Let's Drink: An Introduction
We are thrilled to welcome our newest contributor and coffee expert, Mallory! Mallory works, by day, at a bottle shop in Portland, Oregon and spends her evenings cooking, laughing, and drinking wine. The remainder of the week she can be found "writing," i.e., locked in her room, tossing crumpled sheets of paper behind her, intermittently pecking keys, and staring for long hours out the window contemplating human empathy, Annie Dillard's version of quantum physics, and the absurd mystery of our existence.
Hi! I’m Mallory, and this is Let’s Be Fair’s coffee series!
Coffee represents daily routine for millions of people. For some it’s the iconic beverage propelling the day forward and for others it’s the hot, sunny day labor that (hopefully) puts food on their families’ tables. The web that separates consumers from farmers is one that tangles more than just geographical and emotional distance; it is socially, politically, economically, and historically complex. In short: overwhelming.
While reviewing coffee, I’m also going to attempt to explore some threads of this coffee labryinth. Banking on that old saying “Knowledge is power,” I hope this exploration puts us in a greater position of influence, allows us to make more informed decisions, and leads us to a greater appreciation for coffee and the people growing it. If you have anything you’re curious about, please let me know!
Without further ado, I’m very excited to present our first team of coffee lovers:
Based out of North Hollywood, Groundwork was founded on sustainable business practices way before it was cool. The company opened its first roastery and retail space in Venice, CA, in 1991, the same year L.A.’s first Starbucks popped up on La Cienega Blvd. According to its website, Groundwork was “one of the first certified organic coffee roasters in California” and its “sustainable, relationship-based, organic coffee sourcing set an industry standard.” Sweet.
Twenty-five years, six locations, and a merge or two later, Groundwork now has its hands in importing, roasting, and wholesaling, as well as providing coffee to the backlots of Hollywood, and distributing across the country. But how well, I wondered, over the last quarter-century, has Groundwork maintained its sustainable heart? I sent an inquisitive email to any Groundwork human who would respond. To my surprise and pleasure, Jeff Chean, Groundwork’s “Chief Coffee Guy,” responded with sincerity that made me want to bath in Groundwork’s coffee forever. Along with the certification, I’m excited to say that Groundwork carries, just as boldly now as before, the entire heart of fair trade. Its multi-tiered business model allows Groundwork to engage this heart in tangible ways throughout every sector of the supply chain.
Because, as Jeff put it, “changing the world for the better begins at home and radiates from there,” Groundwork partners with dozens of organizations every year to meet the needs of their immediate community. The company has organized food drives, clean-up projects, and fundraisers. Recently Groundwork partnered with Downtown Women’s Center by assisting the participants in job training, opening a café, and creating a market for their handmade products. Sustainable business also means being a responsible steward of resources, which is why Groundwork recently installed solar panels on its warehouse and developed an acclaimed state-of-the-art coffee roaster that has one of the lowest carbon footprints around. Groundwork also donates what could become waste (used grounds, burlap sacks, coffee bean chaff, etc.) to local beekeepers and architects (I’ll leave you guessing).
Moving overseas, Groundwork’s relationship with coffee growers extends from respect and fair pay to a dignified partnership in which the Groundwork team works to empower farmers based on specific needs of each coffee farm, co-op, or region. In Ethiopia, Groundwork recently partnered with Good Neighbors to fix 22 broken wells in a farming community in Sidama (i.e. clean water). In Guatamala, Groundwork is teaching growers to roast and assess the quality of their own coffee while helping them strategize a retail brand, open a café, and develop healthy relationships with U.S. importers (i.e. larger profit margin). In Indonesia, Groundwork is helping farmers replace commercial grade coffee with specialty coffee so they can enjoy specialty coffee’s added premiums (i.e. living wages). In Peru, Groundwork is working with the government’s trade office to promote Peruvian coffee in the US market (i.e. better opportunity).
I could keep going.
What refreshed me most about Jeff’s transparency was that he was both passionate and realistic. With coffee production sustaining the livelihood of 25 million families, making decisions that influence one, or even a couple hundred families, still creates only a tiny ripple in a massively flawed system. But instead of being naïvely deluded or overwhelmingly discouraged, Groundwork continues to work hard, even if only because, as Jeff says, “it’s just the right thing to do.”
And, honestly, these ripples, though tiny, are what collectively keep the world above water. Because in the words of Dr. Steve Maraboli, “Every single time you help somebody up, you are helping humanity rise.”
So. Now that we know what Groundwork is about, I will be back next week to talk about their coffee!!