Fundraising with Level Ground: We are all in this together

Written by Steven Metzger of Hudson's Hope, BC

I really enjoy doing Level Ground fundraising sales in my town, not only for the funds raised and the great products delivered, but also because the sales connect me and my community to growers and producers in other far away parts of the world. Sales are easy – buyers love Level Ground products – and my profits support the Friends of Hudson’s Hope.

The Friends of Hudson’s Hope operates our local thrift store and food bank in Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia. At Christmas time they provide holiday hampers to senior citizens and others in need. They arrange transportation for people who must travel for medical appointments but don’t have their own transportation. All of their services are an integral part of what makes our small, isolated town the wonderful place that it is, and Level Ground sales support these services.

Sales are easy, buyers love Level Ground products!
— Steven Metzger, Fundraising Customer

But the sales are more than a local event. In this sale I have orders for products from Columbia, Congo, Tanzania, Peru, Uganda, and India – and I know there will be others. These sales show how we interconnected – a concept called interbeing by Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and author.

A mother who shops at the Thrift Store to clothe her children, and my friend who buys 2kg of sugar for use in making bread are both connected to a grower in Columbia, and to all of the people, insects, and equipment that are needed to allow that grower to produce the sugar. Everyone and everything involved in producing the wheat, milk, salt, and yeast that go into the bread are also connected through this sugar buyer to the grower in Columbia, and to everything connected to that grower.

I could continue the connection web forever, but my point, I hope, is clear. We are all connected through the simple act of purchasing a bag of coffee, tea, fruit, or sugar, and Level Ground is the glue. The web that connects a sugar producer in Columbia to a baker and a mother shopping for clothes in Canada grows and grows.  It goes on and on and on. We, all of us, all of everything, “inter-are.”

Do you want to start fundraising with Level Ground Trading?

Contact Bethany or click here for more information! 


How much caffeine is in decaf coffee?

How much caffeine is in decaf coffee?

Level Ground Decaf Coffee goes through a natural water process that results in a cup that is 97+% decaffeinated.

This means that there is anywhere from .8-3 mg of caffeine per serving rather than the traditional 40-100 mg depending on extraction method and volume.


How is the coffee decaffeinated? 

Our decaf coffee starts out as the same amazing Colombian coffee that you know from the brown Level Ground package (the one with Jaime's smiling face).  The difference is that once the Colombian green coffee is ready for export, the beans that are destined for decaf are sent to DESCAFECOL (a Colombian company).  Why decaffeinate in Colombia? Our intention is to provide as much value to the country of origin as possible.   We think one of the reasons our decaf tastes so amazing is that the green coffee is going through the decaffeination process so soon after harvest - super fresh beans.

DESCAFECOL uses a special combination of pure water and ethyl acetate (EA) which allows for a gentle caffeine extraction from the coffee bean.

EA may sound like a scary chemical, but in fact it is obtained from natural sources like sugar cane (which grows in Colombia). EA can also be found in many natural products including fruits, vegetables, and coffee. 

Once the decaffeinated coffee arrives here at Level Ground, we roast and package and then we sleep well knowing we've given you less caffeine in your cup.

The following is a diagram of the process, courtesy of DESCAFECOL.




Fair Trade, Free Trade: Similar in Name Only

This post was written by Rachel L. Spence of the Fair Trade Federation. The original post can be found on their website here.

The Fair Trade Federation is a community of like-minded businesses based in the U.S. and Canada that are committed to 360° fair trade. Our 360° fair trade approach is about building long-term partnerships with artisans and farmers and striving to create positive change through all of our work.

During this election season “free trade” and “fair trade” have become topics of interest and debate, both on the front pages and in the minds of voters and consumers. Due to the similarity of the phrases there is often confusion and misunderstanding about their meaning. It is common to hear the terms used interchangeably or to hear the phrase “fair trade” in contexts unrelated to the fair trade movement.

The objectives and approaches to free and fair trade are illustrated in the descriptions and chart below. We hope this information helps guide tricky conversations and combat ongoing misperceptions. 


