The cinder-block hallways of the Americana Community Center are covered in colorful murals. The classroom that staff member Justine Brunett leads me into is bright and sunny, with huge windows and walls lined with bins and boxes of fabric and craft supplies. This is the home of the Americana FiberWorks program, an arts and educational group which offers refugee, immigrant and low-income women in Louisville an opportunity to come together around a common interest in fiber crafts to develop confidence, relationships and skills.
Participants in the program come from Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Congo, Mexico and Taiwan, usually 5-7 women at any given time. Some worked as seamstresses in their home countries and have sophisticated skills, and others come in knowing nothing. Some speak English, and others are just beginning to learn. At FiberWorks they learn sewing, dyeing, knitting and crochet, and get to practice their english skills in a friendly and low-pressure environment. Despite their diverse backgrounds, FiberWorks Coordinator Belissa Middleton describes it as an old-fashioned sewing-circle atmosphere, where all are welcome and support each other.
She acknowledges the challenge of teaching without words. Patience and good humor come in handy when bridging the language gap. The self-confidence that the participants are able to build through these interactions help them not only to learn a craft, but to integrate more easily into the Louisville community. There’s always food around, favorite dishes and snacks that the women bring to share. They talk about learning to drive in the US, about the challenges of motherhood, and navigating a new country. They recently hosted a seminar on the ins and outs of starting your own business, and often take time out of sewing to work on English homework. One of the participants recently had her own booth at the Islamic School of Louisville’s Craft Bazaar, Belissa tells me proudly with a broad smile; they’re thrilled that she overcame her shyness to branch out on her own.
The long work tables are unoccupied today; the week’s heavy rains and flooding have made transportation to the Community Center a challenge for many of the women. But Belissa is here, and happy to talk to me about one of Fiberworks’ latest projects.
For years Heine Brothers’ has sold the colorful, printed burlap bags that our green coffee comes in for $2 apiece, and then donated that money to The Center for Women and Families. But since we go through 1100 bags of green coffee each year, we still have quite an impressive pile of burlap sitting around the roastery!
Several months ago I approached Justine to see if they might be interested in working with some of our green coffee bags. They were happy to take a couple dozen bags from us to experiment with. The women were a bit skeptical at first, but soon started creating beautiful purses and bags using our burlap! This has given Heine Brothers’ an opportunity to be a part of one of the other benefits of the FiberWorks program: giving the participating women an opportunity to contribute financially to their families. Items that the FiberWorks crafters have created are for sale at 21C, Kaviar Forge, at local craft fairs and bazaars, as well as online via their Etsy Store.
And now you can purchase one of these beautifully transformed burlap bags at one of several Heine Brothers’ Coffee locations! Each bag comes with a tag that tells you a little about the woman who sewed it.
Heine Brothers’ is thrilled to be able partner with this excellent program. FiberWorks depends on donations of materials from the community. They are in need specifically of sewing machines, yarn, fabric, and thread. If you would like to learn more about the program and how you can get involved as a donor or volunteer, contact Belissa Middleton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the program, read bios of the women of FiberWorks, and see pictures of their work on the FiberWorks Blog.
This month we feature coffee from La FEM (Fundación Entre Mujeres, or Foundation Between Women), from Nicaragua. Based in Estelí, a state just east of Managua, the Foundation Between Women is a collective of tradeswomen, educators, and farmers whose one purpose is to empower and support women in what remains a largely male dominated culture.
In their own words, the women of La FEM believe in the right of women everywhere to be free from sexual and domestic violence. They promote reproductive rights and women’s health, protection of natural resources, and economic autonomy for all women. The scope of La FEM is wide, and includes women’s health initiatives, literacy projects, political organization, and economic development projects. Most members of La FEM support themselves and their families by growing coffee. They are also subsistence farmers, and have recently been developing trade schools for girls.
In about 2010, our Cooperative Coffees partner Just Coffee Coop from Madison, WI connected with La FEM, and were immediately struck by the strength and resourcefulness of the women, most of whom are single mothers. One of La FEM’s biggest struggles since their foundation in 1995 was building a reliable pipeline to the global coffee market. Just Coffee shared this story with Heine Brothers’ and other Coop Coffees members, and without hesitation we laid the foundation for a partnership with these farmers.
The ensuing years have been a struggle for the farmers and our relationship. As with all other coffee farmers in Central and South America, the women of La FEM have been hit hard by la roya. In 2013 the coffee leaf fungus reduced yields in Estelí by 50% to 60%. The crisis nearly broke the coop. With the 2014 harvest things appear to be turning around, both for quality and total production. We’re very pleased to offer one of the tastiest coffees we’ve purchased from La FEM since 2011. It is very smooth, with a medium body and little acidity. Overall, a nice clean coffee, that is nutty, a bit spicy, with a soft cocoa and cherry aftertaste. This makes a great breakfast coffee, or one that you could sip on all day.
