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Reflecting on Coffee's Rally for Resilience

One year later, the work continues.

by Justin Sprecher | April 22, 2021

Last year, at the start of the pandemic, we wrote about resiliency. How building resilient communities benefits us all from origin to the order window. How truly “sustainable coffee” is coffee that supports the present and future wellbeing of every player in the supply chain. How in our industry sustainability and social justice are interlinked.

Our call to reflect on the world we wanted during the “moment” of social isolation has lasted longer than we could have imagined. The last year became darker and more bleak as the months wore on. Nightmarish headlines became the norm. Our society seemed fragmented into less and less compatible groups. The idea of a resilient community we spoke of seemed lost.

But glimpses of light are beginning to shine through the cracks. Though slower than we had hoped, we’re adapting, we’re bouncing back, and we’re becoming stronger for it. People spoke up, took the streets and demanded companies and people be held accountable for the things they claim to value.

The very nature of how the virus spreads highlighted how connected we already were. At the roastery and at our cafés we realized that in order to work, we needed to work together. This fragile balance was, at first, frightening. One corner cut — one safety check ignored — and we could face a long closure. Or worse yet, endanger our communities’ health.

As time passed, this balance became a strength. Born out of the need to constantly adapt our processes, our team’s communication skills became razor sharp. Accountability became key. Accountability led to ownership over our work and confidence that together we could rise to meet any challenge, no matter what curveballs were thrown at us.

We came to realize with greater clarity how our actions extended well beyond our small town of Viroqua, Wisconsin. They rippled out across the midwest and across the country to our wholesale partners and to our direct-to-order customers. If we couldn’t deliver coffee we’d impact other businesses, other livelihoods. And in turn, our partners' fortunes impacted us.

And of course, the most significant relationship is the one we have with our partners at origin. So often in times of crisis the underserved face the most disruption. The pandemic has been no different. But the resiliency of our direct, long-term partnerships with producers held true. We were able to be flexible and lean into the trust we’ve built over time. Without the ability to cup coffee at origin we’ve had to rely on these partners to use their expert knowledge to source coffees for us to sample. In some ways, this has served to level the playing field between origin and roastery.

Most of all, this last year has sparked a sense of urgency in us. Resiliency is the key to protecting the values we hold closest: environmental standards, safety for ourselves and our neighbors, and the desire to fight for an inclusive future. And the pandemic showed just how fast life can be flipped on its head.

In the midst of so much upheaval, the call for people to be accountable for the things they claim to value became amplified. If now isn’t the time to double down on those values as companies and consumers, when will be? As a value-driven company, we ask you to purchase our coffee in support of those values. To show you we are serious, we’ve taken extra steps over the last year. We’re creating our first transparency report which we plan to share in the coming months. We’ve also committed to being carbon responsible. By working with a third-party organization, we’ve set up a system to track our carbon impact and hold ourselves accountable to this goal.

Internally, we like to use the phrase “many hands” when talking about how coffee gets from cherry to cup. They are a link forming the long chain that moves coffee on its journey to create the end product. This last year demonstrated how important, and fragile, each hand is along the way.

This Earth Day let’s celebrate the collective coffee community these hands create. And let’s pledge to continue the work of resiliency for us and for future generations.