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Photo: Dean’s Beans
A visit to growers in Peru.

A friend on the commuter train got me into buying the very delicious coffee of Dean’s Beans a couple years ago.

I was initially intrigued by the idea that you could create a special blend and name it for somebody as a gift. But I soon learned there was even more to admire about the way Dean and his company are raising the living standards of the farmers they work with in poor countries.

A recent email newsletter from Dean shows what I mean.

“Each visit to our farmer partners is an amazing experience. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always both a learning experience and a chance to go deeper into our quest to bring positive change to the world. My recent muddy, buggy, flood and storm delayed trip to Pangoa Coop on the slopes of the Peruvian Amazon was no exception. (Facebook photo album here!)

“Our 13 year-long reforestation project has resulted in huge forest tracts and more income for the farm families of Pangoa. Walking amongst the bird-filled, mixed-story forests towering over the coffee plants on the farms of Avelino, Rodrigo and Sabino, I am so humbled and thrilled to see where the farmers have gone with a little help from their friends.

“They have started in their nursery, planted and grown over thirty thousand hardwood trees through the program, and we are looking at twenty thousand more in the next two years. Their low-tech, highly productive bokashi composting program has helped farmers resist and overcome the devastation of La Roya (Rust fungus) in recent years. What amazing resilience!

“You can join us on a walk-through of this lush, healthy coffee forest on our Javatrekker YouTube Channel! …

“I have also been talking to Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center about including Pangoa in their Bird Friendly certification program.  We had several community meetings to explain the program. The farmers are totally into it and they will easily pass with flying colors (just look at the toucans and tanagers!). We are now arranging the inspector visits and have agreed to pay all of the administrative costs so that Pangoa can seamlessly integrate Bird Friendly certification into their portfolio of progress.

“Similarly, during meetings with CODEMU, their women’s organization, lots of women shared their success stories as the loan fund we got started ten years ago continues to support these hard working women. …

“Wow, am I blessed to have such a fulfilling and damned fun life!”

More here. Follow Dean on twitter @Deans_Beans.

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Back in the day, a regular on the kids’ television show Howdy Doody was a putative Indian called Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring. The last two seasons in her name were run together as if they were one word.

Lately, “WinterSpring” seems to be the right name for what we’re experiencing in New England. Here are a few pictures from my confused season.

There are four photos of the beautiful Boston Public Library. The hardest shot to get was a lion not surrounded by photographers and visitors posing for their picture. While I was at the library, I was delighted to hear the retired Massachusetts chief justice being interviewed by Boston Public Radio, which sometimes broadcasts from there. Margaret Marshall is perhaps best known for her reasoning in the case to make gay marriage legal in Massachusetts. My photo of her friendly wave did not come out.

The ornate clock suddenly appeared on Washington Street. I don’t recall seeing it in all the years I took walks in that neighborhood.

The 5-lb coffee bag will get us through any kind of WinterSpring.

Finally, I include a couple indoor shots of my living room in a welcome shower of sunlight and a couple pictures of grandchildren managing just fine in WinterSpring.

Caroline is fine and let me know what flavor you want there is vanilla, chocolate, coffee, pineapple, and I expect your response many thanks Caroline

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As a coffee drinker and a fan of Dean’s Beans (whose mission is “to use high-quality specialty coffee as a vehicle for progressive change throughout the coffeelands of Asia, Africa and the Americas”), I was interested to come upon a Living on Earth radio story about the wider sustainable-coffee movement.

Steve Curwood is host of the Public Radio International show.

“CURWOOD: A cup of joe might help sustain your energy, but it may not be so sustainable for the Earth. Just 12 percent of coffee is sold under the label ‘sustainably grown.’ A new initiative called the Sustainable Coffee Challenge aims to change the way the coffee industry operates to the benefit of the Earth. Peter Seligmann is chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Conservation International. … So tell me about the sustainable coffee challenge that CI has just formed. Why did you zero in on coffee as a target for sustainability?

“SELIGMANN: Well, we started working on coffee about 15 years ago with Starbucks, and after 15 years we’ve been able to announce with Starbucks that 99 percent of all their coffee is certifiably sustainably harvested and produced. Which means that as their company has grown they have not cut a single tree, and hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests have been set aside as Starbucks has expanded its coffee business. That inspired us to think, is it possible to make coffee the first agricultural commodity that is completely and 100 percent sustainably produced. …

“The dark side of coffee growing is that coffee that is not produced under the shade of forest, [is] produced by clear-cutting forests and planting coffee. And when you clear-cut a forest, you destroy the biodiversity, you put emissions — CO2 emissions — in the atmosphere, you lose soil, and you do industrial agriculture, which maximizes pesticides and chemicals and reduces the benefits to society.

“CURWOOD: So, what’s the obstacle to growing coffee sustainably?

“SELIGMANN: It’s convincing the producers that this is in their enlightened self-interest. To go from non-sustainable coffee to sustainable coffee requires an investment of money and it requires time. Most of these growers, farmers actually work in co-ops, and the challenge is getting the co-ops to agree that this is the transition they want to make from non-sustainable to sustainable and what’s going to motivate them is there being a buyer for the coffee they grow. And so it gets back to the consumer, and the consumer says it’s what we want.” Read on.

Photo: Martin Diepeveen, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Coffee beans are the pits inside the fruit or “cherry” of the coffee plant.

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Heifer Project is a charity founded by Dan West, “a farmer from the American Midwest and member of the Church of the Brethren who went to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker. His mission was to provide relief, but he soon discovered the meager single cup of milk rationed to the weary refugees once a day was not enough. And then he had a thought: What if they had not a cup, but a cow?”

