STAFF SATURDAY: Meet Jenna

Jenna is a force to be reckoned with. She’s got an unsinkable drive and determination that lies beneath a finger snap and a moonwalk. That might not make much sense, but when you’ve spent time around Jenna - an impromptu dance party isn’t far behind.  She manages our food service and cafe sales. Her ability to connect with people is nothing short of inspiring and her infectious laugh can crack the iciest of moods.  

 

She’s been with Level Ground since 2010 and has held onto our sales team with pitbull intensity. You’ve got to have a resilient spirit and enjoy the chase if you’re in sales and Jenna’s managed to take a wily category and give it kind attention. She’s a great listener, hilarious story teller, and a steadfast champion of the farmers we work with. In 2015 she went to Colombia to visit coffee and fruit farmers and her passion for advocating for Fair Trade has been ignited ever since.

 

She embodies the West Coast daily: recently graduating from Yoga Teacher Training, adventuring in her Westfalia, surfing on weekends, all while raising two fierce boys. Very few people know how to bliss like Jenna. We’re so fortunate to have her unique spark and enduring loyalty.

Meet Someswar.

Assam, India is an area famous for its malty rich black tea. When we first met tea growers in Assam, we were surprised to hear they were producing green teas ... huh? The pioneers of organic tea quickly saw the need to differentiate their tea from others. It made sense to put together the idea of healthful green tea with organic tea cultivation. Selling green tea within Assam was much easier than competing with long-established black tea brands. 


Meet Someswar. Green tea grower, and organic champion.

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Someswar grows and processes tea for Level Ground's Green Tea.

Remarkably, Someswar has been a Small Tea Grower since 1976. In fact, he was the first small tea grower registered in Assam! A small tea grower is someone who owns and operates a tea garden (like a sole proprietor) - often their garden is in their backyard or close by to their home.  Officially Small Tea Growers may have a garden up to 10 hectares.  The growers of Level Ground’s tea have gardens between 1-10 acres.


Someswar not only has pioneered the idea of  small tea growing in Assam, but he is a champion of organic. He is an officially recognized trainer in organic tea growing and processing and uses his time to share the knowledge he's gained.   Thanks to efforts like Someswar's, there will be more organic tea growers in Assam!

 

Laurie, Level Ground co-owner, and Someswar visit in his Assam tea garden.

Laurie, Level Ground co-owner, and Someswar visit in his Assam tea garden.

Two leaves and a bud are plucked from Someswar's garden. This provides a good mix between quality (the bud) and quantity (the leaves) for tea. 

Two leaves and a bud are plucked from Someswar's garden. This provides a good mix between quality (the bud) and quantity (the leaves) for tea. 

Someswar shows us the list of students who have attended his training seminars over the past year.

Someswar shows us the list of students who have attended his training seminars over the past year.

about 100 students attend Someswar's Training Centre each year.

about 100 students attend Someswar's Training Centre each year.

 

8 Ways to Make Better Coffee Right Now

1. Clean your equipment

Don’t be afraid to really pull apart your machine and give it a deep clean. Whether it is a coffee pot, French press, or any other method, soap and water will do the trick. We recommend cleaning it frequently, as coffee oils can build up on your equipment and will impart unwanted flavours on your cup.

 

2. Buy good beans

You’re going to get out of your cup of coffee what you put into it. Here’s what to look for when buying coffee beans:

  • Arabica beans (watch out for Robusta, those beans are used as a cheap filler).
  • Small-batch roasted – this allows for greater control and roasting perfection.
  • Transparency on origin – you want to know where your favourite beans are coming from. Roasters that identify the origin are not likely to be hiding lower quality beans.

(Buy our great coffee beans here!)

 

3. Make sure it’s fresh

Coffee peaks about 7 – 21 days after roasting. While that isn’t realistic to always find (unless you live beside a roaster), we recommend you look for coffee that was roasted between one and three months ago.

Some methods are more forgiving than others. Espresso requires fresh beans and careful attention, where more forgiving methods, like French Press and drip brewer, can produce a decent cup with more variance in beans.

