Holding the Course in a Turbulent Time: 2009 in Review

2009 Year in Review

We don’t have to tell you how rough 2009 was. All of us had to struggle with a decimated economy, lost jobs and demolished savings, a polarized political system and a swine flu epidemic. Whether it was people’s desire to brew coffee at home instead of paying a tuition’s worth for a cup at those chain stores, or folks looking for a company that reflected their values and they trusted, we actually grew in 2009. In recognition of our good fortune, we gave away over a thousand pounds of coffee to folks who you told us were having a rough time due to the economy and otherwise. We committed to supplying all the coffee needed all year long to the overburdened Amherst Survival Center. In celebration of Dean's Beans Sweet 16, we had a one week free shipping offer that nearly broke our machinery as we were swamped with the biggest sales ever. We even got our coffee back from those Somali pirates.

At home we started a new program with Somali refugee women in Massachusetts to create an economic base for them. Our reusable grocery tote project was so successful that we had to suspend it after a week. We will be back on it as soon as “the ladies” (as they call themselves) crank out more bags made from the burlap bags our coffee arrives in. After twenty years of false starts, this is the first successful economic development program in this community. Congratulations, Walaalo Sisters!

Internationally, we kept our promises and our programs with our farmer partners. This was not easy. The dollar fell to record lows internationally, which actually forced up the price of coffee. In most of the coffee world that didn’t mean more money to farmers, only to the exporters. But for us it meant more money for the farmers themselves and no passing it on to the consumer. That’s how we do business regardless of convenience or cost. And the result? 16% growth in sales! The mystery of progressive commerce!

Our People-Centered Development work in the coffee lands:

Peru – We are working hard with both our partners in Peru, Pangoa and Oro Verde. In Pangoa, our Restoring the Sacred project keeps growing, having reforested with local trees and local knowledge a large part of the deforested sacred lands of the Ashaninkas peoples. Our Women’s Loan Fund continues to offer the only credit available to coop women, and our latrine program (with our logo on the doors! Talk about off the wall marketing!) continues to, uhh, blossom. Additionally, we have supported the travels of General Manager Esperanza Castillo to international events so that she can tell the story of women in coffee to the world. Powerful stuff.

Colombia – In Colombia we have dedicated our program to supporting indigenous self-determination and the maintenance of sacred knowledge. We have helped start a land re-purchase program that brings communal land back into the fold after years of government programs that saw the land base shrink. We are also supporting a new initiative to bring Elders of the four tribes of the Sierra Nevada together to walk the sacred spots around their mountains (the “Heart of the World”) and teach the knowledge to the next generation. Additionally, through the Coffeelands Landmine Victims Trust, we are supporting meaningful job training for coffee farmers disabled by explosives in the on-going violence in this country.

Ethiopia – This year we brought water directly to the new school in Negele Gorbitu. We also paid the salary of the new teacher at the school (three times the salary of the government supplied teacher, but three times the quality as well!). We are still in the planning stages of a farmer owned and operated well drilling company.

East Timor – Working both with and against the system in East Timor, we managed to create the first direct relationship in the coffee industry with a village level farm coop, in Atsabe, Ermera District. This has allowed us to be able to put our profit share and development assistance directly into the farmers’ hands and assure accountability and impact. Our first project was to supply 200 fair trade soccer balls to the President’s Youth Anti-Violence Initiative, giving young Timorese their first insight into progressive business and hope. We are working to establish a recording studio for young Timorese musicians and a farmer owned and operated café/roasterie. We hope our example will lead other companies to buy directly from farmers in East Timor.

Guatemala – We continue to support the great programs of APROS, the women’s health collective on Lake Atitlan, including new programs with the women’s teen daughters. This is the first girls-training-girls program in Central America and is powerful and successful in self-esteem building and small scale income generation for scholarships.

Kenya – We keep struggling against corruption and inefficiency in the government to help farmer coops get fair trade and organic certification. We established an organic demonstration plot in Embu so that the farmers could see the real results of going organic. We held a training in Fair Trade and organic techniques that drew a roomful of farmers representing ten thousand coop members. We are designing an Internal Control System with Rianjagi Coop to help it become the first Kenyan coop to get organic certification. At the same time, change comes very slowly in Kenya.

Nicaragua – Our work with Prodecoop continues as it has for sixteen years. Last year we worked on the design and funding of a farmer-owned café/roasterie, modeled on our successful project in Leon, Nicaragua that supports land mine victims. We also sent volunteers down to assess educational needs, which we will continue to do this year as we evolve a new program for needs assessment on the farm level and how best we can participate.

Papua New Guinea – This is one distant and difficult place to work! We continue to provide organic certification and training to farmers we buy from, as well as to fund the microloan program.

Rwanda – Our groundbreaking Men Overcoming Gender Violence trainings last year were so successful that the UN funded some of the farmers who had received the training to go share their work with other cooperatives in Rwanda. This is a groundswell of work in a land so torn by gender violence. We have also begun a weaving project with women genocide survivors at COOPAC cooperative, starting with coffee canister sized baskets with “Dean’s Beans” woven into them! Availablesoon!

2010 – Onwards and Upwards!

Some of our really exciting new programs for 2010 include:

  • The creation of a Bulletin Board, where farmers post their needs (“experienced electrician”, “English teacher”, “computer help”, etc.) and our customers (that’s you!) step up and volunteer to help out. Still working out the many bugs in this one but it will be the best thing we’ve ever
  • Dean’s Constitutional Convention – help us design the progressive company of the future! (I ain’t getting any younger!). No progressive founder has ever left a company that really sticks to its ideals. Can we?
  • Coops Supporting Coops – We are putting together a program where our cooperative customers can choose which projects they’d like to support from their purchases. It will be a great way for coops here to connect directly with coops there.

We’ll keep providing great coffee at reasonable prices, great opportunity for the farmers and increased opportunity for you to participate in making the world a better place. Really.

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