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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!
Kim Elena
POSTED IN: organic, sustainability
Beyond organic coffee.
Over the past six years that I have spent working where coffee meets sustainability, I have become an outspoken advocate for organic agriculture. I muse, write, and rant (happily) about the benefits of organic farming – from worms in compost to stabilized yields to organic farming's potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – but usually I'm just thinking in terms of coffee farming. Occasionally, I branch out to learn and talk about other edibles – milk is an easy one, as a former barista – but I admit that I hardly ever think beyond the food on my dining table. This is silly, I know, because I don't even need to leave the dining room (or the analogy) to find another crop to explore: pick up a napkin and wipe the crumbs from the tablecloth, because cotton farming tops the list for chemical dependency – pesticides, in particular – when it's not grown organically.
It's easy to forget that what we put on matters as much as what we put in our bodies, at least when we're talking about the environmental impact. According to clothing company Patagonia, "fully 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals in the United States are used to produce cotton, grown on just one percent of all major agricultural land." This time last year, Patagonia shocked customers, supporters, and critics by publishing a Black Friday/Cyber Monday ad encouraging people not to buy products – including Patagonia clothing and outdoor gear – that they don't need. The company's Common Threads initiative is unique among retailers, and its commitment to the environment is fundamental to its identity, but did you know that 100 percent of their cotton is certified organic and that it has been since 1996? As they say, "The move didn't compromise quality and it provoked a fundamental change in our attitudes about agriculture ... many of us have shifted to buying organic foods and clothing for ourselves and our families."
If the statistic about chemicals on cotton grown domestically led you to wonder about the difference that organic cotton makes on an international scale, UK's Soil Association is the perfect place to look, especially now that they have teamed up with the Global Organic Textile Standard to promote organic cotton through the Cottoned On campaign. I can't help but love this pledge, especially in the context of our ongoing Save Our Soil campaign. I encourage you all to follow the link to Cottoned On and to "choose to support farmers and protect the environment" by pledging to buy organic cotton – as well as organic coffee, of course!
Kim Elena
POSTED IN: organic
Coffee Farming, Soil, and Organic Agriculture
Coffee education, quality, and sustainability are interdependent. Because we strive to be leaders in sustainable coffee and combine our commitment to buying the highest quality coffee with respect for the natural environment, we feel a responsibility to share what we learn with everyone. So, we're especially excited about a new addition to our Counter Intelligence coffee education lineup: an hour-and-a-half workshop called Coffee Farming, Soil, and Organic Agriculture, which debuted today in Durham.
The workshop introduces the concepts of agriculture as they relate to coffee farming, using organic certified Finca Nueva Armenia in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, as a case study. Participants learn about the agricultural intricacies of coffee production, explore organic alternatives to chemical fertilizers, and take away a seedling to nurture at home. As much about agriculture as it is about coffee, Coffee Farming, Soil, and Organic Agriculture s a great workshop for those in the coffee industry, but you don't have to be a coffee person to attend. Gardeners, foodies, agriculture scholars, organic activists are encouraged to participate. Stay tuned to our Counter Culture Coffee facebook page for future editions of this and other workshops.
Note: Our deliver carriers will not be operating Wednesday, July 4, in observance of the Independence Day holiday. No packages will be delivered that day, and packages in transit will not be moved toward their final destination. We will als be closed Wednesday. Orders received after midnight tonight through midnight Wednesday will be roasted, packaged, and shipped on Thursday, July 5.
POSTED IN: organic
Our soils are in crisis.
We want to help to reverse a global trend in agriculture that threatens not only coffee quality, but also sustainable food production, groundwater integrity, and our planet's biodiversity. Our new Save Our Soil campaign aims to raise awareness about the widespread degradation of soil health brought about by conventional, chemical-based agriculture and shed light on the critical importance of organic agriculture as the way forward.
Friday, April 20, Counter Culture Coffee training centers in Asheville, Atlanta, Chicago, Durham, New York, and Washington, DC, will host Save Our Soil launch events, which will include a cupping (tasting) of three different organic coffees followed by a presentation about the campaign.
Over the course of the next year, Counter Culture, our customers, and other partnering organizations will hold Save Our Soil events – from organic food and coffee pairings to home composting workshops and organic farmer round table discussions – focused on education, as well as opportunities for organic advocacy.
Save Our Soil is about solutions, and it carries the positive message that we can solve our soil crisis through organic agriculture, which builds rather than destroys soil health. We simply care too much about great coffee, and the communities that depend on it, to sit by while its future is threatened. We hope to inspire people to join us as fellow organic advocates!
Kim Elena
POSTED IN: organic