 

4. Brew it right

Although we all think we’re experts at “eyeballing” it when it comes to scooping coffee, there is nothing like following the golden ratio (1 part coffee to 17.42 parts water). But all you need to remember is the recipe for each type of coffee:

If you like to use a traditional drip brewer, try out this method, which uses 60g of coffee for a 12-cup pot.

French press lovers, we recommend 55g of coffee for a 1L press, but you can see a full recipe here

 

5. Try a new method, like Chemex or Aeropress.

Coffee is all about getting a flavour you like. If the way you’re preparing coffee isn’t doing it for you (or you just want to branch out), why not try some of these methods:

Chemex – This attractive method produces an incredibly clean cup of coffee. It can be a little difficult to master, but with a scale and a bit of practice you’ll be golden. See our full step-by-step method here.

Aeropress – Although it may appear daunting thanks to its modular appearance, the Aeropress is surprisingly easy to use. Plus, it’s super handy to pack for travelling. See our full step-by-step method here. 

 

6. Store it in a cool, dark place

Coffee is happiest when it is hidden from light and air. If you don’t like to keep your coffee in the packaging you bought it in, make sure you transfer it to an airtight container that won’t let light in. A tin-tie, zipper, or seal will help keep the air out, and lock the freshness in.

 

7. No, not your freezer

Somehow a rumour got started that the freezer is a good place for your coffee, but don’t fall for it! When beans are taken in and out of a freezer, condensation happens. Moisture and coffee are not friends! Any benefit you might have gained from freezing the beans is quickly nullified.

 

8. Don’t be afraid to drink your coffee the way you like it

The best cup of coffee is the cup that you prefer. While so-called “coffee connoisseurs” will try to convince you it’s a sin to put sugar in your cup, we firmly believe that you should do what you like! If you like a splash of cream, go for it! If you prefer it black, enjoy that. And if you like 2 tablespoons of sugar, we’re certainly not going to fault you for it.

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Meet Bibiana.

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

So how does it work? Level Ground Trading pays a Community Premium to Famicafé each time we purchase coffee from Colombia, which funds student scholarships and classroom resources.

 

Meet Bibiana.

We met Bibiana as one of the first group of students Level Ground sponsored in Colombia. Her life was difficult. In 2001, armed men forced Bibiana’s family out of their small home on the tiny sliver of land they owned. With only a few possessions, they took refuge at the Famicafé boarding house until Bibiana’s father was able to find a place for them to settle.

Graduating high school in 2002, Bibiana went on to nursing school after she was unable to get into medical school. She completed nursing school four years later, but her dream to become a medical doctor remained. She continued school in Armenia, Colombia, studying diligently and living with her Famicafé schoolmates.

Bibiana graduated from medical school in 2015. She moved to the big city, Medellin, to work at a walk-in clinic. The 12-hour shifts were draining, and the pay was menial. She was burning out quickly because she didn’t have enough time to care for each patient that waited to see her.

Earlier this year, she managed to find work at a clinic that specializes in hemophilia. She now focuses on diagnosis, treatment and follow-up with hemophiliac patients. She lives in the big city of Medellin, but continues to travel back to San Bartolo to visit her parents. She is able to send money home to help her parents who are day labourers in coffee farms near their small house in the mountains.

Bibiana is a great example of the benefits of investing coffee premiums into the lives and education of young people. Women like Bibiana bring joy to our hearts because in her we see hope for a better rural Colombia.

Bibiana poses with Level Ground staff and Julian, the director of Famicafé.

Bibiana poses with Level Ground staff and Julian, the director of Famicafé.

Famicafé students Sandra and Bibiana in the mountains of Colombia. 

Famicafé students Sandra and Bibiana in the mountains of Colombia. 

Hugo, Level Ground CEO, and Bibiana visiting this week!

Hugo, Level Ground CEO, and Bibiana visiting this week!

STAFF SATURDAY: Meet Robyn

She’s our marketing go-to and resident cat herder. Her job is to corral the wily ideas in our creative department and turn them into successful (and beautiful!) customer motivators. There are a LOT of great ideas floating around this company (and strong opinions attached to each). She handles every hare-brained idea with ease and grace. She’s even editing her own Staff Saturday write-up (hopefully she leaves in the good parts - don't worry , I did!). She’s a crazy crossfitter and maintains caring relationships with friends and family. She probably wears a little too much plaid and might find Chantelle a little funnier than the rest of us.

