RTF: Not Just the Coffee

This most recent visit was to the outstanding cooperative, Just Coffee Cooperative. The team behind Just Coffee has grown over the past ten years to create an economic business structure that supports the Madison community and the farmers who grow the coffee beans behind their full-bodied brew. Their company focuses on supplying coffee to the local food establishments in Madison, they’re also involved in a variety of events and they have a presence at local markets and Farmers’ Markets.

Just Coffee is not  only focusing on just coffee, they are establishing themselves within a movement that is shaping society through their efforts to bring fair trade and equal working opportunities to the farmers who provide many American’s with their early morning cup of joe. Meeting with Julia, a strong member of Just Coffee who spends much of her time abroad getting to know the farmers and helping them set up strong practices, I was able to see a small glimpse of all that Just Coffee is doing.

The economic model they are working hard to create involves a team of about seven people who are at the forefront of the collective, beyond that they have dedicated workers who make up the entire team of about 13 members. All of the invested people are using coffee as a vehicle for social change and they hope to truly make a difference.

             

Just Coffee receives parcels of coffee from South America, Africa and Asia. They work with small farmers who need support of equal working rights, who need to make enough money to survive. These farmers are hoping to become self sustainable  by developing  a market  in America. The Just Coffee team encourages the farmers to grow organic beans and to use farming practices that benefit the environmental, ultimately allowing them to offer a higher quality bean that can produce the outstanding Just Coffee sip.

    

Once the coffee beans arrive they are inspected, roasted, ground and bagged in their processing plant in Madison, Wisconsin. The coffee is immediately bagged or separated into bulk buckets and biked throughout the city. They deliver  to local food establishments and many Madison Farmers’ Markets, and to local grocery stores. These markets can request specialty blends  or create their own mixtures of the beans. A wealth of information is printed on the bag regarding the blend and the farmers behind each bean and bag.

The appearance of the bag is a true piece of artwork as Just Coffee chooses to work with many local artists when creating each bags logo and design. Many are focused on human rights and offer a visually appealing bag of coffee. The different blends have also been used to raise money for local fundraisers, raising awareness of the need for positive social change here, and around the world.

This is a small glimpse of the route their coffee takes when it travels from the farmer to your mug, and the positive impact Just Coffee Cooperative employees have been able to make during their ten years of business. Julia just took off with a one way ticket to La FEM in Nicaragua where she hopes to make a positive contribution working with a female cooperative of coffee growers. Keep a look out for many more posts about the social change and the big difference Just Coffee is making in the lives of independent farmers around the world.

All hail a GOOD cup of joe.

Amy Verhey

2012 Summer Food Warrior

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RTF: The First Acre goes ‘Back to the Start’

The First Acre Farm was discussed in the most recent blog post, RTF: The First Acre. Here is a look at the farm from Brian Schneider’s view point. The Scientist by Willie Nelson is used in order to reflect and honor the Chipotle commercial, Back to the Start, that was aired this past spring. Chipotle is choosing to be a role model for food chains by supporting sustainable farmers in each of their restaurants. To read more about that commercial and what it is doing for our food system look into a previous post of mine, An Approach Toward Educational Advertising.

RTF: The First Acre

Sustainability n: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. The word is heard often in today’s society  when discussing the current food movement that brings farmers and food producers together with consumers and restaurants. The societal movement behind food has a focus on living sustainably. But, what does sustainability really mean? The amount of times ‘sustainability’ is used when discussing food in certain circles makes it seem like a well-known adjective, noun, or verb, but not many really understand its cultural connection and deep roots. Perhaps it is worth while to take a moment and really look into what sustainability means, and how it  impacts our food system.

Slow Food – n: food that is prepared with care, using high quality local and seasonal ingredients. Slow Food has grown throughout international communities to uphold the definition above. ‘Slow Food’ incorporates the idea of creating wholesome good meals that stem from pure ingredients that are locally sourced. The people behind a food movement like this enjoy the culture that is deeply associated with Slow Food and work as activists behind such a cause, WOOFing, AmeriCorps, Food Corps, Peace Corps and student organizations alike all follow the same ideas and build on the idea of being sustainable. These organizations, along with Slow Food chapters across the United States are working to develop practices that lead to a healthier and more sustainable world. They all dedicate their work towards agricultural maintenance and preservation of the food system and they each have an educational component as well.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison is one of the first higher education institutions to join the push for better food with their campus Slow Food chapter, Slow Food UW. Here  a group of energetic and passionate students are striving to bring locally sourced food to the 50,000 plus students and professors that roam campus. There are five separate projects, each geared toward different missions, they range from volunteer work with the local Boys and Girls club, to cooking demos in the freshman dorms, to weekly dinners and café lunches.

Along with Slow Food UW, F.H. King Student Farm holds a strong presence on the campus with their community farm on the far end of campus. Their offering, Harvest Handouts provides free produce in the heart of the U.W. Madison campus every Friday afternoon. The students behind F.H. King follow the goals and dreams of agricultural god, Franklin Hiram King himself. This group of students honor F.H. King’s research and theories behind community supported agricultural systems.

These two organizations affords students the opportunity to uphold the deep roots of sustainability while having an irreplaceable experience and making real connections. Two recent graduates from the University of Wisconsin traded their books in for a handful of farming tools and came together to put all their advocacy work to good use. They stopped talking about how our food system should change and got their hands dirty. Brian Schneider and Darin Ripp of Slow Food UW and F.H. King respectively, are the proud owners of The First Acre Farm, a vegetable garden that resides on just about one acre of the Fountain Prairie Farm land.

  

    

The First Acre Farm is a few months into their first growing season and their produce is making its way through Madison and the Wisconsin farmers markets. At the beginning of August, after a few weeks of no rain they were able to offer a variety of kale, swiss chard, an variety of herbs, watermelon and cucumbers, and much more is on the way, their list of produce includes roughly 40 different organic fruits and vegetables.

These two young men want to make an impact on the food system and offer a food product that they believe in and that they would be proud to consume. They are using the educational knowledge and life experiences gained thus far on their organic farm and they farm with environmentally sound and  sustainable practices. The American Meat documentary claims that there is a need for 4 million people to start farming sustainably so we can make a real difference and reverse the damage done on our food system by corporate commodity farmers. This means there is a strong push for young farmers to pick up a hoe and start combing through the dirt. Brian and Darin are helping to reduce the deficit  by opening  The First Acre Farm. They’re incorporating organic, sustainable farming practices on their farm.

Brian and Darin are living sustainably and sharing the fruits of their labor with their friends, family and their growing customer base. They are taking it one step at a time and they’re doing whatever they can to support a vibrant and healthy food system. Sustainability can be daunting for just one person but choosing to live a certain way in your daily life and sharing that experience with others is the first step to sustainable living. Does creating a sustainable community define the true meaning behind being sustainable, not only understanding what it really means to be sustainable but to actually embrace and engage the community in the practice? Here at U.W. Madison students are getting first hand experience with sustainable living and they’re taking the practices out into the world with them.

All hail sustainability.

Amy Verhey

Summer Food Warrior 2012