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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: FARM TO TABLE 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: FARM TO TABLE 

One of the greatest parts of working in coffee, is the ability to meet and befriend amazing people Alex and Kait are two people who exemplify this perfectly. Known to most as Jimmy And Spade Eat, we are honored to have them guest blog for us from time to time. Cheers!
In the food world trends come and go. Last year we were all going crazy over our acai bowls. A few months ago we couldn’t stop posting pics of our designer doughnuts. Just like with anything else, food trends are ever changing—they come and go. We have gotten some of our greatest culinary achievements through food trends. Noodles in the first century, soufflés of the early eighteenth century, or the great fondue craze of the 1970’s. Where would we be without all of these innumerable food trends? They all build off of each other and help to create something new. Like a saucier with their 5 sauce bases. Food trends, much like fashion trends, tend to rotate. We’ve all been drinking our kombucha lately, but this is an ancient Asian drink that has been around for thousands of years.

Every year my family holds a family reunion where we share laughs, food, and history. My grandfather writes a yearly article about his experiences as a child with his brothers and sisters. He grew up on a small farm in Ohio, which was the topic of this year’s article. As I read through the memories brought to life through words, I had a few thoughts. My first was of hunger as he named all the different foods his mother would make with products from the farm. My second was of the subtle food trend that has been bolstering over the past decade. We have seen the farm to table concept sweep across the US and grow in popularity. From small pop-up events and special seasonal menus, restaurants being wholly devoted to the concept, and even those few “big box” places; the farm-to-table movement is evident. I have been a huge advocate of this passion for years, from natural and humanely raised animals to organic and non-GMO produce, but more specifically—local sourcing. As I continued to ponder these thoughts I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together in my head. While farm to table may be a movement reaching from coast to coast, and it is an admirable passion, it is not a trend at all. This is simply a call to return to basic communal living. Farm to table and local sourcing are not something we should hold as a fad of fodder, moreover it should be revered as our most basic way of living. 

Eating, selling, and buying locally grown produce and meat is what we have been doing as humans for millennia. Starting as far back as ancient Mesopotamia where we first learned that living together in a civilization is mutually advantageous rather than nomadic hunting and gathering. Moving forward into ancient Roman culture where we learned to control waterways and increased our agricultural outreach. Throughout the industrial revolution we learned new trades and skills as well as living in smaller, closer quarters, yet we always survived by working together through trade and bartering. As we moved into colonial America and learned farming traditions of local native americans, we continued to survive by working together. As you trail through the centuries to modern day America there has always been farmers who fed our local towns. This seemed  to come to an abrupt halt in the mid 20thcentury. With the invention of frozen dinners and fast food on the rise, we took convenience over community. The baby boomer generation became a generation of heater-uppers. I think over the last 50 or so years we can see this has not been the best decision. We can see health issues and a lack of community from this trend. While we might live in the modern 21st century with technology thriving and literally everything at our fingertips, I think it is time for a change. We must learn to live and work together as a community rather than autonomous islands. We order everything from new clothes to appliances online, we even uber our food to our homes now. While these technological advances may ease our lives, they simply are not sustainable for community. We as a new generation must break through the glowing screens to keep our community alive.

I feel as though I must digress for a moment. I am making this out to be some arduous revolution of sorts, of which it is not. I am simply making the argument to remember the farmers. We can have healthy delicious food while also supporting our local economy and welfare. Maybe you don’t have the green thumb, but I assure you there is a farm within 200 miles that can support you. To make matters even easier we have multiple farmer’s markets in the area and almost every town has their own. (Northside Farmers MarketHowland Farmers MarketWarren Farmers Market, etc.) Get out there and get to know your community. If you’re looking for a simpler route we have a co-op that serves the area. It’s as simple as a click of a button. You can go online, pick out the products you’d like, and have them delivered to an assigned drop off point in the Valley—laketorivercoop.com! As our new friend Melissa Miller of Miller Livestock said to me, “…eating local; it used to just be called eating.” The banner we wave here at Jimmy and Spade is connecting people. This is our intention and our mission, from restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, patrons, and owners. This is just one more facet of our community we would like to connect you too.
El Calambre

El Calambre

El calambre. It translates to “cramp” in Spanish. It might as well have become my nickname after the first day on the farm.

