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This December marked our second year supporting the NC Choices Annual Carolina Meat Conference with a coffee donation. The conference is the first statewide one in the country dedicated to local and niche meat supply chain development. We felt strongly about supporting this conference as much of the work they do to make their supply chain sustainable, from farmer to consumer, parallels the work that we do within the coffee industry.

Sarah Blacklin, Program Coordinator at NC Choices had this to say about the contribution:

Unlike other conferences, the vast majority of participants (over 70%) at the Carolina Meat Conference are farmers, prospective farmers, and professionals in the meat industry (chefs, butchers, processors). We want them to know that we match their commitment with the food we offer by serving top quality coffee with stewardship and integrity.

At Counter Culture we feel fortunate when we can align, across sectors, with other small scale sustainable agriculture ventures that are intentional and supportive in nature. Thanks for another opportunity for involvement, NC Choices!

We even got some shout-outs in participant evaluations of the conference:
  • Excellent programming, outstanding speakers. I've gone every year to the meat conference and always learn something new. Thank you for the really good coffee and snacks.
  • Good coffee – thanks y'all.
  • Thanks for some strong coffee in the morning.
Feel free to read more about NC Choices and the Meat Conference! As always, if you think your organization is one aligned with our efforts and you would like our support, feel free to reach out to us here.

Thanks,
Hannah
Our production of roasted coffee has continued to increase, which is truly great. As a result, the needs for the infrastructure necessary to process all of the coffee have also increased. Here at our headquarters in Durham, this has meant added personnel and added technology on our production floor. Thomas Nickles, our IT manager, is always looking toward green and sustainable options for growth. Most recently, he began to explore what it would take to do more with less – employing the services of NComputing. Here’s what he has to say:

"After finding some greener laser printer alternatives and moving all our our main infrastructure to the cloud, I wanted to significantly reduce the amount of physical computers needed on the production floor for both sustainable and logistical reasons. I didn't just want to keep adding desktop computers wherever needed.

"So, when I was doing some local volunteering for the Obama campaign and saw they were using this great technology from NComputing that enabled them to get many workstations out of a single desktop, I thought that was perfect for Counter Culture but needed to test it a bunch for the wear and tear of our production floor. I've been super-pleased with the results of this technology plus our operational and managerial IT costs for roasting and production have been significantly reduced."

So, what does this look like? With NComputing's vSpace virtualization hardware and software, we can now have many workstations running from a single desktop. Each one of these green workstations runs on less than 10 percent of the electricity used by a normal PC. In Durham, we'll be able to reduce the amount of actual desktop PCs needed by 75 percent. Normal PCs are being replaced by this newfangled excitement as we speak!

-Hannah
As we say in our Direct Trade report, Cenfrocafe is truly a model among cooperatives, and they are a joy to visit and learn from each time. This visit included all of the usual elements – from producer meetings to meeting with cooperative leadership, cupping, and, in general, hearing about highlights and challenges currently facing the group.
 
Cenfrocafe has grown by almost 30% this year in its volumes. The coffee we received from this group and sell as Valle del Santuario and La Frontera has been exceptional this year. Our hope is to continue to hone in on even greater volumes of this quality coffee. Already on the larger side with 2,680 members, they have 240 more members going through the one-year trial period. They are, after 12 years of operation, getting to be a well-oiled machine. In addition to the business of coffee, they are intentionally working on helping producers with diversification efforts, health resources, and continued integration of youth and women in the cooperative. Of course, they still have kinks to work out in stabilizing volumes, lot separation, and best representing the needs of cooperative members.
 
Leaf rust is beginning to prove challenging, and some producers have lost up to 3,000 trees or more as a result. Conversations about how to prevent and renovate are serious. And, continuing to have the conversation about producing quality coffee alongside conversations about protection and disease resistant varieties is inevitable. The hope is that Cenfrocafe can continue to take a proactive role in regard to producers' needs for prevention training and on-farm investments.
 
Coffee quality this year was lagging in July and August at the beginning of the harvest, but they had higher hopes as they saw great improvements in October. I believe our coffee this year reflects that change. And, it again emphasizes the benefits of being by the cooperative's side – as true partners – not just for one harvest or one great run, but through the ups and downs.
 
I hope you'll enjoy these photos of my last week in Peru!
 
Abrazos,
Hannah
 
From the embed above, click [full screen] and [show info] for Hannah's annotated notes on each photo. You can also view Hannah's trip report on Flickr.
 
Bilal Sarwari works with adolescents in psychiatric crisis through therapeutic gardeningOur own Emily Davis in Atlanta made a fruitful connection with a local partner, Bilal Sarwari, who works with adolescents in psychiatric crisis through therapeutic gardening. The group is located in Decatur and, as Bilal says, the "program has been a great source of stress relief for our clients, and we even have adult clients who come down from our other facilities [who] volunteer."
 
