44 North has roasted Ethiopian coffee from our very beginning in 2010. Ethiopia is, in fact, the most recognized origin of the coffee plant itself. As the story goes, a farmer was tending his goats when he noticed they seemed very fond of a red cherry. He also noticed an added spring in their step after they ate the cherries. He was curious and tried the same cherries, and the rest is the story of coffee.
This past December I had the joy to travel to Ethiopia and visit the farms and farmers of Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU). The trip covered 10 days and 450 miles, starting in the capital, Addis Ababa and heading south, across the Rift valley to coffee country. I met up and traveled with the head of sustainability and the regional buyer for Cooperative Coffees as well as roasters and other green coffee buyers from Europe and New Zealand.
The Sidama Union has over 80,000 members, making it the 2nd largest producer of coffee from that region of Ethiopia. The majority of this coffee is organic and fair trade. Even though the union has many members almost all of their farms are on a hector of land or less. The coffee produced in this region is known for exquisite bright and citrus notes and creamy clear body. Grown on the sides of mountains and tops of hills this coffee is being put at more and more of a risk because of rising temperatures and abnormal weather patterns caused by climate change.
(coffee farmer and his family on their shade grown coffee plot)
In an effort to counteract the effects of climate change farmers are looking for new ways to increase the quality and notorious in their soil to better sustain and strengthen their trees to be more resistant. One key tool in rebuilding and strengthening the soil is the use of compost. The aim is to add back in the nitrogen the soil might be lacking or entirely depleted of.
(meeting with with coop members and government officials to discuss compost possibility for SCFCU)
The Sidama Union has decided to use their Fair Trade premium to build a field innovation and farmer training site. We met with SCFCU staff, board of directors, coop leaders as well as local government officials to better learn what their goals, concerns and hopes for the new site look like. The site will be a place to serve the coop members and to demonstrate the beneficial effects of compost in hopes that they will take what they learn and implement it on their own farms and in their own communities. For me it was eye opening to see how innovative and engaged everyone involved was in finding organic ways to enhance the soil, resist the effects of climate change, and grow better coffee.
(future coffee farmers at the site for the compost training site)
On the following days we visited washing and drying stations where farmers from the surrounding region would drop off red ripe coffee cherries by the sack to be de-pulped, washed and dried, and be sorted by hand for quality. We also visited sites where our natural unwashed coffee is processed. This coffee is not de-pulped (like our washed coffee), but instead, allowed to partially dry in its own skin. This process gives the coffee a unique fruity flavor. We have really enjoyed this coffee as summer seasonal offering and look forward to having it back in a few months.
(sorting washed and natural coffee for defects)
Our last stop was to visit the Fero Coop. This cooperative is where most of our coffee is grown. With 5,027 members, of which 888 are woman owned farms, Fero is the largest and most productive member of SCFCU. We were able to not only see the harvested coffee from this season drying on raised beds but also the nursery were seedlings were being started before being distributed to member’s farms.
(coffee drying on raised beds at Fero Cooperative)
(the nursery of young coffee plants)
Meeting and learning from the members of SCFCU and seeing the origin of coffee as well as the future efforts to continue growing high quality organic and Fair Trade Ethiopian coffee was an incredible and inspiring experience. Traveling to Ethiopia was an experience that made me more grateful than ever to work with the people and in the world of coffee.
(planting trees at the future compost site with Grace, a member of SCFCU)