 

It was day one heading into the mountains, and we woke up early to get a head start. We left the city of Jaen and drove north on the highway into the mountains. The roads were peppered with little villages all along the way, and the truck would have to suddenly slow down to go over small dirt speed-bumps built by the villagers. It was explained to me that the locals would build these to force the cars to slow down to serve several purposes. It would protect the children and chickens from being hit by speeding vehicles, and it gave the townspeople a great opportunity to try and sell the tourists their food and gifts.

 

After the first half hour, we suddenly turned off the pavement onto a dirt road and headed directly into the mountains. It

 

would be another three hours of one-lane dirt roads and razor sharp turns on switchback paths to the remote regions where some of the country’s best coffee grows. It was common to see farm animals being herded along these steep inclines, and farming families in the fields of farms picking the current harvest.

After several hours of enjoying all the beautiful scenery, we arrived in the small town of Chirinos. Orlando Guerrero of Finca Flor de Zapote warmly greeted us and we left the village for a quick 10 minute drive further into the mountain to reach the farm, where the rest of the family was actively working to harvest and process the current crop.

 

We were between 1700-1800 meters above sea level (masl), and the views were breathtaking. As we descended the mountain, we were surrounded by yellow and red Caturra varietals. Orlando would stop to show us the different plants, and how to pick the ripe cherries that would produce the highest quality cup. We met up with the family halfway down their property at their washing station, which was actively being used to de-pulp that day’s picking, in preparation of fermentation and washing.

 

After brief introductions and greetings, we were given a tour of the farm. The family has eight different members who all own sections of the whole farm. They all pitch in to help during harvest, but each shareholder decides how to farm their section. This allows them to test different varietals and farming methods while still sharing all the knowledge and equipment between them all.

 

The farm name comes from the Zapote tree which grows on the land. It is a tall tree, which bears “monkey fruit” that feeds the monkeys at night. The large trees provide a natural canopy for the coffee plants below, allowing for shade from the hot mid-day sun. Alongside these trees are many different fruit bearing plants which help to feed the family during the harvest, as well as provide ecological diversity for the wildlife.
(Left: Coffee cherries, and a flower from the Zapote plant)

 

We made it to the lower elevation of the farm (1700masl) when it dawned on me: we needed to climb back up the steep mountain in 95 degree heat. To add to the challenge, we were effectively 1640m above the elevation of Youngstown, and the air was a lot thinner. Orlando was a pro, he made this trek several times every day (while carrying 100lbs of coffee). He shot right up the side of the mountain, and we did the best we could to keep up.

 

We reached the halfway point in the farm, and stopped to take pictures with the family at the washing station. It was a quick 10 minute break before we had to go up the rest of the mountain to our truck. This time, we had to take a break 80% of the way up. Pouring sweat and sucking wind, we finally made it to the top, and we headed back to Orlando’s house to eat lunch with the family.

 

El Calambre

Midway through lunch, something strange happened. My hands and feet started tingling, and I became extremely light-headed. I excused myself to walk outside and get some water and fresh air. Within a few minutes my hands and feet began to involuntarily clench. They were a strange splotchy shade of red and I felt like I was burning up.

 

Our guide, Elmer, came out to check on me and explained the problem. El calambre is Spanish for “cramp”. It was a combination of dehydration, the altitude, and our pace up the mountain that caused it. The lack of oxygen forced my muscles to contract and cramp up. A few minutes later I was able to rejoin the family and finish lunch, and we said our final goodbyes, and Chris surprised the family with several gifts from his company to help the family on the farm. They were excited to get a brand new depulping machine, as well as a large commercial string trimmer.
(Right: If I look a little dizzy here, its only the altitude sickness)

 

After saying our final goodbyes, we enjoyed the 4 hour drive back taking in the views while the crew had some good laughs about El Calambre.