For more on the organization called La FEM, check out the excellent video produced by our partners at Just Coffee Coop and Higher Grounds Trading Co.
Heine Brothers’ is proud to host the Cooperative Coffees Annual General Meeting here in Louisville this week! We have 50 people coming in to Louisville from all over the US and Canada to attend this meeting. There is a lot to get done – coffee cuppings, reviewing financials and board elections, discussing trips to origin, decision-making and next steps – but we’re going to make sure that they have a great time while in Louisville as well. Local businesses & events on the agenda are some of the best Louisville has to offer, including Garage Bar, the Muhammad Ali Center, Against The Grain, the Galt House, WFPK’s Waterfront Wednesday, the Green Building, Patrick O’shea’s, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, ReSurfaced, and more.
In 1999, Heine Brothers’ Coffee became a founding member of Cooperative Coffees, Inc., a member-owned importer of fairly traded and organically grown green coffee, with six other micro-roasters in the United States and Canada. Today Cooperative Coffees, Inc. includes 24 specialty coffee roasters located across North America. Over the last decade, Co-op Coffees has imported millions of pounds of coffee – all directly from small scale farmer cooperatives.
Heine Brothers’ and Cooperative Coffees are committed to supporting and partnering with small-scale, Fair Trade coffee farmers and their exporting cooperatives. By importing directly from farmer partners, Cooperative Coffees seeks to foster a more equitable system of coffee trade that directly benefits these farmers, their families and their communities.
Besides roasters, we’re also happy to have two coffee producers in town for the meeting:
- Antonio Ruiz of Maya Vinic in Chiapas, Mexico
- Mario Lopez of Las Marias 93 in El Salvador
Check out some of the Coop Coffees roasters that we’ll have in town this week!
- Peace Coffee – Minneapolis, MN
- Bongo Java – Nashville, TN
- Equator Coffee Roasters – Almonte, Ontario, Canada
- Desert Sun Coffee Roasters – Durango, CO
- Just Coffee Cooperative – Madison, WI
- Larry’s Beans – Raleigh, NC
- Sweetwater Organic Coffee – Gainesville, FL
- DOMA Coffee Roasting Company – Post Falls, ID
- Kickapoo Coffee – Viroqua, WI
- Conscious Coffees – Boulder, CO
- Cafe Campesino – Americus, GA
- Santropol – Montreal, Quebec, Canada
- Higher Grounds Trading Co. – Traverse City, MI
- Amavida Coffee & Trading Company – Santa Rosa Beach, FL
- Alternative Grounds – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- Third Coast Coffee – Austin, TX
- Bean North Coffee – Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
- Cloudforest Initiatives – St. Paul, MN / San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico
Alec Risch, head roaster here at Heine Brothers’, is currently in Peru! He’ll be meeting with CENFROCAFE, where we get a majority of our Peruvian coffee. He is particularly excited to visit Coyona farmers and their processing facility in Piura. They’ve been perfecting their natural processing for the past three years, and he’ll be there in time to see how they process, and cup coffees that we’ll be purchasing this fall. We bought a few bags from them in 2013 to try it out, and liked it so much we’re buying several more bags this season! Keep up with his trip on the Heine Brothers’ Instagram account.
About the coffee:
- Light Roast
- Full Body
- Well-balanced, velvety with hints of caramel, orange peel, and chocolate
- Roasted on a Loring SmartRoast at the Heine Brothers’ roastery in the Clifton neighborhood of Louisville, KY.
- Available for purchase in-store and online.
About the cooperative:
- Members: 550 producers
- Region: Cordilla Central, around the mountains for the Cauca departmento
- Harvest Season: May to July
- Growing Altitudes: 1300-1900 meters above sea level
- General Assembly: March and October
- Crop Diversification: Sisal, Beans, Tropical Fruits
From Cooperative Coffees:
The Paez (who also call themselves Nasa, or “the people”) is the largest indigenous group in Colombia. Their land is in the Cordillera Central – centered around the mountains of the Cauca departamento (state). Fondo Paez was founded in 1992, with the primary goal of recuperating traditional agricultural knowledge and indigenous culture which had been buried by centuries of conflict and oppression. Paez community leaders teamed up with Fundacion Colombia Nuestra, a Colombian-based non-profit, to start the “Recovering Agricultural Knowledge” program. The main cash crop of this region is still coffee, and, to ensure a stable income for their members, Fondo Paez organized community based coffee cooperatives. They became more organized, and, by 2000, they were selling coffee through the Coffee Federation’s Specialty Coffee program. In 2003, they produced seven containers of coffee, both conventional and organic certified.
