At Origin

What is Ceylon Cinnamon?

Ceylon Cinnamon
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Cinnamon is one of the most popular and commonly used spices in the world. And we aren't surprised, considering the bounty of health benefits and delicious flavour this spice boasts! 

There are many benefits to be derived from cinnamon: it acts as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and is also known to lower lipids, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and fight against neurological disorders. In addition, the sweet and spicy flavour pairs well with a variety of dishes and drinks. But what’s the difference between the varieties of cinnamon and, more specifically, what is Ceylon Cinnamon?

Not all cinnamons are created equal.

Ceylon Cinnamon, also referred to as 'True Cinnamon', is renowned for its health benefits, including low levels of coumarin, and its delicate flavour. However, the majority of the cinnamons in the market today are Cassia and Saigon varieties. These varieties are grown in China and Vietnam and contain significantly less health benefits than the Ceylon variety; they have a thicker bark, higher levels of coumarin, and a vastly different flavour.  

Watch a two-minute CBC video on differences in cinnamon here.

Ceylon Cinnamon

Where is our cinnamon from?

Our Ceylon cinnamon is from small-scale farmers in Sri Lanka. We partner with farmers who organically grow 'True Cinnamon', harvest it when it is optimally fresh, and ship it directly to Level Ground. 

Harvesting Ceylon Cinnamon

The Fair Trade impact of purchasing this cinnamon is capacity building in Sri Lanka. Farmers are able to sustainably grow more spices, receiving better prices for their high quality cinnamon! 

Sri Lankan Farmer
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Ceylon Cinnamon leaves

Meet Bijit & Swapna.

Meet Bijit.  

Green Tea
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Bijit is one of the nine tea growers we work with in Assam, India. He is an amazing leader, and continually offers his time to create community within all of the tea growers. He and his wife, Swapna, reach out to others who are new to growing tea to encourage them. They continually invest in education to increase tea quality.

 

But really, the story is about Swapna.

Swapna is Bijit's wife, the face of green tea, and the one who keeps it all together. She manages the processing facility and leads the team of women who pluck tea on their garden during harvest. She is kind-hearted, conscientious, and dilligently employs many people from the nearby village. 

 

Bijit and Swapna embody Fair Trade in Assam, India. They care for their labourers, neighbours, and the land on which they cultivate tea. We are incredibly lucky to visit them each time we travel to India.

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Swapna, Alicia, Bijit, Laurie (Level Ground), and Wyn (Level Ground).

Swapna, Alicia, Bijit, Laurie (Level Ground), and Wyn (Level Ground).

Minga - Working Together for Great Pineapples

Dried Pineapple
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In the Cauca region of Colombia, four women travel together from one pineapple farm to another. Elfa Nelly, Nolba, Leda, and Yolima do a Minga every day. 

What's a Minga?

A Minga is the idea that when many people work together, everyone benefits. In this case, it's a traditional process where a group of people agree to rotate between each others' farms to work as necessary. In this case, these women have essentially formed an unstoppable group of pineapple farmers!

Many of the 42 members of the Pineapple Association we work with participate in a Minga. Together, they cultivate pineapple and sell it to Fruandes, the Fair Trade Organisation we partner in Colombia. In return, they receive the best price for their pineapple and the whole community benefits. Win-win! 

Pineapple growing on a farm in Cauca, Colombia.

Pineapple growing on a farm in Cauca, Colombia.

Elfa Nelly, Nolba, Leda, and Yolima

Elfa Nelly, Nolba, Leda, and Yolima

Bolivia Coffee: From Crop to Cup

Imagine this: you wake up, gently stirred by the smell of freshly ground beans. They’ve been scooped into a French press, bathed in hot water, and eventually pressed. The steaming brew has been poured into your favourite ceramic mug, combined with cream (or sugar, if you so please), and slowly brought up to your lips.

Coffee: it’s a morning ritual for many, but how did those beans get from the crop into your cup? The following is the journey from crop to cup for our organic coffee from Bolivia.

 

Meet Pedro.

 
Hugo (Level Ground), Stacey (Level Ground) with Pedro, Pedro Pablo, and Daniella.

Hugo (Level Ground), Stacey (Level Ground) with Pedro, Pedro Pablo, and Daniella.