Here's a little bit more from Bilal about exactly how our Atlanta Training Center's coffee grounds help:
 
Coffee grounds are essentially prepped for use in sustainable agriculture: they are wet (bacteria and fungi need water to grow), they are ground (provides increased surface area for microorganisms to attach), natural deoderizers, and rich in nitrogen (seeds contain a great deal of DNA per capita and DNA consists of nitrogen base pairs). Essentially, coffee grounds make great compost and worms love it – and I love earthworms.
 
Secondly, your coffee grounds provide a natural defense against ants. After two years of hard work, our soil is rich and loose. Ants love to build their colonies in our garden beds. Last year, I read an article from that suggested using coffee grounds against ants. I tried it on an ant pile and two days later the ants were gone. I was amazed. Now the gardens smell like finely-roasted beans, and I don't have to worry about the health effects of dangerous pesticides on our clients' growing bodies.
 
Our hope is that other local groups close to our various training centers feel similarly inspired to use our excess coffee grounds. The possibilities are endless!
 
Thanks, Bilal, for truly multiplying the good that can come from what has previously been considered a waste product.

Learn more about our transparency efforts in our 2013 Transparency Report.
The closing event of our Sustainable Summer campaign last Friday and the long Labor Day weekend have me looking ahead to fall, and it's around this time each year that I begin to reflect on the progress we have made and what we can accomplish before the year's end. Our progress has also been much on my mind as I've reviewed the Sustainability Annual Report for 2012, which we publish today in conjunction with the Direct Trade Transparency Report. Readers of our three reports and six scorecards of the past years (hello, fellow sustainability nerds!) will see some changes to the format of this year's report, which highlights some of our more significant accomplishments and adds context to some of our statistics. I hope you enjoy this year's reports and can learn from our experiences, and as always, thanks.
 
Sincerely,
Kim Elena
 
Welcome to Sustainable Summer, a month-long community effort dedicated to making small changes on big issues.On Friday, August 30, we're celebrating #SustainableSummer at each of our Training Centers (following our weekly cupping) with organic snacks, lively conversation, and a panel discussion about climate change and the future. Of course, there will also be plenty of coffee. Click here for details.

The get-togethers will revolve around a panel discussion with sustainability luminaries Scott Marlow of the Rural Advancement Foundation International and Mausi Kuhl of Selva Negra/La Hammonia coffee farm in Nicaragua. The panel discussion will be broadcast on our YouTube channel.

Join us, as well as our friends at Rishi Tea, Taza Chocolate, King Arthur Flour, Patagonia, and TS Designs, as we send this summer out with a sustainable bang in this final week of #SustainableSummer by taking the pledge to conserve resources on Facebook or e-mail us for more information.

Thanks,
Nathan
Farm51 started as a vacant lot and is now host to vegetables, chickens, and cut flowers.Many of you are already familiar with the initiatives we decide to invest in abroad, known as our Seeds projects. This year, we have heightened our emphasis on local investing as well – uniting both local and international efforts under the banner of sustainable agriculture and hunger prevention. Since our staff are scattered throughout the US, we have asked them to investigate the meaningful work being done in their communities around these two areas. Then, they bring them to the table for us to assess and collaborate.

One of our regions, Philadelphia, has taken this charge quite seriously. Early on, they began connecting with farm51, a small-scale urban educational farm founded in 2008 in West Philly. Most recently, Chelsea Thoumsin, our Customer Representative in Philly, decided she'd like for us to help support a fundraiser the farm will be hosting on September 6. The farm is a place where community is built and strengthened, where many hands make light work, and where people can connect directly with their food source. What started as a vacant lot is now host to vegetables, chickens, and cut flowers. You can learn more about this innovative and industrious farm on their website. And, if you find yourself in Philly on September 6, check out their fundraiser.

Our hope is that our knowledge of and ability to support similar groups in all of our regions will only continue to grow. If you know of any we should know about, don't hesitate to be in touch.

Til next time,
Hannah
WG Pearson students celebrate their new school garden in Durham!So, you all might start to think I have a small obsession with reusing bags – but seriously, so many exciting things are happening in the upcycle bag world!

Last week, we were asked by a local elementary school, WG Pearson, to help them inaugurate their school garden. For the last couple of months, they have been preparing the beds and just recently put down seeds and a few plants. Conveniently, in their early stages of garden planning, they went right down the road to get some of our coffee burlap bags for – that's right – weed barriers!

The 1st through 5th graders at the school have committed to create and maintain the garden organically. There were about 100 of them present for the garden party to dedicate the garden. Those kids knew what was up, with their hands waving in the air to answer "What is a seedling?" and "What are pesticides?" and "What is soil?"

Along with Counter Culture, North Carolina Central University and the Durham Public School system supported this effort, demonstrating what can happen when partnerships are formed. There are three separate beds that include an herb garden, an heirloom section, and other vegetables. The hope is that the students have the opportunity to start early to connect with where food comes from and to be able to continue healthy lifelong practices.

We are grateful for the chance to be a part of such an inspiring project!

Thanks,
Hannah