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What is Seeds?
Seeds is an acronym that stands for Sustaining Environmental and Educational Development at Source, and our Seeds program was created to structure and define Counter Culture's monetary contributions to projects that are not coffee-quality-specific but still benefit our coffee-producing partners and their communities. We allocated our first funds in January of 2011 and have made approximately one contribution per quarter since then. We decided to earmark a penny per pound of coffee we purchase to Seeds, and, since its inception, we have directed money to agricultural training programs, research projects, and a food security initiative, among other projects. To date, we have contributed a total of $24,963 to projects in 6 countries.
We'd like to catch you up on the projects we have funded over the last couple of years through our Seeds program with eye toward more regular updates of ongoing projects. Over the next few months, we will be sharing weekly stories about each of the projects.
Our First Project: Youth Trainers
CENFROCAFE Cooperative
San Ignacio, Peru
Youth Trainers from CENFROCAFE in San Ignacio, Peru.
CENFROCAFE is a cooperative in Northern Peru that we have worked with since 2006. This relationship brings us our Valle del Santuario and La Frontera coffees.
In 2010, Cenfrocafe selected 50 youth trainers out of 120 candidates. In 2011, when Counter Culture entered the scene, they had retained 45 of trainers, and, in 2012, there were 30, at which point they trained 10 more. At this point, the young trainers are able to visit the co-op members almost year-round. They hold workshops on topics such as fertilizers, pest control, and documentation of inputs at the farm level. They are each assigned a zone to focus on and have reached more than half of CENFROCAFE's membership – more than 1,500 members.
During our recent with the co-op, Aleneor, a youth trainer in his third year, was incredibly enthusiastic and eager to answer questions about the program. He seemed to truly enjoy the range of his training and subsequent responsibilities that included everything from learning how the business side of the co-op functions to pricing to agricultural practices. Aleneor spoke eloquently about how his relationships with producers changed over time and the importance of strategies to build their trust. And, he was eager to tell how suggestions made by trainers truly pay off in the long run.
Among the challenges for youth trainers is the desire to visit co-op members multiple times throughout the year with more targeted topics. At this point, the trainers and their leadership are trying to assess the different topics that are most appropriate. Retention is hard, as well, as some participants leave to study or seek higher pay. However, Cenfrocafe continues to support the importance of youth involvement and clearly sees a bright future for them within the cooperative.
Counter Culture was pleased to be a small part of this worthwhile initiative that clearly earns its own dividends in terms of impact both on producers and at the co-op level.
SEEDS represents our commitment to seeking out opportunities to effect change in the realms beyond coffee purchasing. Photo by Counter Culture Coffee.
Over the years, we have supported a variety of projects in the communities where we source our coffees. These projects sometimes have a social focus, like a drink-your-own-coffee campaign in Rwanda. At other times, our projects benefit the natural environment, as exhibited by a reforestation effort in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. In every case, however, these projects are important tools for us to use to add value to our relationships and deepen our commitment to real sustainability at each stage in the coffee chain.
Recently, we formalized that participation into a program called Seeds: Sustaining Environmental and Educational Development at Source. The first project to receive funding from the Seeds program is a training and capacity-building program run by the Cenfrocafe co-operative in San Ignacio, Peru, which brings us coffee from the five small communities of Valle del Santuario. With more than 2,000 families to represent and support, the agronomists, soil specialists, and coffee-quality-development staff employed directly by Cenfrocafe struggle to reach of the co-op’s members on a regular basis.
About two years ago, Cenfrocafe received a grant to develop a train-the-trainer program for a group of 50 young people, all of whom are the children of co-op members. These promotores (promoters) have learned about everything from soil-building practices to cupping for quality and they are now empowered to teach! The most recent phase of the initiative has been to set up a small coffee plot in each community where the local youth promoter can demonstrate good growing techniques, with an emphasis on organic management, stable levels of production, and high-quality coffee. Sounds awesome, right?
This project fits perfectly with the goals of Seeds and our company’s overall commitments to coffee education and to creating coffee people at every stage in the supply chain. Our Seeds project provided the funding for three demonstration plots, which not-so-coincidentally belong to the three promoters based in the communities where we source Valle del Santuario! I am excited about the long-term potential of this project and I can’t wait to both see these demonstration plots and talk to some of the older growers in the area about the impact of the on-the-ground youth promoters. Until then, I hope this makes your morning cup of Valle del Santuario taste extra sweet.
Kim Elena
Hi all,

Counter Culture Coffee's Kim Elena Bullock in Colombia in 2009 at a then-new worm compost facility. In my Colombia trip report of (what seems like) many months ago, I mentioned a newly-begun project to supply the growers of La Golondrina with more organic material for their small, certified organic coffee farms. Almost a year ago, Virmax and Orgánica, the association of growers behind La Golondrina, decided to purchase worms and build a small composting operation together on land adjacent to Nelson and Liliana’s farm outside of Popayán.