 

 

This is where the journey of coffee begins: at origin, with dedicated farmers like Pedro and his family. Together they run Agricafé, which coordinates the crop of small-scale organic farmers in Bolivia. In the middle of the night, farmers line up in taxis to deliver their green beans to Agricafé. It’s a late-night process, but it’s worth it on both ends: farmers get the best price, and Agricafé always gets the best beans. Agricafé works hard to improve capacity and quality for farmers by providing resources and workshops. Because Agricafé works directly with farmers (no middle man), more money goes directly into the farmers’ pockets. Pedro and the Agricafé team combine the green beans from the farmers, and put the beans through rigorous quality testing (such as UV lights and hand sorting). From this they start to prepare the shipment, and send us a sample of what we can expect.

 

 

In comes Josh del Sol, our Roastmaster and Quality Expert.

 
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At home in Victoria, BC, Josh receives a 350g sample of coffee that represents a 40,000lb container! Josh and his team will confirm quality through roasting, and then cupping the sample. Cupping is a coffee tasting where any flaws in the beans are exposed. After cupping, the team will (hopefully) approve the entire container based on the sample received. Once approved, the container is loaded and heads out on the ocean.  

 

 

We receive the coffee, and then our roasters do their magic.

 
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After testing the coffee again, and again, the roasters get to work. Roasting is equal parts art and science. Once roasted, the coffee is packaged by our team and then shipped out. All so you can wake up and enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.

 

Good from crop to cup.

 
Bolivia Medium Coffee
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Meet Orlando.

Meet Orlando, Leader of the Banana farmers association, and king of organic. 

Even without a word of English, Orlando is one of the most hilarious people you will ever meet. His smile and laugh announce his presence everywhere he goes. Quick to make jokes, Orlando draws people near: family, friends, and visitors. But don't let that fool you - Orlando is dead serious about one thing: organic farming.

Orlando creates organic mixtures to solve any problem on his farm. If a plant needs more nitrogen, he's got a blue bin for that. More calcium? There's a bin for that! He shares the mixtures with members of the association, ensuring they all have a healthy harvest.

So how does he make all of these mixtures? It's a science. He takes organic materials from his farm, and neighbouring farms, and combines with precision. One key is using run-off from his neighbour's pigs. They take the organic material that pigs expel, allow it to ferment, and use the nutrient rich material. (Side note: the gas resulting from that process is used to power their homes!) 

Orlando's success has allowed him to spread the impact throughout his family. His brothers, who were stuck working in coca production, called Orlando to ask for help. His response: to take them in without hesitation. Now, all the brothers live together, producing healthy plants that give life. 

Each blue bin contains a different organic mixture, designed to combat pests and disease.

Each blue bin contains a different organic mixture, designed to combat pests and disease.

Dave (Level Ground), Orlando, Robyn (Level Ground) and Pacho (Orlando's brother). 

Dave (Level Ground), Orlando, Robyn (Level Ground) and Pacho (Orlando's brother). 

Orlando and his famous soil!

Orlando and his famous soil!

Meet Simon.

Meet Simon, Leader of the dragon fruit farmers association.

Simon and his wife Nancy live just outside of Pitalito, Colombia. It's a small town, even by Colombian standards. The trek to Simon's farm is incredible, the colours of each building flash by as you ride in the back of his truck. The ride is never made alone - when we travelled in January 2018, Simon's son (Simon Philipé) and labourers joined us for the journey.

As the leader of the dragon fruit farmers association, Simon's role is to bring the five farmers together. He builds capacity, amalgamates orders and takes care of the members. The five members of the association consist of himself, his brother Fernando, and three men who used to be labourers on Simon's land. 

Fair Trade wages have allowed Simon's labourers to purchase land of their own, and join the association. They're even able to hire more labourers to work for them! This means more families are seeing the effects of a stable income. 

Because you choose to purchase this dragon fruit, these families have a stable income and can afford to hire more people to work together on their land. Purchasing thoughtfully allows the financial impacts to continually ripple outwards. 

 

Simon, the face of Dragon Fruit, with the new package!

Simon, the face of Dragon Fruit, with the new package!

Esteban, one of the farmers, sees himself of the back of the new package for the first time.

Esteban, one of the farmers, sees himself of the back of the new package for the first time.

Level Ground's Dave and Robyn visit with the Dragon Fruit farmers in Colombia!

