Sarah Robinson! Thanks to our good friends Blue Tiger, we offered all our graduates a chance to WIN a trip to Berlin. To enter, they had to answer the following questions in any form they wished:

  1. How do you think you have progressed since you first met Well Grounded?
  2. What could be done to improve the coffee industry?

There were many thoughtful and moving responses from several Well Grounded graduates. The top four entrants presented their responses at our Graduate Event at La Marzocco HQ. After much deliberation, the judges unanimously voted Sarah as the winner. We wanted to share her amazing entry below or you can watch it here. Enjoy.

  1. How do you think you have progressed since you first met Well Grounded?

I am a bean, a little coffee bean.
A weird opening line, I know, but bear with me,
Just let tell you what I mean.

I existed on a disheveled, weedy, pitiful looking Coffea plant,
In a bitterly cold, murky and damp unbecoming place.
I don’t quite know how I became to be there, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I was told to grow, told
to be better, told that I should… my only words were “I can’t”.

I longed for the ruby red coat I had seen others wear, with its exquisiteness and charm it
encased them in, they were always chosen.
Mine was green, a sad green, a green of sorrows, fears and longing. It wasn’t even a coat, it
wasn’t even warm, highly unsuitable for what I was meant to be.
With no hope in sight, I was ready to fall, ready to seize, I was cold and frozen.

One day I awoke to find a hand, not sure if it would help, but it was hand.
It took of that awful coat, and delivered me to a place of warmth, enriching soil and freedom to
find myself.
I thrived, I could grow. My roots began to dig deeper and strengthen my foundations. I grew
taller and stronger and began to reach higher than I had before. The hand stayed by my side and
saw me though the storms, and struggles. It was a hand, it was always there to help, a good
helping hand.

Never to be alone again, my fellow Coffeas grew with me.
In a rich and healthy community, we laugh, we learn and we grow.
Their warmth and closeness gives me to confidence to absorb their qualities, and improve the
Coffea I want to be.

I hear tales of supported sustainable farms, buyers who care, without greed and are fair.
I hear of roasters and cuppers who know to how treat me, not to burn, or damage but to help me
develop with a watchful considerate eye.
I hear of Baristas, those who love a brew, black, with milk, with water, with a creama, with care.

Don’t get me wrong, the bugs do bite, they remind me of unbearable pain, panic and fright.
BUT, I have my deference which is hidden inside. Its there, for sure just hidden from sight.
It’s one that people love, one that they crave one that they need. Though probably shouldn’t be
had at night.

I now have a coat, actually not 1, not 2, but many dazzling ruby red coats. They show my inner
beauty, and readiness to move on.
I will be picked, but only if I continue to show my qualities, work hard, and grow every day.
I will be picked, I know I will be picked, because I am being picked, I am moving on.

Now do you believe me, when I say I am a bean.
My story is short and not yet complete, but I have been planted, and have grown in an
environment that is right for me.
I am a complex, rare, single origin bean that has pushed through and through. Without Well
Grounded I wouldn’t be where I am, I wouldn’t be a bean, a little coffee bean.

2. What could be done to improve the coffee industry?

Improving the coffee industry: Encouraging Shade-Grown Coffee
Traditionally, coffee was shade-grown and still is in many areas. However, with the increased demand of the 1990’s, growers were encouraged to use sun-cultivation to meet the new requirements. Sun-cultivation is a method of farming which requires deforestation and full clearance of the land. Due to the location of the coffee growing belt, this means deforestation of our tropical rainforests which are already being destroyed by many variations of farming. Every year we lose areas of the forest around half the size of England, if we continue at this rate, we can expect to lose all of our rainforests over the next 100-200 years.
Our forests are crucial, without them we can expect:

– Loss of habitats and biodiversity
– Increased top-soil erosion leading to increased rates of flooding
– Extreme temperature swings due to a lack of canopy protection, this makes survival difficult for many of our rainforest insects, mammals, flora and fauna.
– A lack of fertile and nutrient dense soil
– Increased greenhouse gasses
– Negative impacts on the water cycle
– A lack of canopy cover leads to the drying out of soil and scorched land.
– Over time this can lead to barren, unfertile land. Aka, desserts.

Sun cultivation also requires an intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides, and with increased surface run-off due to a lack of trees, toxic chemicals are finding their ways into water sources affecting wildlife and people alike. Increased contamination will not benefit anyone.
These are just a few of the issues that we face through sun-cultivation. If you think about it, every cup of coffee you drink, every bag you roast is causing mass deforestation and problems for our environment.
So how can we begin to resolve the issue?

There is good news! Coffee doesn’t have to be grown in open spaces, in fact most natural plants can be found growing quite comfortably in the shade. Shade-grown coffee does result is a lower yield, however, on the market it is valued higher than sun-cultivated brands. Whilst this does cost the consumer, it has a low cost on the environment. Something we all need! Shade-cultivation has many benefits such as:

– Use of natural pesticides and fertilizers in the form of fallen leaves, insect eating birds and mammals.
– Shade-grown plants live longer
– They are free of harmful chemicals and promote a healthier environment
– More complex flavours and improved taste.
– Shade-grown varieties take longer to grow which gives the natural sugars more time to increase.
– Interplanting can give farmers the ability to grow other crops to sell or use for personal consumption

I feel that in the UK we can make changes to encourage more coffee roasters and consumers to buy shade-grown varieties… Tax-exceptions. Yes, less tax! Perhaps we should call it ‘Sun-cultivation reversal exemption”. This would work for many industries. But back to coffee.

The idea behind this is that if coffee companies make the move towards shade-grown grown coffee, they will be reducing their carbon-footprint and encouraging biodiversity by funding the reversal of sun-cultivation. With the introduction of the scheme, mass-marketing and branding through awards, we can change the way consumers freely order a cup of coffee without thinking about the consequences. Over a specific time period, business will be encouraged to move to shade-grown coffee. After this time has come to an end, companies who are not mindful of this can expect to encounter increased taxes which should not be passed onto the farmer at any point. Extreme, perhaps so, but the effects the are having on the environment are much more devastating.

Every coffee shop, roaster, buyer etc. should be required to state where they are buying coffee from and how it is grown. By collecting this data and we can make ourselves accountable for the damage that we are doing. Farmers will always adapt their methods to meet demand.

There may be a price increase for our consumers, but through education and making the consumer aware of the problem we can make positive changes. If we can encourage the way that people choose their coffee and influence consumers to choose the ‘right’ coffee, we can allow farmers to reverse the damage being done, and improve our delicate environment.