In August, I spent an afternoon driving around the city of Popayán with Nelson and Giancarlo Ghiretti of Virmax to buy construction materials for the first worm beds, and, since then, the project has come a long way: I am happy to report that the first batch of compost is ready to harvest and that the worms are doing great! Our partners have learned a lot through experimentation about how factors like humidity, food, and pH balance impact worm productivity. The next step is to send samples from the different worm beds to a lab for testing and for recommendations about the ideal amount of compost to apply to coffee plants, and once they have that information, Organica plans to start distributing their worm compost to farmers.

The first batch of compost is ready to harvest and the worms are doing great at compost project associated with our La Golondrina coffee farms. I feel like I have been excited about this project for nigh on forever because it is so easy to fit worm compost into a model for long-term farm sustainability: good compost leads to good soil, which leads to good-tasting coffee, (of course) but also a consistent supply of coffee, which is at least as important to a small-scale grower as a year of hitting the jackpot with microlot scores and prices.

Counter Culture Coffee made a donation to this project in the name of our customers this past holiday season, and (spoiler alert!) we are already planning our 2010 holiday program with La Golondrina and this worm composting project in mind.

Root, root, root for the worms, I say!

Kim Elena
POSTED IN: education, Seeds
Counter Culture partnered with the SPREAD Group and others to help more Rwandan coffee farmers to consume and appreciate the incredible coffee they grow. Photo by Counter Culture Coffee.Rwanda is only a few hundred miles from southwestern Ethiopia, and the communities we work with around the tiny country produce some of Counter Culture Coffee’s favorite coffees: bright, sweet, fruity, and complex. Culturally, however, Rwandans are tea drinkers and most of the growers of these awesome coffees don’t drink coffee at all, much less their own. I wouldn’t argue with a Rwandan that coffee is more delicious than tea, even though I think it’s true, but I would (and do) argue that all coffee growers should know what their coffees taste like and, when they’re producing coffee of the quality that Nyakizu, Humure, Karaba, and Rusenyi are producing, appreciate that coffee. As growers learn to taste their coffees, they are in a better position to make changes to their cultivating, picking, and processing methods that will improve their coffee quality.

Counter Culture partnered with the SPREAD Group and others to help more Rwandan coffee farmers to consume and appreciate the incredible coffee they grow. Photo by Counter Culture Coffee.Six months ago, Counter Culture started working with our partners at the SPREAD project and RWASHOSCCO, as well as fellow coffee company Intelligentsia, to sponsor a Roast-Your-Own-Coffee program in Rwandan coffee-growing communities. The idea was to mimic the Ethiopian coffee ritual by distributing kits made up of a bicycle inner tube for removing the parchment from the coffee, a basket for winnowing the parchment away before roasting, roasting pot, and a mortar and pestle for grinding roasted coffee. The program launched in February and has been received with great enthusiasm so far among growers, some of whom are already figuring out ways to improve on the design of the kit to make it more popular and more widely used. We will continue to post updates as the project continues, and I am hopeful that after Counter Culture Coffee’s next trip to Rwanda, we will complain no more about the coffee we drank there!

Kim Elena


In 2006, Counter Culture Coffee donated 23 dairy cows to our partners in Humure, Rwanda, to assist with community nutrition and organic fertilizer production. Photo by Counter Culture Coffee.
Since 1999, Counter Culture has created a special coffee in celebration of the holiday season. Each year, we focus on particularly spectacular coffees, roasting and blending especially with the holiday in mind. We often use the opportunity to revive a traditional roasting technique or blending style, and to offer a glimpse into a fading coffee tradition. In the spirit of holiday giving, we also donate one dollar per every pound sold of the blend to a special cause close to our heart.
As our relationships at origin have matured and deepened, we have recognized that we are ideally positioned to contribute directly to the development of our producer partners' communities. Instead of contributing to general good works around the world, which of course would be worth our while, we ask our farmer partners directly about their needs, and then work with them to steward funds from our Holiday Blend sales to fund projects specifically designed to benefit their communities.
Recipients of Holiday Blend donations have included:
Donations from our 2012 Holiday Blend funded a two-day workshop for agronomists, technicians, washing station managers, and growers from YCFCU – and other cooperatives in the region – on organic compost and good agricultural practices, as well as supporting a pilot worm compost project in one of the member communities that can be replicated in others.
2011: Construction and support of schools in Ethiopian coffee farming communities.
2010: Organic soil-building project in Popayan, Colombia.
2009: We supported the Recinos family of Finca Nueva Armenia in planting native trees on their farm and surrounding farms in Huehuetenango, Guatemala.
2008: our donation purchased school supplies and teaching materials for the Lintong Coffee School in Lintong Nihuta, Sumatra, and benefited the communities producing our Dolok Sanggul.
2007: our partners at the 21st de Septiembre Co-op of Oaxaca, Mexico, to support education and training programs for the women of the co-op.
2006: our partners in Humure, Rwanda, where we donated 23 dairy cows to assist with community nutrition and organic fertilizer production.
2005: Coffee Kids, which connects with NGOs across Latin America to improve the quality of life for coffee-growing families
2004: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, which supports regional farmers
2003: Grounds for Health, which screens for cancer in coffee-growing communities
POSTED IN: coffee, Seeds