Level Ground's Dave and Robyn visit with the Dragon Fruit farmers in Colombia!

D.R. Congo - A look at 2017

What does Fair Trade look like in the D.R. Congo?

In 2017, Direct Fair Trade Premiums (the extra we pay on each shipment of coffee), went towards capacity building. More specifically, it paid for:

  • 55 new hand picking tables - this provides good working conditions for the women who sort each coffee bean by hand!
  • Training on pruning practices for farmers
  • Over 250,000 coffee trees to be planted
  • Practical tools, like saws for pruning

Interest is growing in this unique coffee. In 2018 we will double the amount of green coffee we buy!  

Each coffee bean is hand sorted.

Each coffee bean is hand sorted.

D.R. Congo Medium Coffee
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Co-founder, Hugo visits with children of coffee farmers in D.R. Congo.

Co-founder, Hugo visits with children of coffee farmers in D.R. Congo.

Meet Menaka.

Meet Menaka, a seasonal worker for Ethical Inspirations, our spice partner in Sri Lanka. 

 

Menaka is responsible for leading the others in cleaning, shrink sleeving, labelling and packaging the spice bottles.

She is a woman who was marginalized in the local community. She was born with multiple disabilities. Her mother sent her to school, but as she grew, she struggled to find employment. Her physical limitations restricted her from finding livelihood employment. 

Menaka was born with only seven fingers on both her hands; and only one foot. She has to depend on an artificial foot to move. Her limitations have made her determined to stand up in life as an independent woman. 

Menaka is married to Weerasinghe, a young man plagued by polio. Weerasinghe drives a trishaw that provides an income for the family. Weerasinghe ensures that his wife gets to work on time and picks her up after work. Menaka has the opportunity for dignified work and to make an income for her family.

Menaka and her husband, Weerasinghe.

Menaka and her husband, Weerasinghe.

Menaka poses with freshly labelled spices.

Menaka poses with freshly labelled spices.

Pineapple - Regrowing Peace through Pineapples

In the Cauca region of Colombia, the Balanta family has worked for years advocating simultaneously for peace and for pineapples. 

It's a region that was known for conflict; it's main crop, coca leaves. Because of the coca production, guerrillas occupied the area, soon followed by the military. This combination led to heavy violence in the area.

Cesar (Nilsen Lucumi), Susanna, and Gustavo (Amaifi Bonilla) Balanta grow pineapple from their farm in Cauca. Even though they have formal education, and hold other jobs in Law and Human Resources, they never left Agriculture. This family has deliberately chosen to stay in Cauca, through conflict and war. They advocate for pineapple production, a welcomed alternative to coca, and are passionate members of the pineapple farmers' association - Asoagronorca (Agriculture Association of Northern Cauca). 

Now, this region cultivates peace. What was previously an area known for drug production and violence is now a community who comes together to produce pineapple and work together. 

Cesar Balanta in one of the Pineapple farms in Cauca.

Cesar Balanta in one of the Pineapple farms in Cauca.

The finished product. Our pineapple package features the face of Susanna Balanta.

The finished product. Our pineapple package features the face of Susanna Balanta.

Meet Maria.

Meet Maria Chari. The face of Peru Coffee.

Maria is a coffee farmer and Matriarch of the Machiguenga First Nation in Pangoa, Peru. 

Like many of the co-op members, Maria produces coffee as a cash crop. She employs biodiversity in her crops to cultivate healthy food.

Maria, her family, and other members of the First Nations group grow organic coffee and cacao. They are members of a long-established co-op with 680 members. The co-op is called 'Co-operativa Agraria Cafetalera Pangoa' (now, that's a mouthful!), or 'CAC Pangoa’ for short.  

The organic coffee we purchase is grown exclusively by the Machiguenga First Nation. 

Maria seeing her face on a package of Peru coffee for the first time!

Maria seeing her face on a package of Peru coffee for the first time!

When we visit, members of the Machiguenga First Nation throw a celebration and wear their traditional (and colourful) robes.

When we visit, members of the Machiguenga First Nation throw a celebration and wear their traditional (and colourful) robes.

Peru Coffee

 

 

Fruandes Organic Farmers Meeting

Fruandes, our dried fruit and cane sugar partner in Colombia, shared the following with us.