Free trade has played a major role in countries’ trade policies and the international trading system for the past few decades. Free trade is guided by government policies and agreements, such as the divisive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a transnational trade agreement between 12 nations in the Asia-Pacific and Americas. Free trade and free trade agreements (FTAs) focus on lowering tariffs, quotas, and regulatory barriers to trade between countries. Free trade does not focus on the equitable distribution of wealth. Rather, free trade agreements often reduce preferential policies for specific countries and industries, with the stated goal of improving the overall economic growth of participating nations.


The fair trade movement is an approach to development in which businesses partner with artisans and farmers to create more equitable trading relationships. Fair trade organizations are guided by overarching principles that seek to empower marginalized producers and improve the quality of their lives. The fair trade movement is driving change through ensuring living wages and safe working conditions in disadvantaged areas of the world as well as empowering the communities with long-term commitments and relationships. The Fair Trade Federation supports the 360° fair trade approach, in which our member companies focus on creating positive change – socially, environmentally, and economically – throughout their entire business.

Roastmaster Josh (right), shares a laugh with our farming partners in Ethiopia.

Roastmaster Josh (right), shares a laugh with our farming partners in Ethiopia.

Meet Tenzing.


Tenzing is a small-scale tea grower in Assam, India. He's committed to organic tea cultivation because he's seen the impact of chemicals first-hand. Tenzing tells a story of a labourer in a tea garden with a spray pack, full of chemicals.  The container started to leak onto the labourer's neck. The labourer urgently took off his shirt to rinse in a nearby pond. As he rinsed the shirt, fish died and floated to the pond's surface. Upon witnessing this event, Tenzing committed to organic tea production!

Since converting to organic, Tenzing has become a role model. He educates and promotes organic cultivation in his region. His passion is spreading so that more of his neighbours are working in a chemical-free environment, producing healthy tea! 

We love that smile!  

We love that smile!  

Level Ground staff, Wyn, shares a laugh with Tenzing at his home in Assam.

Level Ground staff, Wyn, shares a laugh with Tenzing at his home in Assam.

Meet Dissanayake.

The minimum farm-gate price has assured us of real value for our hard work. We now have some extra money to invest in our dwellings and my family.
— Dissanayake

Dissanayake and his family grow rice and spices on an 1.25 acre plot of land in  Alutgama, Yatawatte, Sri Lanka. 

His biggest challenge? "The adverse weather. We do not have irrigation channels and have to depend on the rain and ground water. During the dry season, the ground water resources tend to dry-up and then we have to abandon our farming".

Through the work of Ethical Inspirations, Dissanayake was able to sell his spices at a fair price.

Peppercorns ... coming soon!

Peppercorns ... coming soon!

Dissanayake in his backyard spice garden.

Dissanayake in his backyard spice garden.

The Faces of Fruandes.

Workers at Fruandes cut, sort and dry the mangoes.

Fruandes was founded in a time when Colombia was experiencing serious upheaval with many internal refugees moving to large cities in hopes for safety from armed conflict in the rural areas.  Embedded in the heart of Fruandes was a commitment to employ women who had been displaced by violence in their rural homes and had come to Bogotá to start a new life.  

Fruandes now employees 45 women and has carried on in its strength in providing community for the families of their employees.  

Fruandes is now looking ahead and building a new facility in Ibague.  This will mean moving the whole operation hours away from the city of Bogota.  In their usual style, the leaders of Fruandes put together a multi-day trip for the whole company to go by bus and explore the new town.  Finding housing, checking out schools and sports teams for their children, envisioning a new life in a new place together.  The collective sense is that the new town will provide an incredible lift in quality of life - less time commuting, more affordable housing and more time with family.

Meet Tatiana.

Tatiana's mother worked at Fruandes during Tatiana's growing up years.  In 2008 Tatiana became the 2nd generation in her family to join Fruandes.   She started in production and now works in the office as the administrative assistant.

Tatiana and Hugo in 2013, when Tatiana was expecting with her first baby.

Tatiana and Hugo in 2013, when Tatiana was expecting with her first baby.


The story of Luz is the story for many Colombians. She is an internal refugee who fled from her native costal town of Tumaco to the capital city of Bogotá. Luz is a single mother to six grown children, only the two youngest live with her. She must begin her day at 4am because her commute time to Fruandes is nearly two hours! Meaningful work, however, is worth it for Luz. She is thankful to have a stable job, and to work in a place where people truly care for each other. 


