Sustainability Q&A Live #3 – Seeds

On the first Wednesday of every month, we host a Facebook and Instagram live discussion about sustainability. This month, we’re talking about our sustainability grant program, Seeds.
To have your questions answered in a future episode or suggest future topics, send your requests to [email protected]

What is Seeds?
Seeds is Counter Culture’s sustainability grant program where we give grants to producer-partners to engage in environmental or social sustainability projects through an application process. The program started in 2011 and accepts applicants from anyone we buy coffee from, twice a year. Grant awards are between $3,000-$5,000.

Why do we do it?
It’s important to us at Counter Culture that ideas and projects for sustainability come directly from the farmers at origin. The farmers work there and it is their reality which is why we don’t put limitations on what people can apply for with Seeds.

Sustainability projects can require upfront costs and it can take a long time for farmers to see the payoff from those investments. That’s where Seeds can alleviate pressure and risk from the farmers. Often times farmers are faced with choosing between quality and sustainability and will more often than not, choose quality because the payoff is more immediate.

It can also be hard for producers to get loans because banking institutions don’t exist where they are or banks either won’t give the funds because agricultural practices can be risky or only offer loans with high-interest rates that aren’t practical. Seeds allows farmers to take on these practices by paying for some of these upfront costs.

The program also benefits us as buyers because of our long-term sourcing model. The more we invest in and help our partners, the better and longer our relationship with our producers become; it’s a mutually beneficial program. It’s important to note that Seeds is not the only way we invest in sustainability, it’s just the program we have specifically for our supply chain.

How many projects have been funded by Seeds?
Counter Culture funds about five projects per year and because 2017 was the sixth year of this program, we’ve funded between 25-30 projects since Seeds’ inception. In 2016, Counter Culture granted about $31,000 to seven different projects.

Are there project themes that are most sought after?
While we do let farmers come up with their own projects, we give thematic ideas to help jump-start the brainstorming process. These ideas include planting new varieties of coffee plants to combat the epidemic of leaf rust and increasing vulnerability to climate change. Other farmers have replaced older, less productive trees with newer ones which can be costly. Other popular uses of Seeds in the past few years have been implementing organic agricultural practices like composting and planting shade trees.  

All in all, the goal is to create a sustainable and resilient environment for the farmers to produce high-quality crop so we can continue to buy from them for years, and even decades to come.

What are some specific examples of projects that have received grants?
In 2015, we gave a grant to Baroida to build teacher housing for a school that services the farm and the surrounding area. In the beginning they found it hard to attract teachers to such a remote location so they used the grant money to build teacher housing on site.

At the Kamavindi estate, they used Seed money to give their farm workers macadamia nut tree seedlings for income diversification so they can sell the nuts for additional income since work at the farm is seasonal in nature.

Where can I find these projects on the website?
Right now, we don’t have a comprehensive list of all of our Seeds recipients and their projects online, but you can find a highlight and additional information about Seeds here and here. We are also working on an online sourcing map where you can view all of the Seeds projects we’ve funded with each producer-partner.

How does Counter Culture Coffee fund the Seeds projects?
Counter Culture sets aside one cent per pound of coffee sold throughout the year. The only exception is Iridescent, where one dollar per pound sold will be used specifically to fund climate adaptation workshops. The funding also scales with our profits.

What does Counter Culture look for in a project?
We look for projects that have a plan and measurable outcomes. The outcomes we ask recipients to measure are low commitment but it is a way for us to collect data and make sure the projects are successful. We also look for projects that will be self-sustaining after the initial up-front investment.

Can an individual or group receive funding more than once?
We have partners who have applied several times and received grants more than once.

What does CCC do after the projects are complete?
When we first started Seeds, we did not follow up formally with how the money affected the farmers and their crop. We often saw anecdotally during trips to origin but were not tracking it in a structured way. In the past two years, we began checking in with the recipients at six months, a year, and two years, asking for the results of the outcomes they agreed to track in their application.

Is there any way consumers can get involved in Seeds?
Right now, the best way for consumers to have an impact is to buy our coffee. In the near future, we will have a more thorough way for consumers to see which coffees have associated Seeds projects, which will let consumers make decisions on which coffees to buy based on their interest in the projects.

Tune into Facebook and Instagram on the first Wednesday of every month at 2 p.m. ET to join the discussion on various sustainability topics. The next Q&A will be December  6 and we will be talking about our 2016 Transparency Report.