This summer, Fruandes held the sixth organic farmers meeting in Ipiales, Nariño (Colombia). The On this occasion, Fruandes visited and shared some time with each of the members of the Biofruit Napoli association, a group of organic golden berries producers led by Albeiro Chamorro.

The focus of the meeting was 'The Farm as a Set of Good Practices'. Participants exchanged farming practices, in order to co-create and improve processes. 

The agenda had four stages:

1. Good Practices 

The 2-day meeting began with the participation of all association members. Each member shared their best practices and strategies in terms of quality and sourcing.

Together they identified the following good practices:

  1. Loyalty and organizational commitment

  2. Persistence and good project management

  3. Good organizational management

  4. Strategic leadership

  5. Inclusive governance

  6. Good logistics and traceability through effective communications

 

2. The Chagra Route

A Chagra is an Indigenous farming system. It's not only a collective activity wherein farmers and indigenous people produce their own food, but also a learning place where traditional beliefs are connected with organic production and divinity.

We visited the Chagra in the afternoon. The aim of this activity was to observe, and analyze how we can replicate these kinds of farms. Fruandes encourages farmers to grow healthy, nourishing foods for their own households. 

 

3. Visit to the organic golden berry farms

The Fruandes community visited the farms of several Biofruit association members to know more about growing organic golden berries. First, we visited Hernando Chamorro’s farm, where we had a tour of his fields and learned about his composting practices. Next, we went to visit Albeiro Chamorro’s farm, and toured around the farm as he explained the golden berry picking process. Later, we visited Gildardo Rosero´s farm. He is in charge of raising the seedlings of the golden berries for all farmers belonging to the association. Lastly, we visited the farms of Jaime, Enrique and Leonardo López in the José María Hernández village, located in Pupiales. There we learned about other products made from golden berries.

 

4. Gathering and cultural exchanges 

At the community center in the village of José María Hernández, we participated in the last activity of the meeting, much anticipated by participants. We described the organizational structure of Fruandes with two main objectives: 1) To know the roles of each on the Fruandes team; and 2) To replicate this model within each association to improve their organizational structure.

To be faithful and loyal are the keys of success.
— Albeiro Chamorro, Biofruit Napoli Association
Fruandes is a knowledge center!
— Orlando Rodriguez, Banana Farmer
Germán Betancourt, Organic Development Leader (far left) with organic pineapple farmers from the Cauca region.

Germán Betancourt, Organic Development Leader (far left) with organic pineapple farmers from the Cauca region.

Fabio Baron, Fruandes Logistics and Service Leader (left), on the farm of Hernan Chamorro, the pioneer of the organic golden berry production in Nariño.

Fabio Baron, Fruandes Logistics and Service Leader (left), on the farm of Hernan Chamorro, the pioneer of the organic golden berry production in Nariño.

A traditional dance from Nariño on the last day of the meeting.

A traditional dance from Nariño on the last day of the meeting.

Hugo in Tanzania: An Update from Tracey Ciro

A farmer update by Tracey Ciro (Co-founder).


Good morning, Level Ground!

Hugo left Victoria on Tuesday.  At some point early Sunday morning, while we were all still sleeping, he finally made it to the coffee growing region of Tanzania.  Long trip!  

I believe, this photo was taken at the Mlolow Coffee Processing Plant in Mbeya, Tanzania.  These are the women who sort our Tanzanian coffee bean by bean by hand.  (Please know, when I visited this plant, I asked about the women working on the floor.  I was shown sorting tables and comfortable-looking (to my eyes) chairs.  All unused.  The women, it was explained to me, prefer to work on the floor! )

There must be some story to the shirt Hugo is wearing.  I do not recognize it.

Hugo is off to visit farmers in Ileje today.  It will be a bumpy 4-wheel drive that is hours long… (and way longer than the driver tells you it will be!).  The road is red clay, if it has been dry, red mud if it has been raining.  There is lush green vegetation on either side of the road, and steep cliffs on, at least, one side of the road.  It is the kind of road you tell your mother about once you are safely back in Canada! ;)

Wishing you all a great day!

Tracey

Hugo in Tanzania

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 Co-founder, and Bibiana visiting this week!

Hugo, Level Ground Co-founder, and Bibiana visiting this week!

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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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. 

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.