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La Voz Women's Compost ProjectCooperatives that are concerned both with the environment and with the quality of their coffee are aware of the need for organic compost. Organic compost can be expensive to buy, however, it is relatively easy to make your own if you have some initial capital, especially when you have a willing and able labor force within your cooperative.

This spring, La Voz que Clama en el Desierto, a cooperative out of San Juan de la Laguna in Guatemala that we have worked with for the last four years, applied for funding through our Seeds initiative and was one of the two projects that was selected and approved. Counter Culture and La Voz split the costs of the project down the middle with Counter Culture’s funds covering the majority of the material inputs and La Voz’s segment covering a lot of the labor needs.

Not only did the project focus on compost creation from start to finish (delivery of materials, mixing materials, distributing ready made compost, storing compost for later use) it also had a unique focus on female cooperative members. In total, 60 women received the completed compost to spread on their coffee parcels. Over 35 hectares were fertilized. While there isn’t a direct correlation between solid agricultural practices and cup quality, it bears noting that this year was the first year we sold La Voz’s coffee as a single origin and we have high hopes that this trend will continue in the coming years.

Each year we open the window for Seeds applications once in the spring and once in the fall, ready to support initiatives at the community level that work toward sustainable agriculture and food security efforts at origin. The next cycle for Seeds applicants will begin mid-September and we anticipate more noteworthy applicants and initiatives ahead and producers and producer groups are encouraged to apply here.

In partnership for inspiring work at origin,

Hannah Popish
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.
 
Welcome to Sustainable Summer, a month-long community effort dedicated to making small changes on big issues.Our Sustainable Summer challenge starts Monday! We encourage you to put the relaxed, reflective mood afforded by the slower pace of summer to good use by making small, positive changes to your everyday habits, and living a little greener before the leaves turn brown.

Each week throughout August, via a Sustainable Summer Facebook group, we'll offer suggestions for little things we can all do to challenge climate change and preserve our natural resources. By tackling habits in the areas of Home, Work, Leisure, Transportation, and Food, we'll see firsthand how big an impact even small actions can make.

Participants will have the chance to enter raffles for great prizes (including coffee, tea, and chocolate) as a reward for green deeds done well; together, we'll end the month by celebrating sustainability with organic snacks, lively conversation, and a panel discussion about climate change and the future. (Of course, there will also be plenty of coffee.)

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! Take the pledge on Facebook or e-mail us for more information.

Thanks,
Meister

Reusing plastic coffee bags for employee CSA distribution! #SustainableSummerEvery once in awhile the coffee department decides it's time to clean out the drawers where we keep green coffee samples. In each drawer, which represents a month, there are various and sundry sample baggies – small ones, large ones, thick ones, thin ones, and even the occasional cloth one! I suppose many places and many employees would quickly reject these as waste. Here at Counter Culture, however, the conversations about what to do with stray bags occur pretty much weekly.

Here are just a few things I'm looking forward to doing with those bags:

 

  • take them to the farmer's market for fruits and veggies
  • bring them to the co-op for my favorite trail mixes
  • store herbs in them for herbal summer water!


I asked a few co-workers, and here's what they would do:

 

  • use them as trash can liners for smaller bathroom trash cans
  • take them to the grocery store to be recycled
  • store stray buttons and broken jewelry for rainy day mending projects
  • transporting vitamins

Really, the opportunities are endless. So, it's a little quaint, maybe. But, the realness of landfill diversion and the commitment to not purchasing plastic bags that take a ridiculous amount of energy to create isn't just a drop in the bucket. Tim's words, "All right you guys, have at it!" as he set the bags on the counter, are still ringing in my ears!

Thanks,
Hannah

Growers in Ethiopia at our compost workshop in March 2013.At the end of March, coffee buyers Kim Elena Ionescu and Tim Hill traveled together – which they almost never get to do; with so much Coffee Department travel, they usually travel separately – to Ethiopia for a compost workshop funded by our $1-per-pound allocation from our 2012 Holiday Blend and attended by 30 farmers from Haru, Idido, and Biloya.

"I was really excited about this trip!" acknowledged Kim Elena. "I was also really nervous, however, because I had committed Counter Culture to hosting a workshop in a place I had never been, in a language I didn't speak, on a subject outside my area of expertise."

Read Kim Elena's full trip report on Flickr offering annotated photos offer an overview of the two-day workshop, as well as a few glimpses into the activities at these cooperatives this time of year.

Takele Mammo, manager of Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union.
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!
 
Find out how your support of our Holiday Blend Program is helping to bring organic agriculture into action with this workshop in Yirgacheffe.
 
Thanks,
Kim Elena
 
POSTED IN: organic
Takele Mammo, manager of Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union.
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.
 
The Haru washing station near Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia.
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!
 
Thanks,
Kim Elena
 
POSTED IN: organic, sustainability

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