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Members of the La Voz que Clama en el Desierto co-op in Guatemala learning aout.
We received news a few weeks back from La Voz que Clama en el Desierto, the cooperative in Guatemala from which we purchase coffee that brings delicious flavors to Farmhouse part of the year. The cooperative manager, Andres, wrote to let us know that they started their project with Seeds funding in earnest. As a quick reminder, they were one of two projects selected for this funding cycle,, and their goal was to offer training to coffee producers on how to prevent and combat leaf rust with organic methods.
So, far they have contracted the appropriate agronomist to lead the trainings, and they have already held eight days of workshops with the producers. The topics included at the workshops have covered methods for effective pruning and renovation of coffee plants. They have also started discussing fertilizers and effective treatments to protect plants from leaf rust.
In the coming months, they will continue the series and touch on more specific application of the techniques, as well as a broader discussion of how to strengthen the cooperative associations as a whole through these types of efforts.
Coffee from La Voz arrived and will be available as Farmhouse starting Tuesday.
POSTED IN: sustainability
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!
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
Our carbon nuetrality off-sets in action. Photo by Trees, Water, and People.
After a fascinating and surprising first foray into carbon-footprint measurement at the end of 2009 – a project to track the carbon footprint of Finca Mauritania's coffee from seed to cup – Counter Culture decided to commit wholeheartedly to carbon neutrality for the company. We set a target date of 2015 because, to tell the truth, we weren't entirely sure what we were signing ourselves up to do.
In a serendipitous turn of events, we were able to reach our five-year goal in only two years and achieved carbon neutrality at the end of 2011 by offsetting our 576-tonne greenhouse gas footprint through tree-planting and fuel-efficient stove construction in Central America.
We arrived at that 576-tonnes-of-greenhouse-gas figure with the help of Vancouver-based Climate Smart, a foot printing organization that takes a unique approach to auditing by empowering businesses to measure themselves.
Having established a baseline, we turned our attention to potential areas of reduction. We started reaching out to providers of offsets and reconnected with Trees, Water, and People (TWP), which manages offset projects ranging from tree-planting and stove construction in Central America and Haiti to wind power in the American west. They distinguished themselves from other offset providers by offering to implement a project building fuel-efficient stoves with Organic Coffee of Marcala, S.A. de C.V. (COMSA), a cooperative that Counter Culture works with in Marcala, Honduras. After enthusiastic planning with TWP, AHDESA – a development organization in Honduras – and COMSA, the team built and installed 86 clean cookstoves in 2 weeks, impacting a total of 626 family members! We are grateful for this successful partnership!
-Hannah and Kim
POSTED IN: sustainability
Reducing our paper use by 41, 000 pieces starting here.
Starting today, we are significantly reducing the amount of paper we print / recycle each day in our Durham production facility.
For the last two years, we've been printing multiple pieces of paper for each wholesale order to get the right coffee into the right box – all but one of which got recycled every day. With a newly implemented bin system, we are now printing only one page per order! That's a big reduction!!
To put this into context, for production wholesale orders in 2011, we printed close to 63,000 pieces of paper. That's 126 reams of paper! And, while we recycled 41,000 pages of that, we no longer print extra pages that need to be recycled.
I'd like to point out all the hard work that Tom Burns, Ryan Stickles, and Jeff McArthur have done to make this happen. I'm really excited we're not using so much paper now!
-Thomas Nickles
IT Manager
POSTED IN: sustainability
We're honored to have won the 2012 Green Plus Sustainable Enterprise of the Year Award.
The Institute for Sustainable Development chose Counter Culture as its 2012 Sustainable Enterprise of the Year out of the more than 200 companies that participate in the Green Plus triple-bottom-line certification program across 15 states. We were one of the first businesses to sign up for the then-brand-new Green Plus program in 2008, and we have come a long way since then, so it feels especially good to receive this public recognition for our efforts.
Last week's launch of our first-ever advocacy campaign, Save Our Soil, is a great example of how we continue to push our industry and communities to pursue real sustainability.
I am grateful to and appreciative of the role that each of my co-workers has had in making our initiatives successful over these past four years and excited to continue our journey! Go team!
Kim Elena
POSTED IN: sustainability
Do microlots mater to producers?
The information presented in "Do Microlots Matter to Producers" derives from a study conducted by Counter Culture Coffee and published in March 2012 titled, "The Social Impacts of Microlots: A Coffee Cooperative Case Study in Ihuamaca, Peru." The study aimed to measure the social impacts of microlot selection on members of the CENFROCAFE cooperative in five Peruvian communities where Counter Culture Coffee has purchased coffee over the last five years.
The hypothesis prior to the study was that microlot coffee production may have both positive and negative impacts on communities, with positive impacts including recognition for effort and a return on investment in quality and negative impacts including feelings of envy and competition among fellow community members. The study design aimed to clarify the elements of microlot coffee production that contribute to its success and the areas that need improvement. Data was collected through 13 semi-structured, open-ended, qualitative interviews with microlot-producing and non-microlot-producing members of the cooperative, two interviews with CENFROCAFE staff members who work in these communities, and one facilitated community meeting.
We examined common themes and differences among members, as well as among members and Cenfrocafe representatives. Both microlot-producing members and non-microlot-producing members expressed support for the program and its continuation. Price incentives and pride emerged as the primary motivators for exerting extra effort, and members unanimously feel supportive of the microlot achievement of other community members. At the same time, all members expressed a desire to see the program evolve to address some commonly-cited areas for improvement, including the cupping and scoring system used by CENFROCAFE and Counter Culture Coffee and the on-farm infrastructure required for production of high-quality coffee. CENFROCAFE's staff demonstrated even more positive feelings overall, with a desire to create more, similar opportunities for growers in other communities of members as a top priority.
Limitations of the study include: small sample size, lack of diversity among sample, consideration for cultural congruency of the research design, and the survey instrument. Recommendations for enhancements of the partnership between CENFROCAFE and members as well as for CENFROCAFE and Counter Culture Coffee are addressed. Suggestions for future research are explored with an emphasis on a more participatory approach and an additional focus on economic impact of microlots.
Kim Elena
In Durham, Counter Culture helped to cover the cost of fiber cellulose attic insulation to increase the climate efficiency of Nathan Brown's home.
Last year, our Sustainability Committee introduced the Counter Culture Employee Green Fund, which offers each employee the opportunity to apply for up to $500 a year in matching funds toward a personal sustainability-related project.
In November, I received matching support to help cover the cost of fiber cellulose attic insulation to increase the climate efficiency of my home – reducing the consumption of heating and cooling resources and costs.
The matching fund helped employees with a wide range of projects in 2011. Josh Dugue in Chicago bought a bike to rely less on a car for transportation. Ben Helfen in Atlanta bought an old-style, zero-emission push mower. In Asheville, Counter Culture co-funded Mary Christensen's worm composting and garden supplies.
Other projects included gym memberships, a high-efficiency washing machine, a rain-water garden irrigation system, home fitness equipment, and more. In its first year, the Green Fund contributed $2,266.01 in matching funds – a great start to the program. We'll keep you updated in 2012 as more projects arise.
POSTED IN: sustainability