(note - his first name is Israel, not Don. Don is a term of respect, similar to saying "Mr." in Spanish).

Don Israel grows organic mangoes in Vereda Guacaná, Colombia. He started farming in 2005. With his raised awareness of environmental care and sustainability issues, he converted to fully organic practices within three years! 

On his eight hectares of land, he employs two farming families year round, plus eight additional families during mango harvest.

He sells his harvest to Fruandes, Level Ground’s trading partner, and receives a fair price for his crops. 

Meet Julian.


Julian (pronounced 'hoo-lee-ann') is the Director of Famicafé, a small organization established to support coffee farming communities in Colombia.   

Julian is a trained Agronomist and well-loved in the coffee farming community. As the Director of Famicafé, Julian's job is to match children in the community with educational scholarships. He is vigilant in seeking out the poorest students in the region who stand to gain the most from financial support in their education. He provides thoughtful, human interaction between students and their educational funding so that best outcomes are most likely.

He frequently travels between schools and communities to check in on students. To these students, he is a counsellor, friend, mentor, and great resource. Julian's ongoing involvement with Famicafé has him caring for the efforts of the foundation in 36 schools with 200+ students!

Julian is a dear friend of Level Ground. This past summer, Julian and his wife came to Canada to visit Level Ground and encourage our staff with stories of how Fair Trade directly impacts farmers and the farming community in Colombia.

Since 1998, Famicafé has invested $1.4M in education, supporting over 1400 families! 

To read more about Famicafé, see our blog here.

Julian champions peasant farmers and their families’ future by thoughtfully directing our Fair Trade premiums to deserving students. He creatively inspires the students to work, plan and dream for a better future.
— Stacey Toews, Level Ground co-owner
Julian and Level Ground Quality Control Lead, Josh meet up in Colombia.

Julian and Level Ground Quality Control Lead, Josh meet up in Colombia.

Julian (far left) visiting Brazo Seco School in St. Inez, Colombia

Julian (far left) visiting Brazo Seco School in St. Inez, Colombia

Julian working from his mobile "office" - the top of a Jeep! (check out the 'cushy' seating)

Julian working from his mobile "office" - the top of a Jeep! (check out the 'cushy' seating)

Famicafé: Changing Colombian Families through Education

When we setup our first trade relationship in 1997, small-scale coffee farmers in Colombia told us that education of their children was a top priority. In response, Famicafé was founded to fund education for small-scale farmers’ children.

How does it all work?

Level Ground Trading pays a Community Premium to Famicafé each time we purchase coffee from Colombia which funds student scholarships and classroom resources.  

Beyond student scholarships, there are other key factors which may not immediately come to mind such as: repairing washed out roads which must be in place for students to attend school, breakfast programs that ensure the students have adequate nutrition before they start their day, replacing leaky roofs or installing gutters on schools so that the learning environment is comfortable etc

One of the more significant challenges for rural farm kids is that their home is too far from school to be able to commute to and from daily. Famicafé has run a boarding house where each year from 3-14 students have lived during the week, with a ‘dorm mom’ to care for them.

Famicafé has been personal, caring and ultimately successful in accomplishing the goal of providing education for small-scale farmers’ children! Some students have gone on to earn post secondary degrees and are active in serving their community as medical professionals and agronomists.

A student displays his welcome poster for Level Ground staff on a school visit.

A student displays his welcome poster for Level Ground staff on a school visit.

Elizabeth and Bibiana stand against the incredible steep slopes of coffee.

Elizabeth and Bibiana stand against the incredible steep slopes of coffee.

The students at Brazo Seco were thrilled to receive their new Famicafé backpack!

The students at Brazo Seco were thrilled to receive their new Famicafé backpack!

Meet Gobin.


Gobin is a small-scale tea grower in Assam, India. He is a heart-felt organic enthusiast. He has devised a way of making his  signature tea, Smoked Tea, using equipment traditionally used to pound rice and a wok over a fire.

Travel to Gobin's village involves crossing the mighty Brahmaputra river on a long narrow wooden ferry.  