They currently process, market, and export their coffee through the Federation, but are completely independent in their internal decision-making process. They are governed democratically and are extraordinarily well organized. They have been recently incorporated as an association in Colombia with its own legal identity.
Surprisingly, Fair Trade is still not widespread in Colombia. And even though Fondo Paez had been operating with Fair Trade practices, they did not receive their official FLO certification until 2005. Cooperative Coffees was instrumental in demonstrating to FLO (Fair Trade certifier in Europe) that a Fair Trade market existed in the U.S. for Fondo Paez coffee.
The organization provides technical assistance for quality control and organic production to its cooperative members. Fondo Paez then works with these primary cooperatives to collect coffee and transport it to a nearby beneficio (coffee mill) to be processed. The cooperative retains ownership of the coffee until it reaches the port. The coffee farmers are equal owners in the organization and receive not only the social benefits provided by Fondo Paez, but also retain a much higher percentage of coffee profits.
Fondo Paez is completely committed to the self-sufficiency of their people and have a holistic approach to farming. This is most evident on their farms. Coffee is only one of many crops that are incorporated into a diverse agro-forestry system. Food crops for their own consumption, feed crops for the farm animals, and nitrogen fixing plants for the soil are given equal importance to their cash crops: coffee, sisal, beans, and different tropical fruits.
The members of Fondo Paez have created a sustainable vision for their indigenous communities. This vision is remarkable in and of itself, but the work and successes of this organization are truly extraordinary when viewed within the context of Colombian politics and globalization. From Spanish conquest centuries ago to the armed conflict raging in their territory for the past 40 years, the Paez people have struggled for their lives, their land, and their right to self-determination.
Today is World Fair Trade Day! We’re celebrating by introducing our newest signature drink – the Fair Trade Mayan Mocha! Made with fair trade cocoa, sugar, cayenne, cinnamon, and espresso – now available at your neighborhood Heine Brothers’!
If you’ve followed Heine Brothers’ Coffee for any length of time you know how highly we value the Fair Trade system that we use to purchase coffee. Along with our friends and partners in Cooperative Coffees, we’re always looking for ways to strengthen the Fair Trade model, and make a real, positive impact on the lives of our producer partners. A perennial concern of coffee farmers is their ability to secure financing to reinvest in their farms, and pay for the harvesting, processing, and shipping of their crop.
Anywhere in the world, banks are hard-pressed to lend to small business owners. When those business owners are farmers living high in the mountains off a dirt road, with no electricity or running water, and their only collateral is 5 – 10 bags of unroasted coffee, purse-strings get pretty tight.
Enter NGOs and not-for-profit lenders like Grow Ahead. Grow Ahead began in 2012 as a partnership between Heine Brothers’ importing partner Cooperative Coffees and Progreso, a lending agency who serves an “under banked” demographic of Hispanics in the US. The Grow Ahead lending approach is unique in the way it connects farmers in developing countries with the end users of their crops. Coffee drinkers become the lenders by contributing to Grow Ahead for a specific producer group during a specific harvest cycle.
Similar to any other crowd-funding campaign, there is a specified time period in which Grow Ahead collects funds for the producer group. Funds are disbursed prior to the harvest season. Coffee is picked, processed, purchased, and shipped according to the usual schedule. When the coffee lands in the US warehouse the producer group repays the Grow Ahead loan. The Grow Ahead lender (aka coffee drinker) is then given the choice to: leave their money in the Grow Ahead system to pre-finance the next container of coffee, donate the funds back to the farmers to be used for special projects, or get the money back.
We’re really excited about this partnership between Grow Ahead and CENFORCAFE, one of our producer partners in northern Peru, because it’s the first opportunity we’ve had to share this consumer-producer lending model with you. We hope the first container of washed AA from CENFROCAFE that lands in September or October will be fully financed by coffee lovers who want a stronger connection to coffee farmers. We’re looking forward to taking this step in progressive coffee trade with Grow Ahead, Coop Coffees, CENFROCAFE, and you.
