The ‘eating local’ trend continues to grow in British Columbia, especially at this time of year when we start getting more local fruits and vegetables from BC farms. It’s great to support your local farmer or artisan food producer, but if you’re a java junkie, there is still no coffee bean harvest to look forward to, even in the warmest zones of Vancouver Island. But today on Island Artisans, I told the story of a local company that does help farmers…they just happen to be farmers in different countries around the world.
If the ‘eat local’ philosophy is meant to help local farmers, you can buy your coffee from a local company that believes in using fairly traded coffee from small farmers that need your help in coffee producing countries. One of the best-known companies that does that here in BC is Level Ground Trading, on the Saanich Peninsula. The four families who founded the company back in 1997 have grown now into a 30-employee strong workforce, now occupying their third production facility having outgrown the previous two. Stacey Toews is one of the original founders. “Our focus all along has been on the direct relationship with the farmers, that maintains that original intention of that being a dialog. We kind of see ourselves as a bridge between the producer community and the consumer community. And if consumers here can appreciate a great quality product, and track it back as we do with photos, stories, GPS coordinates of the farmers, then people can say, ‘hey, my daily habit is accomplishing something in that other community.'”
People obviously like their products, given the growth of the company, but servicing this whole trend of consuming in a more responsible fashion must be getting competitive this days. They keep their competitive edge through education and quality control. Stacey(left) showed me us through their education area of the office, and then we met up with Josh Del Sol(right), chief coffee roastmaster who is also in charge of quality control. When we met he was trying to figure out how to best use a bag of unique coffee beans that had just come in from Africa, peaberries, a mutation that sees a single bean form inside the coffee cherry, instead of 2 or 3 pieces. It effects the flavour and acid profile, so has to be handled differently from the regular beans they get. Just part of a day’s work!
The company’s relatively new packaging features photos of the farmers you help to support on every bag, and that’s all part of telling their stories. They make sure that their customers get a chance to see the faces of the farmers who grow their products, which is one way of marketing, but customers still get confused over what fair trade means, or what direct trade means. People are still learning about what can be a shifting definition of fair trade, or direct trade, where the roasters buy beans directly from the farmers without a broker in the middle. Level Ground is promoting more of that, while at the same time making sure their customers understand their products, and Stacey thinks they do, keeping in mind that this whole concept of fair trade in consumable products has been around for less than 25 years.
Learn more about Level Ground Trading and where to get their products by visiting their website. Next weekend, June 17th and 18th, I’m going to be at the BC Shellfish Festival in the Comox Valley, really looking forward to that, I’m a judge in the oyster shucking and clam chowder competitions, and I will bring you a story from there in two week’s time.