protest, Serious Shit

Gaining Ground, A Book Report

This is a picture that came up when I searched 'dirty old Wells Lamont chore gloves'.

I don’t know why a picture of Mia Farrow comes up when I search ‘dirty old Wells Lamont chore gloves’, but it does.

Winter was  tough on the farm. Most mornings Mom would struggle to rustle us from sleep. It would begin gently enough with a song and a gentle carress. Then it would move to a ‘Let’s go’ shout up the stairs, which would lead to the blanket snatch leaving a spastic boy flopping into the fetal position to escape the cold air.

In the basement we would slip our hands awkwardly into two pairs of old Wells Lamont chore gloves. Zip up a sweater and jacket, pull on a stocking cap and cinch down the hood. Feet – clad in two pairs of heavy socks – were jammed into old rubber boots.

Gripping the doorknob, your hands would slip a bit before it would turn, a crunch of frost in the doorjamb, and with that you  plunged into the cold. And while chores were about the last thing I wanted to do nearly every single day, once outside, it all seemed to melt.

There’s a stillness once it gets in the range of -10˚where sound seems to slow down. The putt-putt of the milk pump as Dad slipped machines onto the cows barely even made it to the house just a 100 feet away.

My mind was flooded with similar memories while reading ‘Gaining Ground’ by Forrest Pritchard, the story of how the author saved his family farm through a combination of persistence and ignorance, optimism and good humor. The story tracks his lurch against the grain to make small, family farming work in a world dominated by industrial-scale ag.

Continue reading

Serious Shit

Honestea isn’t…

So there’s this thing called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. For all collective purposes, it looks like one of those NAFTA-styled free trade agreements that are supposed to support globalization and reduce barriers to trade. But in practice it’s more like a corporate/industrial-ag grab for continued growth on the backs of the poor. Plus all negotiations are taking place behind closed doors and then there are slimy folks who are trying to pass a bill that will allow them to fast track this bad boy.

You should all go here and sign this to oppose it and read more about it. I don’t have time to write it up or explain it completely, but you get my meaning. Sign this, then come back here. 

Continue reading

petpeeve, Serious Shit

On sustainable communications

‘Resource scarcity will become a major factor for our world so we all have to accelerate the pace of our commitment. Which is why we’ve adopted an approach we call…’

I stole this image from the movie Mars Attacks that another blogger used in talking about a similar subject. You can find her post here.

For communicators working in the competitive field of sustainability, there is a constant war of words, a proliferation of jargon, as we jostle for funding opportunities and unique ways to express how what we do is better and more effective than the other sloths.

Hence the humble word ‘training’ has become capacity building, which can morph into an on-the-ground train-the-trainer approach, before winding up as locally-owned participatory skills development. And so it goes, a never-ending proliferation that can leave even the most astute reader cross-eyed and ready to slit their wrists.

Continue reading

beefjerky, duh, Serious Shit

Insult to injury in the world of coffee

Google result when you search ‘Worst coffee website ever’

Don’t mind this link. It’s just the worst website ever on some crappy news site, but the headline ‘Coffee prices fall after bumper crop‘ caught my attention.

So back in January the whole of Central America, Peru and Colombia exploded with an infestation of leaf rust, a fungus that sweeps through coffee farms, strips trees bare, and leaves spindly zombie bushes that are shadows of their former selves. Which is bad. For you. If you’re completely dependent on coffee for income – as most farmers are in countries where coffee is grown.

But then out of nowhere Brazil comes up with a predicted bumper crop in a supposed off-season prompting the bookies setting the futures at the NY ICE to lower coffee prices further. So what you have here is a textbook case of salt being heaped into a gushing wound. While some of the finest coffees of the world come out of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the whole gang, there’s no income if there’s nothing to sell.

And it’s cool because all sorts of people are rallying around to help coffee farmers improve things. There’s this great Roya Recovery Project, the International Coffee Organization is up to some good things, and of course Fairtrade International is putting together  funding proposals and dong trainings, and the folks at Fair Trade USA have jumped on the bandwagon as well.

Now I apologize as I will get a bit cynical here. But what is it when we’re okay with it if farmers are struggling to cover  basic costs of production and can’t even afford a full meal everyday for their families. But then if  production falls and we can’t get the special coffees we so richly desire, suddenly it’s an international crisis.

No doubt it is a crisis as this is destroying people’s only livelihood in many cases. But what if folks in these communities weren’t completely dependent on coffee? What if there was a local economy beyond the coffee monoculture, maybe this crisis wouldn’t be so bleak? Or maybe the price of coffee ought to not only cover costs, but also extra so people can invest in improving their plots and fixing things up. But with prices as they are, even if these farmers had a full harvest, that wouldn’t happen.