 

Robyn has been at Level Ground before - in Accounting to be exact! From combing over label details to planning and coordinating marketing events, her attention to detail and mind for business are very welcome skills in the land of unicorns and sunshiny dreams. It’s a rare gift to find someone who speaks “ooh pretty!” and “ooh pricey!” at the same time.  

 

She’s able to listen to the strangest statement and extract gold. She has a quirky sense of humour, a kind heart, and a quick mind. She’s genuine in her praise and gentle with her feedback. We’re blessed to have her watchful eye carefully curating the stories that we tell and the pictures we share.  

Clifford, the big red truck.

10 Benefits of Loving Mother Nature

This post comes to us courtesy of the Compost Council of Canada. We're fortunate to partner with them as we navigate our way with a Compostable Coffee Package! To read more about the Composting Council of Canada, check out their website here

 
 

Recycling your organics is really like batting a home run for Mother Nature. There are so many benefits that can be realized with this simple, thoughtful action including:

Sending less to landfill. Organics represent over one-third of the materials being sent to landfills. Whether through backyard or large-scale composting or anaerobic digestion, those banana peels, apple cores and other organic materials can be recycled.

Reducing greenhouse gases. According to Environment Canada, landfill sites account for about 20 per cent of Canada's total methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential. It's the organics that are buried in the landfill that are a key contributor to this production of greenhouse gases.

Recovering valuable materials. Composting produces compost, the single most important ingredient for healthy and productive soil.

Decreasing soil erosion. Soil erosion can remove nutrients from the soil, reducing its productivity, as well as reducing runoff that can carry sediment, nutrients and chemicals into waterways thereby creating new sources of pollution. Compost helps enhance soil structure and binds soil particles together.

Revitalizing soil. Compost helps provide sustenance for the very necessary biological diversity in the soil. Plants depend on this to convert materials into plant available nutrients and to keep the soil well-aerated.

Reducing the need to water. By improving the soil structure through the addition of compost, water is retained and available for plants.

Reducing the need for pesticides. Compost can help suppress plant diseases.

Saving money. Through backyard composting, you can turn your leftover organics into a valuable soil amendment without spending a dime.

Making your garden grow. Compost provides essential organic matter for the soil, which is of fundamental importance to its' health, vitality and fertility.

Making a positive environmental difference. With compost, you can take resources otherwise regarded as waste - organic residuals - and turn them into something of value while at the same time realizing landfill and greenhouse gas reductions, improved soil productivity and water quality.

New Job Opening: Production

Position: Production Worker

Position Type: Permanent full-time 

Effective: Starting immediately

Hours: Monday-Friday 

Compensation: Starting wage to be discussed; training & increases based on compatibility and skills.

Submit resume to hr@levelground.com


Background

Level Ground Trading trades fairly and directly with small-scale farmers in 10 countries. Our mission is to promote sustainability and well-being through long term trade relationships where fair prices are paid and premiums are invested in producer communities for capacity building. We import coffee, tea, dried fruit, cane sugar, vanilla beans, coconut oil, heirloom rice and spices.

At home in Victoria BC, we send nothing to landfill, pay staff to bike, bus or carpool to work and reclaim empty packaging for local upcycling projects.

Together, we’re building a food system focused on sustainability and well-being. Want to join?

We're looking for people who are:

  • Flexible,
  • Patient,
  • Detail-oriented, and
  • Responsible team players that value hard work, safety, and quality. 

 

Job Overview

Level Ground’s Production facility is a multi-discipline, high output environment where our products are shipped, coffee is roasted & packaged, and customers are made happy! We have a small team and are looking for a stellar teammate with strong interpersonal communication skills. Team members will be taken through all areas of our production facility beginning with order processing and packaging, and then moving onto roasting, delivery and beyond.