In January 2014, I traveled to Marcala, Honduras to attend a meeting hosted by Cooperative Coffees, our green coffee buying cooperative (Heine Brothers’ Coffee is a founding member of Cooperative Coffees). We invited (and covered the expenses for) representatives from our coffee farmer partners from all over Central and South America to join us for several days of meetings focused on the problem of leaf rust, or Roya as it’s called in Spanish. Roya is devastating coffee plants all over this part of the world. Roya is a naturally occurring fungus in coffee fields that found the perfect climatic conditions during the 2012-2013 growing season to reproduce in epidemic proportions. Roya attacks the leaves of the coffee plant, it’s primary source of photosynthesis. This not only affects the ripening of the current-season cherries, but can also cause the flowers of the following season to drop. Depending on the intensity of the infestation, Roya can kill a branch or the entire tree.
As Cooperative Coffees, we deal directly with the coffee farmers from whom we buy. We have been hearing for some time now that Roya was devastating coffee plants and causing a severe drop in the annual yield for many of these farmers. We decided that one way Cooperative Coffees could help would be to convene a meeting where where we would invite farmers from many different regions to share their experiences and, hopefully, successes in dealing with Roya.
We held our “Roya Summit” meeting at the headquarters of Cafe Organico Marcala (COMSA), a small-scale, farmer-owned cooperative in Honduras, who is having great success combating Roya using organic farming practices. COMSA is proving that, despite the claims of many coffee industry influencers, research institutes and government agencies who advocate aggressive use of chemical fertilizer solutions, organic farming practices can be used to combat Roya and produce bumper crops of prime quality organic coffee.
While in Honduras, our group of 65 people – coffee-farmer representatives and coffee roasters from Cooperative Coffees – toured the coffee farms of several COMSA members, visited COMSA’s impressive biodynamic farm, toured COMSA’s coffee processing facility and shared many outstanding meals prepared by our friends at COMSA.
I was highly impressed by COMSA’s commitment to their organic practices. COMSA’s organic promoter, Victor Contreras, spoke to our group about how important they believe it is to “create a model of agriculture that is in harmony with the laws of nature to feed and nurture the life energy in the soil.” And COMSA’s organic practices are proving highly successful in resisting and/or recovering from the current Roya crisis. The coffee plants I saw at COMSA were as healthy as any I have seen anywhere in the world. While there was some evidence of Roya, it was very minimal.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to spend 3 days in Honduras with such a committed group of coffee farmers and coffee roasters. We were able to unite and share information around the Roya crisis and recovery while also sharing ideas on coffee production, coffee quality and coffee price. The spirit of generosity and cooperation was strong. While we did not solve the Roya problem for any of these farmers, I know that many left encouraged by what they had heard and learned.
I came home from Honduras with a deeper understanding of the impact Roya is having on many coffee farmers and was reminded how hard these farmers work to make a living. And I came away with hope that the success the farmers at COMSA are having with their intense commitment to organics will have an impact on farmers in other parts of Central and South America. I also came away as proud as ever that Heine Brothers’ Coffee is a member of Cooperative Coffees. At the end of our meeting in Honduras, several farmers made a point of noting how unique it was that Cooperative Coffees had stepped up and done something to help them by hosting and financing this “Roya Summit” (when what they feel like they typically get is little or no help and/or empty promises).
This trip to Honduras also affirmed a few things that I have learned in 20 years in the coffee business. The difficulties that coffee farmers face are significant. Our commitment to buying their coffee directly from them at Fair Trade prices is not solving all of their problems or making all of their dreams come true. However, I can say with confidence that the relationships we’ve formed with many of these coffee farmers (some of whom we’ve been buying from for 13+ years) and the fact that we continue to be there year after year to deal directly with them on a Fair Trade basis is having a meaningful impact on their lives.
Mike Mays (co-owner) and Andrea Trimmer (Director of Operations) are off to Peru! They are leaving today to visit coffee farmers in Pangoa, where a majority of our coffee from Peru comes from. Once arriving in Lima, Mike and Andrea have a 12 hour van ride over the mountains (altitude of 15,000 feet!) to reach their destination. As a 100% Fair Trade coffee roaster and member of Cooperative Coffees, we regularly visit farmers from different cooperatives to see the farms, share a meal, and get to know how life is for the farmers. The additional money that Pangoa receives from fair-trade coffee goes towards educational loans, healthcare, and more. Stay tuned for pictures and stories from origin!
Fast Facts on CAC Pangoa
- Approx. 600 members
- Based in San Martin de Pangoa (450 km east of Lima; in central Amazon)
- Coffee grown between 1,100 and 2,000 meters
- Economic diversification: cocoa, honey, roasted coffee (domestic market), ecotourism
- FLO Certified since 2003
- Organic certified since 2002
Read more about Pangoa here!