Recipients of Heifer Project’s cows, chickens, pigs, and other assistance commit to giving the offspring of the donated animals to others in need. That way the giving grows and spreads.

Recently, Heifer Project has been helping poor farmers in Guatemala make enough from their cardamon crops to live on.

Editor Jason Woods, has the story in the nonprofit’s magazine, World Ark.

“Miguel Xo Pop farms his own plot of land. Everyone in the Sierra de las Minas depends on two crops, cardamom and coffee, to survive. Xo and his family are no different. Traditionally, the cloud forest’s climate helps the two plants thrive, but in the past few years a pair of plagues cut cardamom prices in half and reduced coffee income to nothing.

“Recently, Xo joined a Heifer International Guatemala project that will help him keep the pests away from his cardamom while adding more crops to his farm, but the project is still in its initial stages, gaining momentum. So for now, Xo spends a quarter of a year away from his wife and five kids to earn money.”

More on the lives of the farm families, here.

The reporter also describes how an altruistic businessman moved to a “double bottom line,” one that includes charity.

“A couple of years ago, McKinley Thomason was searching for a way to use his Nashville-based spice business to make a positive impact. After hearing about Heifer International’s burgeoning work with cardamom, he knew he had found his organization.

“Shortly after contacting Heifer, Thomason’s company, The Doug Jeffords Co., started donating 10 cents to Heifer Guatemala for every seasoning blend sold from their J.M. Thomason line. But Thomason’s passion for Heifer’s work in Guatemala moved him to do even more.

“Thomason has been acting as a project adviser to Guatemalan farmers, sharing his market knowledge and technical expertise in the world of cardamom. He is also making connections and introducing Heifer Guatemala to other like-minded spice companies that could support this or other projects.”

More at Heifer Project, here.

Photo: Dave Anderson

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The concept of paying it forward has been flourishing in Naples, at least with regard to buying a cup of coffee for someone who can’t afford one.

Recently, reporter Gaia Pianigiani interviewed Neapolitans about the “suspended coffee practice. Coffee shop customer Laura Cozzolino explained, “ ‘As a Neapolitan who tries to restrict herself to four coffees a day, I understand that coffee is important. It’s a small treat that no one should miss.’

“The suspended coffee is a Neapolitan tradition that boomed during World War II and has found a revival in recent years during hard economic times.

“From Naples, by word of mouth and via the Internet, the gesture has spread throughout Italy and around the world, to coffee bars as far-flung as Sweden and Brazil. In some places in Italy, the generosity now extends to the suspended pizza or sandwich, or even books. …

“In a time of hardship, Italians can lack many things, but their coffee is not one of them. So it may be the most common item left at many cafes, as a gift, for people too poor to pay.”

More at the NY Times.

Photo: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
Receipts are left to be claimed by those who are unable to afford a cup of coffee. 

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After Haiti’s devastating earthquake three years ago, money flowed in. Today many funders have retreated, but a 5,000-farmer coffee-growing coop is showing it can manage with guidance and small loans.

Daniel Jensen at Global Envision (a Mercy Corps blog) writes, “Root Capital is providing loans and consulting expertise to COOPCAB, a Haitian coffee co-op that markets its products internationally while investing money in local reforestation efforts that improve its own production. The cooperative, which has expanded six-fold under Root Capital’s guidance, now includes 5,000 members …

“Managing COOPCAB comes with its own set of challenges. Meeting them requires a model that creates local business leaders rather than simply employing foreign relief workers. Root Capital’s Willy Foote explains:

” ‘COOPCAB … is managed by local Haitian farmers with little formal training in financial management and accounting. … As a consequence, we’ve had to innovate and hone our business model in Haiti, slowing our lending in the short term while accelerating and deepening our financial advisory services program.’ …

“Soon, Haitian entrepreneurs may find new opportunities to replicate COOPCAB’s model, as [U.S.] Ambassador [Paul] Altidor has asked Foote to help advise formal policy decisions. Haitian minister of agriculture Thomas Jacques also plans to create a rice commission focused on increasing domestic production.” More.

Consider buying your coffee beans at COOPCAB and giving Haiti a helping hand.

Photograph: coffeeresearch.org

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Remember all the talk-show ridicule of the woman who sued McDonald’s and won big bucks for coffee that was too hot? Well, it turns out she was sitting still, she was badly burned, and McDonald’s had failed to correct the scalding temperature in spite of 700 complaints.

Now attorney Susan Saladoff, who believes that the tort-reform posse was defining the tone of the discussion, has made a movie countering the frivolous-lawsuits-run-amok mantra. She argues persuasively that lawsuits like the one in Hot Coffee protect the little guy from corporations run amok.

A review at American Prospect says, “no matter how many times the suit was used in Jay Leno monologues there was nothing funny about it. Liebeck [the complainant] was not careless, but spilled the coffee when she, as a passenger in a parked car, took the lid off the cup. The spill did not cause a trivial injury, but severe burns that required multiple operations and skin grafts to treat. McDonald’s, which served its coffee at 180 degrees [your home coffee maker is at 135 degrees], had received more than 700 complaints from customers, constituting a clear warning, but it nonetheless required its franchises to serve it at that temperature without warning customers.”

Stella Liebeck sued only after the medical bills overwhelmed her. Little of the settlement was left her after costs, and she didn’t live long to enjoy it.

More comments at AndrewSullivan.com.

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