In honour of his mother and father Gobin has named his backyard garden, the Meen Mohan Tea Garden.   It is a beautiful garden backing onto the specular mountains of Bhutan.

Despite our challenging language barrier, we always appreciate the enthusiastic discussion with the workers at Gobin's garden and the heartfelt sharing of his poems.   

The workers at Gobin's garden have allocated their Fair Trade Premiums towards livestock, hand looms and roofing supplies.


Laurie (co-owner) and Gobin meet in Assam in 2012.

Laurie (co-owner) and Gobin meet in Assam in 2012.

River Ferry on our way to Gobin's home.

River Ferry on our way to Gobin's home.

Meet Gobin. Smoked Tea Grower

Cupping Notes: Ethiopia + Tanzania

The following entry is cupping notes from the journal of Josh del Sol, Roastmaster, as written to Schluter, our African exporting partner. This is a SCQ cupping: a sample to confirm quality. When we SCQ cup, we sample 350g of coffee that represent a 40,000 lb container! The note is brief, but hopefully it can convey how excited we are about these samples!

Warning: There is a lot of nerdy coffee language below. Check out the glossary sidebar to understand some of the lingo! 

Level Ground Trading - Skimming during coffee cupping

July 29th, 2016.

ETHiopia 32 & 33:

We performed an in-house SCQ cupping and I must say that these two shipments are excellent.  ETH-32 was a bit more biscuity and variable than ETH-33, but this variance is really only slight.  I didn’t perform a full evaluation but I would estimate the ETH-32 at 85.5 and ETH-33 at 86 points. The balance was excellent, with pronounced fruit, extreme clarity and cleanliness throughout both cups, with the mouthfeel and finish of 33 pulling ahead of 32.  I am looking forward to working with these lots this year. I really do feel that Fero Co-operative needs to know that the wash grade 2 we’re sourcing from them is wonderful

TANzania, entirety:  

So far, so good! The Ileje coffee that we are receiving this year really does rival the original lots from 2008-9 that pushed me to add it into our espresso. The coffee continues to press forward with a dominant navel-orange acidity, round mouthfeel, and subtle dark chocolate. We are still experiencing the occasional conflictive cup, but if you were to compare this year’s home process coffee to the CPU coffee during the “tough” years, I would say there’s very little difference.  That isn’t to say that there still isn’t work to be done! The CPU coffee is quite consistent, but the home process coffee is more than drinkable… it’s darn good.  I am so pleased and relieved to taste the development in these cups. I endeavour to communicate further as the coffee ages.

Nerdy Coffee Terms Glossary

CPU coffee - Central Processing Unit: Centralized facility that takes coffee cherries, strips the fruit off, and then sets it to ferment. Aids in cup quality as a homogenous cup can be achieved easier. 

Home processed coffee: Coffee that has been turned from cherry into parchment at the farmer's home rather than a CPU - the equipment involved can vary considerably!

Parchment coffee: Named for the papery husk that’s on the outside of the coffee once the fruit has been stripped off, the seed has been fermented, washed, and then sun-dried. This is the way coffee comes to the mill before we order it.

Washed coffee: Coffee that has been run through a de-mucilage machine, soaked in a water bath, and then raked through water troughs before sun-drying.

Vanilla Update

After months of anticipation, Vanilla Beans are back in stock!

They're packaged in a new, bright purple pouch package. The vanilla still comes from the same small-scale producers in Western Uganda, but there is one significant difference you'll notice. Now there are five beans in each package, instead of ten beans in the previous package. Here's why:

Over the past two years, prices paid to producers for ripe vanilla beans has more than doubled. A number of unique market demands have contributed to this sudden price spike. Added to this, the value of our Canadian currency has plummeted against the US dollar. So, while the market is favouring the farmers and putting more money in their pockets, the vanilla beans were no longer financially viable for us in the ten pack format. We had also heard from customers that the ten pack seemed like too many beans. As a result, we opted to switch to the five pack and trust that works out better for all of us. 

We're committed to transparency and we welcome your feedback on the new look! 

Harvest Season in the Philippines

Harvest season for our heirloom rice is underway in the Philippines!

