soil fertility by introducing nutrient-fixing trees and leaf litter, and reduce the risk of drought by increasing aquifer absorption. Broadly put, it seeks to increase the value of ecosystem services by increasing the quantity, quality, diversity, and distribution of beneficial components of the ecosystem.
To date, the project has achieved a return of one tree for every 13 cents ($23,220 / 175,542 trees). This is a high return on investment in reforestation projects and is made possible by the demand-driven methodology of the project. This return is also exceptionally secure: many reforestation efforts are successful at planting trees, but because they have been subsidized, most trees end up as firewood or fences long before they begin to offer ecosystem services. Because of the project’s focus on education, tree planting and ecological restoration in this project is driven by farmer demand for the long-term services provided by trees. The project was developed in response to concerns from the Cooperative’s members around the impact of climate change. Similar concerns are shared by farmers around the world and can serve as the starting point for replication of this project, in particular, its methodology.
Thanksgiving Coffee Company is also in the process of developing a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, The Resilience Fund, to finance similar projects throughout our supply chain. The recognition garnered by this award will strengthen the fundraising efforts of the new organization and create up to eleven additional climate change adaptation projects throughout our supply chain. Though this project will focus directly on Thanksgiving Coffee’s supply chain, the goal is to help articulate strategies that can be employed by other companies in their own supply chains. It is important to note that the trading relationships typically require less than 20% of a Cooperative’s production, so there is a large quantity of coffee available to other industry partners that will benefit from these works.
The project’s strategy integrates a demand-driven methodology that creates a set of incentives to catalyze a “race to the top” whereby farmers are seeking to implement the identified best practices. The ultimate goal is to secure the supply of great coffee for years to come, and to prove that though climate change threatens to destroy the supply of our industry’s coffee, we can invest in long-term solutions that defend farmers, their farms, and their production for years to come.
Alexandra Katona-Carroll has been in the specialty coffee industry for over five years. She has worked for SCAA and works part-time as the programs manager at CQI. She is the founder of a new company, Sensaay, which is dedicated to the promotion of specialty coffee, craft beer and fine tea.
Depending on who you ask, one of the most important international meetings of the year is taking place in Durban, South Africa. COP 17 as it’s known, short for the “Conference of the Parties” is a gathering of signatories of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, informally known as the “Earth Summit”. Tucked away in all of that terminology is the fact that this is the place where the world gets together to talk about what it’s going to do about climate change. And, one hopes, take action.
Again, depending on who you ask, there is a lot to hope for from this conference, or there is little hope that much will come out of it. Signaling a shift away from international commitment, last week Canada announced that it would withdraw its membership from the Kyoto Protocol, a cornerstone of global climate policy, albeit a failed effort. Canada’s move sends a clear signal that Kyoto and its emission reduction targets is failed. Before we get too critical of Canada we should remind ourselves that the United States never even signed on to Kyoto in the first place.
Leaders of faith, including the Pope and Archibishiop Desmond Tutu are speaking clearly about the need for dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand, and develop adaptation strategies that give farmers in the third world a fighting chance.
Meanwhile, developing countries are moving forward in an effort to reduce emissions—in fact, according to a recent study conducted by Oxfam International, they are set to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at a much greater rate than the wealthy countries of the world.
But besides the diplomatic wrangling and multilateral agreements, what does COP17 mean for farmers?
Recently, the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) published a letter titled “Adaptation Measures Must Work for Farmers” which highlights the need for a substantial and coordinated approach to funding adaptation. Adaptation in this context means moving beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby future increases in global temperature. Here, adaptation refers to the need to support farmers in the face of climate change, and to develop holistic solutions that will allow them to buffer themselves and their farms from changing weather that threatens their livelihoods.
In our own work, we’ve launched a pilot project with our partners at the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in an effort to define best practices that will help keep farmers on their farms, producing great coffee, for generations.
For more on this topic, see the link below for a great collection of voices from the grassroots. Stay tuned for more news as COP17 progresses as wraps up.
A few weeks ago we got an email from a man who introduced himself as Kieran, a guy from Vancouver BC who was riding his bike through Central America and wanted to know if we could help him connect with our partners at the Guaya’b Cooperative, in Guatemala. Last week Kieran visited Guaya’b, and by his account, had a great time. Here’s a bit from his blog, which you should visit to read the story in its entirety, as well as see some of his photos.
Not far across the border in Guatemala is the remote town of Jacaltenango. I hoped I’d be able to visit two co-operatives there, and as it was ‘only’ 50 km off my main route I gambled on getting lucky when I arrived. Yes it was only 50 km, but the uphill climbs more than made up for the short distance.
I had a little time in the town at the weekend to track down the Guaya’b office and then I dropped by on Monday morning to see what I could find. I ended up spending six days in the town as I felt I got very lucky with both co-operatives.Jacaltenango is a small, remote town up in the highlands. It is perched high above the Rio Azul with a number of smaller communities dotted around the surrounding hillsides at various degrees of precariousness.
Guaya’b is a coffee and honey co-operative comprising more than 400 members. It produces 100% Fair Trade products though its coffee is both conventional and organic. They have organic (US & European), Fair Trade (FLO-Cert) and “bird-friendly” (Smithsonian) certifications. Mayacert are a national organic certification body but Guaya’b export all their coffee. Most of the members are indigenous Popti’ with the rest mestizos. Guaya’b exports all its products to Europe and North America. In organic coffee, the European and North American coffee are kept separate. All coffee exported is ‘oro’ (green) beans. Conventional coffee predominantly finds its way to Spain. The honey is produced primarily for markets in Austria, Germany and Belgium.
Lucas Silvestre is the President/Manager and he was very happy to let me get an insight into the Guaya’b operations. Manuel, who oversees quality control, took me to the bodega (warehouse) where I was able to see coffee and honey processing operations and one of the Guaya’b coffee nurseries.
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!!