We encourage you to think about how you will report on and evaluate your project at the same time that you design the project. Click here for an example of how you could report on your project after its completion. Covering some of the key topics you'll see there is more important than the actual format you choose.
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Sunday, December 16, 2012 - 4:10pm
We're proud of all of the competitors at this year's Southeast Regional Barista Competition (SERBC) for elevating the craft of coffee. We're honored to have so many talented folks representing our coffees, as well. And, we are especially thrilled that Lem Butler won the SERBC Barista Competition and Jonathan Bonchak won the Brewers Cup.
Lem and Jonathan will advance to US Barista Championship and Brewers Cup in Boston in April 2013. Congratulations and thanks for all of your hard work!
POSTED IN: regional events
Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 11:20am
Our Fourth Project: The Social Impact of Microlots
San Ignacio, Peru
San Ignacio, Peru
This project was slightly different, as it involved yours truly, a contracted consultant at the time, helping to formalize a study and lead and analyze the research on the social impact of microlots. Together, Cenfrocafe cooperative and Counter Culture Coffee were able to gain greater understanding of the producers' and cooperative's perceptions of microlot production, and their hopes for the future. (Cenfrocafe brings us our Valle del Santuario and La Frontera coffees.)
The hypothesis prior to the study was that microlot coffee production may have both a positive and negative impact on communities. The positive impact on cooperative members could be felt by a sense of ownership of their product and a return on investment, while the negative impact could potentially be feelings of envy or competition that quality coffee production promotes among non-microlot members.
Data was collected through 13 semi-structured, open-ended, qualitative interviews with microlot and non-microlot members, two with promotores who work in these communities, and one facilitated community meeting with about 65 cooperative members. A few common themes emerged from the interviews, especially with regard to improvements that they believe would help more farmers produce microlots more consistently from year to year. Many growers requested greater definition of which coffee varieties to plant for better cup quality, and others noted a need for better coffee-drying infrastructure – namely, raised beds under plastic tarps. In general, producers did not have a sense of envy for their neighbors who received the microlot premium. Rather, the non-microlot recipients were excited for the microlot recipients and simply desired increased knowledge as to how they too could receive the premium.
Counter Culture and Cenfrocafe also agreed that more recognition of top producers – outside of the price premium – would serve an intangible but significant motivational purpose. We will work together on some form of reward or recognition for 2012.
While Counter Culture has had similar conversations with producers before, we now have a whole new lens through which to examine them and develop strategies together. We were especially grateful to Teodomiro Melendres and Sergio Ramirez, the 2 promotores from CENFROCAFE who helped to carry out and analyze the responses from their cooperative members. Overall, producers were excited for the opportunity to share their opinions and shed light on their experiences. The cooperative is in the planning stages of how they will use the report to inform long-term action to encourage and manage microlot coffees among their members.
If you're interested in more details about the project, you can read the full study here. And, Michael Sheridan of the renowned Borderlands project wrote a review of Counter Culture's microlot study here.
'Til next week,
Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 3:35pm
Our Fourth Project: Professional Series with Growers
Multiple growers and associations from Central America
Meeting in Honduras
Multiple growers and associations from Central America
Meeting in Honduras
In July 2011, coffee buyers Tim Hill and Kim Elena Ionescu gathered around 20 growers and co-op representatives from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala for a two-day workshop in Honduras. The event was comprised of presentations and discussions on topics including experimentation, soil fertility, compost production, variety separation, post-harvest processing, and trends in the consumer market. Participants had the opportunity to learn from one another in person, rather than having to hear anecdotes or conduct isolated research. The class size was kept small, and the material was taught and discussed in the growers' native language.
Our hope is to hold more professional series with growers in the future as, at the end of their time together, growers suggested follow up gatherings and spoke of the benefits of forming a committee to continue sharing best practices. These sorts of series are mutually beneficial, like many of our projects. As Kim Elena said: "I feel confident that, in addition to encouraging practices that increase productivity and improve quality, this event demonstrates Counter Culture's commitment to our partners and will in turn strengthen their commitment to us as a buyer." Read more about her take on the experience in the Origins section of our website.