The heirloom rice of the Philippines is grown by indigenous farmers who are hard working and extremely friendly. Amidst the Filipino Cordilleran provinces, exist the 3 provinces where our grown: Mountain Province, Kalinga and Ifugao. 

These are ancient grains, grown organically in stone-walled terraces. Field work and harvest are all done by hand. The terraces are often remote and jaw-droppingly magnificent.

Harvest is the culmination of 5 - 7 months of rhythmic tending to the terraces. The time span from planting to harvest varies with the elevation; the higher the elevation, the longer time for rice to mature.

Often farmers' homes are distant from the land being work. After harvest, they trek home with their heavy, 50kg rice sacks! 

Thank you to the farmers for preserving a heritage and respecting the environment. For so many, 'rice is life'.


HOW TO: French Press

Level Ground Trading - How to use a French Press


We love the french press so much, we made a video detailing how to use it. Watch here (instructions below):

Recipe: 55g coarse grind coffee, 1L of water


  1. Add ground coffee into press
  2. Add water, just off the boil. Pour water in with lots of turbulence, saturating the grounds
  3. Stir with a non-metalic spoon
  4. Place the lid on, and press just below level
  5. Let stand for 4 minutes
  6. Press. Pour. Enjoy!


Level Ground Trading - How to use a French Press
Level Ground Trading - How to use a French Press


Recipe: 40g medium-coarse grind coffee, 672g (mL) of water


  1. Preheat your french press with hot water
  2. Place freshly ground coffee in press
  3. Start the timer & begin pouring hot water into the press
  4. Completely saturate the grounds with all the water. Stir.
  5. Place the lid with the plunger up on the press
  6. When the timer is at 2 minutes, remove the lid & stir the coffee again
  7. Using two spoons, skim the oils & remaining floating grounds off the top of the brew. This will produce a cleaner cup & will stop the coffee from extracting
  8. Place the plunger back on top & press down slowly
  9. Decant into your favourite mug.

The far-reaching benefits of organic & tea

The words 'wellness' and 'tea' are often used in the same sentence and usually are followed by terms like antioxidants and flavanoids etc. As a tea-drinker, the feelings of well-being that tea brings me are immediately obvious but another understanding of wellness is surfacing in my awareness. This awareness is the wider effect of trading in tea ... the promotion of wellness in the tea-producing community. 

I've had the privilege of meeting a number of tea growers in Assam who have chosen a different path in growing tea. They have rejected the chemical fertilizers and schedules of pesticide spraying most commonly followed on major tea estates. In many cases, their story stems from a shocking realization that the chemicals that are killing the pests are then spilling into their waterway and ultimately harming far more beings that they originally thought. The choice to go organic is an obvious step towards wellness for all who live, work and play near the gardens (never mind those of us who drink the tea leaves later on). 

Then there is yet another layer to the story of wellness and this involves the labourers who work in the tea gardens plucking leaves and rolling leaves to make tea. Organic and Fair Trade makes a significant difference in the lives of labourers; no chemicals means a healthier work environment and attention to Fair Trade has created dialogue about the well-being of workers. 

Sharing some laughs with the women who pluck tea at Pranjit's tea garden in Assam

Sharing some laughs with the women who pluck tea at Pranjit's tea garden in Assam

Dried Fruit from a Vancouverite's perspective

Guest post from Jenn Co of

The following is an excerpt from Jenn Co's article on her time visiting Fruandes. To read the full article, please click here. 

Having lived in Vancouver, Canada for a good chunk of my life, I would call myself extremely blessed. Immersed and surrounded by luxury and opportunity, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole other world out there. When I decided to step out of my comfort zone and embark on my first solo travel trip by heading to Colombia, I knew I was in for an adventure.

As I stood at the entrance to Fruandes, I couldn’t help but think, “This doesn’t look like a production warehouse.”  It reminded me more of the outside of a house. I turned the handle, entered in and was immediately arrested by the sweet smell of deliciousness. I peeked past the staircase and saw crates upon crates of…mangoes! This must be heaven!  I’m a mango monster, you see! I knew at that moment I was going to thoroughly enjoy this educational experience to its fullest.

