A week remains before our organic composting workshop in Ethiopia! What workshop? You know, the one that we're sponsoring with the $1-per-pound donation from our Holiday Blend sales! You had forgotten? Well, I suppose I can't blame you, because a lot has happened since the holidays!
Every year we create a unique product for the winter holidays and choose an environmental or social cause to benefit from the sales of that coffee, which we refer to as the Holiday Blend even when it's not a blend – more on that in a second. Historically, we have sought to link the cause to one of the coffees in the blend. For the past two years, that blend has consisted of coffees from a single cooperative, the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmer Cooperative Union, based in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia.
Nine thousand dollars raised by our 2011 seasonal promotion went to support the building of a school in Idido, which is a small village on the outskirts of the somewhat-less-small town of Yirgacheffe – and the provenance of two of our favorite coffees, Idido washed and Idido sundried natural.
In anticipation of the 2012 holiday season, we decided to feature YCFCU's coffee for a second year and identified supporting organic agriculture as the cause we wanted to advance. The focus on teaching organic composting to coffee growers and co-op managers grew out of conversations with YCFCU's general manager, Takele Mammo, who expressed great enthusiasm for Counter Culture's (then-newly–installed) worm composting bins when he visited our operations in April and mentioned that the Ethiopian government had been encouraging co-ops to put more resources toward making compost. We had just launched our first advocacy campaign, Save Our Soil, to raise awareness about the benefits of organic agriculture, and it felt like the stars were aligning for a collaboration around environmental health and soil building through compost with one of our most important producer partners.
With all of that context in mind, I'm excited to tell you a little bit about what we're planning. March 28-30, between 30 and 40 members and managers of YCFCU will assemble at a hotel in Yirgacheffe to listen to lectures on the philosophy and benefits of organic agriculture, share their experiences, and participate in hands-on training on composting led by a local expert. Attendees will include managers of co-op mills like Idido, Haru, and Biloya – our coffees are so called after the mills where growers bring their coffee for processing in towns of those names – as well as coffee growers, with a particular focus on members of the Haru cooperative. In discussions with the umbrella co-op, YCFCU, we agreed that Counter Culture has a firmer partnership with Haru than with any of the other farmer groups and that focusing on them would deepen the impact of the information.
As we developed this program, I thought often of the success of La Serie Profesional: Organic Agriculture and Quality Experimentation, the event that we hosted for all of our Central American suppliers in the summer of 2011 in Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras. That event was definitely part of the inspiration for this one, but a key difference in Ethiopia will be the level of knowledge brought to the topic. Instead of relying on Coffee Buyer & Quality Manager Tim Hill and me to create, deliver, and translate all of the material as we did in Honduras, this time we have hired professionals to speak on conditions particular to Yirgacheffe, conduct the training with materials in Amharic as well as English, and lay the groundwork for a compost operation at Haru.
It is exciting to be working as a part of what feels like a direct collaboration between customers who so faithfully supported the Holiday Blend and one of our strongest producer partners, YCFCU, to address an issue that we all recognize as crucial to coffee and quality despite the fact that we aren't compost experts ourselves. Tim and I will be attending the workshop, but I imagine we have as much to learn as any of the growers, if not more!