Flag & Wire states on its home page that its coffees are “fairly & compassionately sourced, roasted, and prepared”. It's a big claim. I’ve been working in coffee for nine years going on a lifetime. I can’t count how many companies I’ve heard make claims along the same lines, claims that tend to break down when you question a bit or look past the surface. Flag & Wire is different, though.
Hi. I’m Emily McIntyre, cofounder of Catalyst Coffee Consulting, Crema.co, and a coffee writer/photographer who has worked all over the world in coffee. My cofounder/husband Michael and I search for partners who share our core values and vision to be part of the lever that shifts coffee globally to more sustainability and respect for every stakeholder, and Flag & Wire is a great example of the kind of partnership that makes us tear up and gives us hope in the hard times of doing cross-cultural business with limited resources and countless obstacles.
As customers of Flag & Wire, I’m sure you are engaged in the Benevolence Project. What you might not know is how much of a difference this project can actually make in coffee growing regions. Let me tell you a story about a friend of mine, whose Tiret Cooperative is benefiting directly from your generosity this year.
In 2014, Abebeyahu Negash, a quiet farmer from the Gololcha area of Arsi, Harar, contacted us with a request that we taste his coffee and share our findings. We were surprised by the quality of the coffee and touched by his demeanor, ultimately making the long-term commitment to partner with him to find ways to make coffee a profitable thing for him and his community in the central part of Ethiopia. Abebeyahu brought together 23 farmers in his area, some related to him (father Negash and brother Negesse both joined the group) and others lifelong friends, to form a brand-new cooperative union, the Tiret Coffee Producer’s Cooperative Association, which in 2015 achieved recognition by the Ethiopian coffee governing body, ECX, without a single bribe—a huge accomplishment.
The farmers of Gololcha are remarkable in Ethiopia for their agricultural approach. Where many producers practice basic subsistence farming techniques and do not plan ahead for improved crops in the future, Abebeyahu and his friends practice advanced concepts such as intercropping, mulching and fertilizing, crop rotation, and proper spacing for root development. They are famed for their white honey, as well. This dedicated approach is used for the onions, teff, beans, and other products they grow, but especially pays off in the coffee.
This year, our friends in Gololcha experienced unseasonal rains (speculated due to El Niño) resulting in torrential landslides and watersoaked cherries. Another challenge the Tiret Cooperative faces currently is lack of qualitative measurements to indicate when coffee is dry enough to be finally processed. Sounds like a small thing but the impact is huge. A single percent of moisture can make the difference between delicious, fruity coffee in your cup or a shipping container full of moldy coffee that ends as a huge financial loss. Flag & Wire, through the Benevolence Project, has been collecting funds toward the purchase of a mobile Shore moisture meter. This is a universally-accepted way to measure coffee cherry moisture and in fact we have one in our own lab here in Portland which we will haul to Ethiopia and back. Ultimately, we hope to fund up to five of these moisture meters for the Tiret Cooperative; many of the producers have farms near each other and share labor to make sure everyone gets their coffee produced in a timely manner, so they will share this valuable equipment and knowledge. Over two quarters, Flag & Wire collected $481, which is past the halfway point to buying a moisture meter!
It's hard work to visit Gololcha. You have to fly to Addis Ababa and then put in a couple of hard-driving, dusty days in a Land Rover hitting your head on the roll bar, and ultimately ride a tubby donkey to reach the vicinity of the farms, then trek on foot through lush undergrowth and past many fields to the top of Mount Engule. We were in fact only the second buyers to have visited, and the first with long-term intention. This year, my 5-year-old daughter accompanied us in the capacity of cultural ambassador and donkey-petter, though she passed on the beer-heavy celebratory dance under the stars at the end of our visit.
The word tiret means “best effort”. We are all part of this global community, whether we are in McMinnville or in Ethiopia’s hills. Thank you for supporting Flag & Wire’s Benevolence Project—I can’t wait to see Abebeyahu’s face when we hand him his first moisture meter!