Fruandes started as a dream. In 2002, the market value of coffee beans was plummeting and Level Ground saw a need to partner with small-scale rural Colombian farmers to diversify their offerings in order to survive. Fruit seemed to be the most logical solution as it grows well in Colombia’s rich tropical climate. Plus, the high altitudes and rich soil of the Andes provided the perfect conditions to high-growing fruit trees. This is how Fruandes dried fruit was born. 

Fruandes, short for Frutos de los Andes (Fruit of the Andes), is a certified B-Company. B-companies use business to solve environmental and social issues. Fruandes exports its organic fair trade mango, pineapple, dragonfruit, golden berries, and bananas to many countries in the world—Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Chile, US and the Netherlands, to name a few. What’s incredibly inspiring about this story is… when Fruandes started, Colombian dried fruit didn’t even exist, much less exported! Now there are four other competitors in the market vying for people’s taste buds and loyalty. One could say Fruandes broke the ground in this area of business.

With all that knowledge in tow, I was raring to actually experience what happens in a dried-fruit production plant. But first things first: Get into gear! Jasmine, the packing supervisor, gave me a change of clothes: a loose white V-neck top and matching elasticized pants, a hair net, face mask, rubber boots and gloves. I was so excited to jump into doing things, Jasmine literally had to stop me. “Mira,” she said, which means “Look.”  

Riiiiight. I needed to wash my hands and dip my rubber boots into a water bath. I soon discovered hand-washing was a crucial part to the entire operation.  I literally had to do this before anything and everything. Let’s just say, Fruandes takes cleanliness and hygiene as top priority. The facility is both organic and on its way to meeting international standards for their processes.

Peeling, cutting and laying mangoes on drying racks


Once I was thoroughly clean, I walked through a plastic curtain and into the main facility. I slipped on a rubber apron and was directed to a long upright table where smiling women were peeling and cutting mangoes. A knife was handed to me and I proceeded to copy the technique of these expert cutters. It took a while to get the hang of it because the ripe mangoes kept slipping and sliding out of my hands. I was taught to distinguish which pieces were able to make it to the next round, and which needed to be separated. So anything bruised or squishy had to go. These pieces are usually given to the workers at the end of the day for them to enjoy or bring back to their families. The pieces that made the cut were then laid flat onto drying racks, after which they were popped into dehumidifying ovens where the mangoes reincarnate into their more dehydrated versions.

Once dried, the fruit goes through another round of inspection where the best of the best get sorted into big plastic bags. The bagged dried mangoes are sealed, boxed up, then brought upstairs where they are packaged and labeled.

Jasmine escorted me up a flight of stairs and directed me to the room where more ladies were busy filling and weighing small packets of dried fruit. The day I was there, they were working on dragonfruit. After washing my hands (See? What did I tell you?) and donning a fresh pair of gloves, Jasmine gave a quick explanation of how to weigh and seal the packets. Then away I went! With weighing scale on hand, I ensured each bag held the exact number of grams indicated by the packets. After doing a hundred of those (or so it seemed), I moved over to a nearby machine and ran the packets twice to ensure they were sealed entirely. The last step was combining a dozen of these small packets into a bigger bag, stuffing that into a box, taping it down, and getting it ready to be sent to the country that ordered it.

An important aspect of Fruandes is how the production process keeps more money within the country. By paying growers and producers fair trade prices and hiring Colombians to work in the factory plant, Fruandes is able to reinject finances back into the local economy. From its inception, when Fruandes director Giovanni Porras rented a small space in a low income area, the story has been about making the lives of Colombians better. 

In 2002, Giovanni installed a dehydrator and gave six marginalized women in the Cazuca refugee community work. These women along with their children were struggling to survive. Through a connection with a local NGO, the women and children now have minimum wages, access to healthcare, transport subsidies, school tuition, scholarships and materials. Today, there are more than 45 women employed by Fruandes during peak fruit processing periods. Level Ground receives around nine containers of their dried fruit and panela (cane sugar) a year. The other European and US markets receive just as much product, if not more. So even though Level Ground founded Fruandes, this dried fruit company has definitely grown beyond them!


- - - to read the full article, please click here - - -