Don't just take our word for it, here's what Sonia Vasquez from the Honduran cooperative COMSA, one of the attendees, had to say about the series:
It was important to come together with other Honduran organizations and those from other countries to talk about important topics and new technologies for organic agriculture. This motivated us to try various experiments to improve the quality of our coffees, ultimately achieving the sale of more than 40 microlots of producers from different regions. We have also trained technical staff and producers on topics like cupping coffee with the goal of orienting them about ways to improve their quality …. We are now starting a study and documenting the experience of 8 farms of producers from COMSA about 'The application of organic agriculture technologies to improve the coffee cup quality.'
This spring, we hope to collaborate on a similar professional series in Ethiopia which will focus entirely on organic agriculture. More on this venture soon!
'Til next week,
Thursday, November 29, 2012 - 10:22am
Our Third Project: Trainer for Sound Agricultural Practices
We are entering the second year of a three year cycle on this project. The funds are dedicated to an agricultural trainer. The CODECH cooperative – which produces our Concepción Huista coffee – chose to use the trainer this past year to focus on improving microlot coffee production. To do so, the trainer visited small producers and trained them in harvesting, recognizing plant maturity, and storing coffee in parchment. Approximately 1,500 members of the cooperative participated, including 350 women.
For the year ahead, the cooperative has set new goals for the trainer. They hope to have her focus more on cooperative organization, as well as workshops for women on reproductive health and gender empowerment. We look forward to continued follow up as this project enters its second and third years.
Here's what two cooperative members who worked with the trainer this year had to say about the support:
"Participating in the workshops helped me understand more about the coffee market. It also helped me better understand the wet milling of coffee. I can now count on my coffee export knowledge, and I know where my coffee is sold and what importers and coffee consumers expect." – Don Marcos de Marcos
"Participating in the workshops allowed me to know more about the management coffee farms need in order to produce more coffee. I also now know that the coffee harvest at this altitude should give a better coffee profile. Before, I did not know that coffee should be harvested at a certain point to maintain quality and that the pulpers needed to be cleaned every day so as not to continue cross-contamination." – Señora Ana Maria Cota
Within the coffee department, we continue to believe that the support of trainers, agronomists, and technicians on the ground is invaluable for cooperatives. Producers are able to get one-on-one attention from experts to learn more about best practices for their particular situation. They strengthen their own production, thus the whole cooperative benefits, and the buyer is even more interested in the cooperative. It's a win-win situation!
'Til next week,
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 9:08pm
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!
POSTED IN: organic
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 5:11pm
Seeds is an acronym that stands for Sustaining Environmental and Educational Development at Source. 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. 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.
Our Second Project: Activity Field Adjacent to a School
In 2011, we were approached by a longtime partner of ours, Roberto Salazar, who had a vision for his community. Together, nearby producers had often talked about their desire to have a community space where people could gather. Initially, the community board came together to discuss the added value of an activity field.
The goal was to provide a safe space for youth to gather and to encourage substance abuse prevention through providing an alternative activity. Once all were in consensus, they began to plan. They agreed to contribute a large monetary amount on their own for the success of the project and then reached out to Counter Culture.
Activity "fields" in Latin America are often made out of poured concrete, much like a basketball court. Here people gather to play all manner of sports, most popular being soccer and volleyball. I suppose some of the rational for cement playing fields is that they are often in very rainy areas, so, while it may be slightly painful if you were to fall and scrape yourself, it’s preferable to sinking in the mud while trying to beat your competitor!
Now that the field has been built, it has been well-used. The youth of the area come out often to play sports. When adults in the community see their activities, they are also inspired and often join in or simply use the field as a meeting space. The community leadership let us know that they feel pleased about the field’s ability to contribute to the physical and emotional well being of the community.
Stay tuned for the next installment in our updates on Seeds projects!
'Til next time,
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 1:29pm
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
San Ignacio, Peru
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.