So this stinks.

But there’s hope and people doing cool work out there. People like Coffee Kids, Food 4 Farmers and others who have the uncanny ability to look beyond coffee and see that people need options. People who understand that the future of coffee is dependent on people having choices. So maybe you should go over there and give whatever extra you would pay for a really fancy coffee to them to do their work.

hell, Holy crap, protest, Serious Shit

Can I just get a crappy coffee, please?

It’s been two weeks without coffee. And it’s not been too bad. Then I read this “The 10 Most Annoying Coffee Trends.” So if you skip ahead to #8, you get to the heading of ‘Sky-High Coffee Prices.’

There’s a strange selfish pride in the statement, “Sorry I am not paying more for a cup of coffee than I do for a gallon of gas.” And it usually comes from folks who grew up on Folgers (not that they’re necessarily bad people). Working in coffee and around coffee and drinking coffee, it’s difficult to hear these things and not get annoyed.

There are commodities. Things like wheat, soy beans, corn. Hundreds of acres handled by a single farmer, a hired hand and some farm equipment. And then there’s coffee, right up there among the others with people unwilling to pay more than a few cents per cup, because, well only numbskulls would pay more for coffee than gas! Flour is cheap. Corn is cheaper.

But coffee isn’t like these other things. Continue reading

drinking, Serious Shit

A world without coffee

imagine a world without coffee

Coffee Kids is celebrating their 25th Anniversary. As part of it, they’re asking their friends, fans, donors, and accomplices to imagine a world without coffee. And it really comes down to this.

Without healthy, local economies, food security, education, and the other opportunities so many of us are used to, coffee farming families struggle year after year to make ends meet – even if they are doing Fairtrade/Direct Trade/or some variation of the sort. Coffee Kids works with coffee-farming communities to make this right.

By supporting local initiatives outside of coffee in economic diversification, health care, education, and food security, Coffee Kids and their partners help build up communities, which ultimately results in better coffee for you and a better quality of life for them.

I didn’t really drink coffee before I started working at Coffee Kids. But soon I was drawn into the whole excitement of barista championships – I’d follow the cover barista from Barista Magazine on Twitter when each new issue dropped in the mail, I started veering into thinking about the grind and water temperature, I tried to apply the even 35 lbs of pressure that Bill Fishbein said I needed to make a good espresso. I’m not close to as wonky as I should be, but I keep trying.

By the time I left Coffee Kids for Fairtrade International, I was regularly imbibing. And it was great. I continued drinking coffee daily. My lovely, ladyfriend taught me how to properly use a moka pot I found on the curb to make some delicious things. I sought out specialty roasters in my area. And so I was on my way.

Now, to take this in a different direction, as a former Catholic (I officially renounced all religion partially because of German tax laws), I still like the idea of Lent. It’s time for reflection and investigating your habits. Learning to be mindful. So this year I decided to give up caffeine.

And I’m going to try and keep up more regularly on this blog and focus on coffee and what the world would be like without it. So this one is for the gang at Coffee Kids. Go take a look, donate a few shekels to them and appreciate your morning cup. Because I won’t be able to for a while.

duh, protest, Serious Shit

Du hast ein Gewehr?!

This picture comes up if you Google search ‘Gun Fun.’ There are other great ones too, but I’ll let you find that on your own.

It carried through to morning breakfast.

“Really, you have guns?” Edgar would say shaking his head.

The incredulous look would reprise during conversational lulls. And given my limited German vocabulary, conversational lulls were regular throughout this visit to a friend’s family farm in rural Germany.

Raversbeuren is eight kilometers up the steep valley of the Mosel River. Ascending through the forest on my bike, I eventually broke through to expansive rolling fields of wheat and hay interspersed with stands of forest. It looked a little bit like the hills just past Dubuque, Iowa, and in the evening light after six hours in the saddle, it felt like home.

I pulled into the farm and was immediately overwhelmed by nostalgia. My friend’s parents reminded me of my own as they griped over the number of broken machines in the barn and the price of milk, and lamented the departure of their children to the city – no one staying to take over the farm.

That night – after going over the basics of who I was, where I was from, how many brothers I have, etc. – we got on the subject of the recent shootings in the US. I relayed the fact that my family owned four guns (three shotguns and a rifle). I tried to properly convey the subtle nuances of people and their relationship with firearms in the US.

But it didn’t really work.

“Wirklich? Vier Gewehre?” Continue reading