 The ideal candidate must demonstrate experience in and/or hold:

  • Physical fitness - ability to list and carry 20kg regularly and work on your feet all day
  • Ability to use a computer, web-based applications, and word processor
  • Food Safe Certificate
  • Valid BC Drivers License (Class 5 preferred) with a clean driving record

  The ideal candidate will have experience in:

  • Food production
  • Warehousing, or stock room
  • Coffee production (wow!)
  • Delivery driving, large vehicle
  • Working in a packaging environment
  • Apple-based computer

Level Ground Perks:

  • Working in a creative, innovative, and exciting company culture that is driven to make a difference in the world
  • Delicious gourmet coffees and teas while you work!
  • Extended medical and dental plan (at 3 months)
  • 13 streams of recycling for your household to use at no cost to you
  • Ethical fund RRSP group plan with corporate matching contributions up to 2.5% of your annual income (at 1 year)
  • Green commute subsidies
  • Learning and development on sustainable business practices through our weekly company-wide huddles

 

Applicants are requested to submit a cover letter and resume to hr@levelground.com

Lemongrass Harvest is Underway

It's harvest time in Sri Lanka! RJ is a small-scale spice grower in Sri Lanka. His lemongrass is carefully harvested, and then blended with spices to become our Lemongrass Tea. 

Usually there is a lemongrass harvest in January. Due to poor irrigation and a drought in Sri Lanka, there was no lemongrass to be harvested. Finally, by the end of February the rains started again! After eight weeks of growing, it is finally harvest time. 

We are excited to receive the lemongrass, and other teas, midway through this summer. Supporting small-scale often means patience as we wait for rain, harvest, and product to arrive. Patience allows for fair payment to small-scale farmers. Thank you! 

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STAFF SATURDAY: Meet Chris

Chris works on our Operations team as the Lead for Warehouse and Shipping. He’s been with LGT for a long time - 14 years to be exact.  In that time he has done literally just about every job… and in the early days, several of them at the same time. It takes a special type of person to work through all of the changes in a small company over so many years. Where does this resolve come from? Chris fishes. Chris loves to fish. Chris dreams of fishing. If Chris could fish for a living, he would. He plays late night hockey, he’s got an entrepreneurial streak, and he loves fishing.  

 

Leveraging his fisherman’s tenacity and straight talk, he’s our resident spatial-organizer, keep-it-stocked, and get-it-there guy. He balances the demands of our internal needs with our customers' timelines. If you want something sent across country in a hurry, he’s the one you talk to. He also has the illustrious distinction of being our forklift instructor - which says a great deal about his patience.  He’s thorough in his work, enjoys getting it right the first time,  is detail-oriented and still quick with a joke. We’re lucky to have Chris on our team.

Chris visiting Jaime, the face of our Colombia coffee package.

Chris visiting Jaime, the face of our Colombia coffee package.

Why isn't our Colombia Coffee organic?

In 1997, our first trade relationship was with a co-operative of coffee farmers in Colombia. That relationship, which is close to our hearts, remains today. These coffee beans, which you may know as our Colombia, Decaf, and French Roast, are not organic; we wanted to take the time to explain why.

Our Colombian coffee is not organic certified. We buy from small-scale farmers who grow coffee and other crops without pesticides, but they do use fertilizer to maximize plant health and yield. 

 

What is the difference between Pesticides and Fertilizers?

Pesticides are used to eliminate and prevent pests and insects from farms. Pesticides include: insecticides, weed control and rodent poisons. Fertilizers, on the other hand, are organic or inorganic compounds that feed plants with required nutrients. The basic mentality difference between the two is that pesticides aim to kill, while fertilizers aim to grow. 

When a farmer uses either pesticides or fertilizers, their crop cannot be certified organic.  

 

Why don't the farmers switch their practice to organic? 

Farmers choose fertilizer to maximize plant health and yield. In Colombia, coffee is a cash crop that many families rely on for income. Organic isn't about higher income for farming families. Often, organic is about sacrificing yield, which means lower income for families.

The journey towards organic is costly for farmers: third party inspectors need to visit, collect data and samples, and write a report card. Farmers have to follow standardized protocols and keep logs of everything they do. This is more than just a financial barrier for illiterate farmers. 

 

The process of Fair Trade is never easy. In an effort to maintain relationships and support Colombian farming families, we're committed to continuing to purchase this coffee that we have been buying for 20 years! 

Stacey (Co-founder) & the face of our French Roast coffee, Luis. 

Stacey (Co-founder) & the face of our French Roast coffee, Luis. 

