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!

DSC_0635.JPG

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! 

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. fairtradefederation.org


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

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.

FAIR TRADE

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.

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.

MEET Luz.

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. 


MEET DON ISRAEL.

(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.

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.

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