Crowd funding your coffee

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December 31, 2012 // UPDATED 11:00 am - January 2, 2013
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Peace Coffee trying new financing model that connects coffee drinkers with small-scale growers around the world.

Local roaster Peace Coffee is one of just half-a-dozen North American roasters piloting Grow Ahead, a new financing model that connects coffee drinkers with small-scale growers around the globe.

It’s like Kickstarter for your morning cup of joe. Like that popular “crowd funding” website — where dozens or hundreds of contributors each make small donations to fund creative enterprises — Grow Ahead aims to help independent coffee farmers gain access to affordable pre-financing for their next harvest.

It works like this: Coffee drinkers here make a small donation toward a future harvest. Those donations are bundled together and used to fund loans to small coffee growers. When the beans are delivered, the loans are repaid, and Grow Ahead donors can either keep their money in for another cycle or withdraw their funds.

Peace Coffee CEO Lee Wallace said Grow Ahead aims to expand a pre-financing model that is already a key piece of the way Peace Coffee conducts its business. Farmers who work with Grow Ahead avoid the higher interest rates that many traditional lenders charge and can reinvest more money into their farms and communities, she added.

Grow Ahead manager Angel-Mario Martinez said the growers are paid a premium for fair trade, organic beans, like those sold by Peace Coffee. But without stable financing sources, they face pressures to sell quickly to local intermediaries for cash during the long gap between harvests, Martinez said.

Added Wallace: “There are always local buyers that are willing to pay cash for the coffee, so if a farmer is faced with tough choices about putting food on the family table or paying school tuition, the temptation of selling to the local buyer for less … is pretty high.”

Grow Ahead loans will be channeled through Cooperative Coffees, a coffee-importing cooperative owned by its members, which include Peace Coffee and 22 other roasters based in the U.S. and Canada. For the pilot project, the first loans will go to APECAFORM, a co-op of Guatemalan growers.

What’s in it for donors?

Peace Coffee and other roasters will likely offer incentives for donations, like a free bag of beans or even a trip to a coffee farm for a major contributor. But Wallace said the incentive to donate was also about taking part in a more responsible, sustainable coffee supply chain.

“Some of it is just putting your money where your values are and getting that peek behind the scenes,” she said.

Peace Coffee is hosting a discussion on Grow Ahead featuring Wallace and JoAnne Berkenkamp of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy 6 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at its 3263 Minnehaha Ave. S. shop. To register, contact Marin Byrne at mbyrne@iatp.org or 870-3411.

Read more about Grow Ahead at growahead.org.

Fix-It Clinic returns to Southwest

EAST HARRIET — After debuting here late last summer, Hennepin County’s series of Fix-It Clinics is returning to Southwest in January.

Bring by your jacket with the broken zipper, glitchy DVD player or busted blender and work with one of the Fix-It Clinic’s handy volunteers to make repairs. The goal is waste-reduction, and the clinic volunteers help to prolong the life of household items and keep them out of the trash. They also pass on useful do-it-yourself skills.

The Fix-It Clinic runs 10 a.m.–1 p.m. at Lyndale Farmstead Park Recreation Center, 3900 Bryant Ave. S. For more information, including a schedule of future Fix-It Clinic events around the county, go to hennepin.us/fixitclinic.

Fix-It Clinic coordinator Nancy Lo is always looking for volunteers with repair skills. If you’re interested, contact Lo at nancy.lo@co.hennepin.mn.us or 348-9195.

Park Board seeking Tree Advisory Commission volunteer

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is seeking applications to fill an empty at-large seat for a citizen representative on its Tree Advisory Commission.
The 16-member, all-volunteer commission advises the Park Board on issues related to the Minneapolis urban forest. Expertise in forestry is not a requirement.

Citizen representatives must be able to attend commission meetings held 5:30 p.m.–7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at Park Board headquarters, 2117 West River Road.

Applications must be submitted by Feb. 1. To download an application form, go to minneapolisparks.org and search for a link under the “News & Events” tab.

There’s still time to recycle holiday lights

The Recycling Association of Minnesota’s Recycle Your Holidays program runs through the end of January, so there’s still time to recycle burned-out or broken holiday light strings and electrical cords.

Lights are being collected for free at more than two dozen locations around Minneapolis and many more locations across the state. The Recycling Association of Minnesota aims to recycle 200 tons of lights each year.

To find a nearby drop-off location, go to cleanenergyresourceteams.org and click on the “Act” tab.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com.