Farm Visit & Composting Lessons

Today we visited the 10 Acres Farm in North Saanich (just North of our HQ) with our Fruandes trading partner, Javier Vasquez from Colombia. He's the one in orange!

Fruandes ends up with about 40,000 tonnes of compost per month through processing and drying our delicious dried fruits. 10 Acres has an impressive system for composting their restaurant and farm wastes so we were keen to see where Fruandes could potentially gain insight into composting large quantities of organic waste.

The farm contains several greenhouses full of herbs and starters as well as crops of rhubarb, kale and asparagus (to name a few), lemon, lime and apricot trees, grapes, pigs, goats and ducks!

It was inspiring and heartwarming to connect with another local company focused on farming and agricultural diversity. Farmers doing what they love and people enjoying the delicious fruits of their labour ... literally!

Chantelle, Javier, Stacey, Hugo & Hannah on the farm.

Chantelle, Javier, Stacey, Hugo & Hannah on the farm.

Goats galore! These are for kids to play with and learn about farm life. 

Goats galore! These are for kids to play with and learn about farm life. 

Meet Catalina

Meet Catalina, the face of Aromatic Rice.

She is one of very few farmers that have an Education Degree. She wasn't able to teach, but instead used her education to work overseas to help out her family, supporting her siblings through school. When her parents fell ill, she returned home to the Philippines to care for them. After her parents passed away, she took over tilling the rice terraces along with her siblings.

Catalina is the secretary of the local women's group, farmer's group, and a community leader. She also manages to find time to work on the farm and grow Unoy (Aromatic) rice.

What an amazing woman!

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STAFF SATURDAY: Meet Kelsey

Kelsey is one of the newest additions to our team. She’s working in accounting to cover the inimitable Yoko. When she’s not using her sweet voice to contact customers in Accounts Receivable, she’s using it to sing opera. Actual opera. Kelsey is a classically trained singer! Her melodic attention to detail, diligence, and friendliness make her ability to obtain payment while simultaneously keeping everyone happy in the process is unparalleled.

 

Aside from her (entirely forgivable) caffeine intolerance, we count her as one of those fortunate enough to be naturally caffeinated. Kelsey is openly caring, kind, and thoughtful. At Level Ground, she brings a genuine and unsinkable joie de vivre. Her positive presence keeps her office mates smiling and the lunch room conversations effervescent. We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to work with her!

STAFF SATURDAY: Meet Andrew

Meet Andrew.

There are few at LGT, save the intrepid Reg, who have “what it takes” to roll up their sleeves and go up to the elbows into a machine. On the Operations team, the roles sound modest, but the scope of what’s required is large. A hands-on polymath, Andrew is one of the many able to roast, package, pick, and drive - but he can repair machines. He works along side Reg, patiently, creatively, and patiently.

Did we mention patience? He’s got a depth of knowledge in many areas and is quick to share a joke. He leads with his brain as well as his heart - which makes him a perfect fit for our motley crew. Andrew helps keep the fires stoked and the packages sealed 'n’ tucked.  We’re grateful to have him!

STAFF SATURDAY: Meet Chantelle

Meet Chantelle (or Chanters, as our dear friend Roy would insist). She is our in-house graphic designer, dog lover, and friend. She brings everything to life using her creative eye. Chantelle is likely best known for her infectious and full-body laugh (seriously, if you're within a kilometre of our HQ you know what I'm taking about). But it is Chantelle's kindness that stands out the most. 

If you walk in with a heart that needs to be listened to, Chantelle will know. And she will listen. 

Meet Jaime.

MEET JAIME, THE FACE OF COLOMBIA COFFEE.

Jaime Marín lives near Jardín, Colombia, where he grows coffee and fruits like lulo, a popular fruit among urban Colombians. His coffee plot is 2,000 meters above sea level, which makes his coffee a favourite among specialty coffee drinkers.  At this high elevation the coffee ‘cherries’ ripen very slowly and the flavour concentrates in the beans.  Jaime Marín’s coffee also earns Direct Fair Trade premiums through the “Programa San Miguel” and his coffee is shipped to Level Ground directly. 

SPICES & The Quest for the Perfect Chai

After weeks of being out of stock, we finally received our shipment of spices from Sri Lanka! The spices also got a small makeover, sporting brand new coloured labels and farmer faces. The faces on each bottle are of a real farmer in Sri Lanka whom we met on our travels. 

We're often asked how we got into spices. Like most of our products, we were led to it through a relationship.


In 2012, Stacey (co-owner) and Paul W (Grocery Sales Rep) headed to Washington State as part of the Fair Trade Federation annual conference. They were in search of a spice partner to source ingredients for our Chai blend. 

It was there we met a man named Moddy, who was starting a Fair Trade Organization called Ethical Inspirations. He had a network of spice farmers, but no North American partners to buy the spices ... yet. 

Moddy, a Fair Trade enthusiast with an innate sense for business, quickly sent us samples. The flavours were beyond anything our taste buds had ever encountered; they were profound. While we had been busy developing recipes with grocery store spices, we had to go back to the drawing board. These spices were far too beautiful to simply substitute; too powerful, really.  After some careful tinkering, the perfect chai blend was created.

Our chai blend quickly became a hit and we realized we couldn't keep these spices to ourselves. We had to allow the spices to have their own stage. From there, a new line of bottled spices was born! 

Our spice partner, Moddy, pictured in Sri Lanka.

Our spice partner, Moddy, pictured in Sri Lanka.

Loose leaf chai, blended with fresh spices from Sri Lanka

Loose leaf chai, blended with fresh spices from Sri Lanka

STAFF SATURDAY: Meet Paul B.

Meet Paul, our in-house numbers whiz and computer whisperer. Which is our way of saying, Paul is the head of Finance, but manages to juggle many other tasks, too! 

Last May, Paul (along with co-owner Stacey) travelled to the Philippines to visit with rice and coconut farmers. We asked Paul: What will you remember most about your trip? 

"A small highlight of the trip would be a hike through the rice terraces of Kalinga. It included lunch prepared by Catalina, rice wine, beautiful mountain landscapes dotted by villages, singing in the rain and thousands of steps. This accumulated to an appreciation of the hardiness and hospitality of the Filipino rice farmers."

Paul celebrates among the rice paddies in Philippines.

Paul celebrates among the rice paddies in Philippines.

The story of our compostable packaging

In 2004, we went landfill free. 

Then, we introduced a reclamation and upcycling program for our coffee packages.

Now, we've taken another step in reducing our carbon footprint by launching a compostable coffee package. (The main ingredient? Made in Canada FSC certified wood pulp!)


WHAT IS THE PACKAGE MADE OF?

FSC certified paper, NatureFlex film, adhesive and bioplastic.

WHAT CAN I DO WITH THE PACKAGE WHEN I'M DONE WITH IT?

1. Compost it in your backyard

2. Bring it to one of our Reclamation Stations (available at many grocery stores) and we will compost it

CAN I PUT IT IN MY MUNICIPAL COMPOST BIN?

Most composting facilities only accept food scraps. Level Ground is trying to work with commercial composters, who are prepared to manage the longer composting time required for packaging. The reality is that our technology is ahead of where the waste management industry is currently. You are always welcome to send packaging back to us, and we will compost it.

CAN I COMPOST IT IN MY BACKYARD?

You can! Especially if you live in a mild climate and have composting skills. Cutting the package open and laying it flat will help speed things up. Remember to mix in lots of organic material like food scraps.

WILL IT KEEP MY COFFEE FRESH?

Yes! This packaging material is a high oxygen barrier film and will keep your coffee fresh. Coffee is happiest when it is hidden from light and air; this package does both wonderfully!

Meet Agnes.

MEET AGNES, THE FACE OF TANZANIA COFFEE.

When we first met Agnes, she was sorting sun-dried coffee in Mbeya, Tanzania. The year was 2008 and her photo (below) would eventually become the face of our red Tanzania coffee package.

The photo of Agnes, used for our Tanzania coffee Package.

The photo of Agnes, used for our Tanzania coffee Package.

We're committed to paying for the use of a person's photo on our packaging. When we met with Agnes to pay her for the use of her photo, she was excited to tell us her plans for the money. She had always dreamed of being a seamstress, and the money from her photo allowed her to purchase a sewing machine. 

Here's the video of her receiving payment for her photo!