Norandino Coffee Mill

Norandino Coffee Mill

Day 2: Piura, Peru

The flight to Piura was uneventful, and we met up with Elmer, the partner of Farm to Roast, and our Peruvian guide for the trip. We met our driver for the trip, Robbie, who warmly greeted us and loaded up our gear into his truck. After introductions and exchanging pleasantries, we departed the airport and headed across the city of Piura to the Norandino coffee-processing factory.

 

This is one part of the trip that was completely new to me. All of the conversation about coffee exportation concentrates on the harvesting and processing at the farm level. Once the coffee is properly dried and packaged at the farm, there is a whole series of steps that need to take place before the green coffee is ready to be packed into containers and shipped to the docks for export. We got to see the process in action, and we walked through the entire plant with the manager of operations.

Tons of coffee wait for final processing.

The coffee at this point has been carefully harvested, processed at the farm, dried to the proper moisture content, and shipped from the remote coffee growing regions, the Norandino Mill. Each coffee bean has a thick parchment that is natural to the bean itself, which needs to be removed before bagging and export to the roasters. This is accomplished by using a series of machines that work at a very high rate of speed to rub off this parchment and “clean” the dust off the beans with massive blowers.

 

 

Click for Video!
The cleaned coffee is immediately dropped into large oscillating tables, which help to sort the coffee away from any contaminates like stones, sticks, coins and other junk that sometimes makes its way into the coffee supply. These tables also work to sort the coffee into different sizes. This table is on a slight angle, and as it shakes, the larger beans move toward one side of the table and the remaining smaller dense beans begin to collect in another corner. These beans shake off of the table at two different points, with the higher quality and more dense beans being kept for the specialty exports, and the rest being used in commercial grade coffee.


This first sorting is important to ensure that there is consistency in the size, density and shape of the coffee being exported. There is still one more concern in the specialty world; the presence of defects or “bad” coffee beans. Defects can occur naturally as part of the growing genetics from that particular coffee bean, or as an error in harvesting (picking a cherry too early or too late). These defects often have negative tasting consequences, and in order for a coffee to make it to “specialty” grade, there must be exceptionally few of these defects present in the green coffee.

 

Coffee sorting video
This would be an incredibly time consuming task to do by hand, but we were fortunate to be able to see some cutting-edge technology being employed at the Norandino Mill. The mill uses optical sorting technology, where hundreds of beans per minute pass by a bright light in a single file line. A computer quickly determines weather that particular bean has the proper shape and size, and gives that single bean a pass/fail. The failures are sorted out of the machine into a holding bin to be sold as second-rate commercial coffee. The passing beans are approved for bagging and shipping to the port. There were about 200 of these light samplers, and each sampler can test hundreds of beans per minute. The process is lightning fast, and incredibly accurate.

 

The final stage of the processing is to load all the passing coffee into a giant hopper, where workers will bag it up in specially sealed bags to ensure that the coffee makes it safely across the ocean to its destination.

 

The Norandino Mill is certified to process Organic, and Fair Trade coffee, and it has won numerous awards for its exceptional processing and milling procedures.

 

We finished the tour by cupping coffee samples in their coffee lab, and learning about some of the different farms in the area, and how the mill keeps careful records of processing, and segregation of the coffee to ensure that the individual farm’s coffees do not get blended together for Direct Trade models such as Farm to Roast. Norandino makes sure that the farms that Chris buys from are properly labeled and sorted so that each lot retains its distinct characteristics and flavors.

 

Seeing this kind of precision and accuracy on such a large scale was extremely impressive. To know that our coffee was coming through a mill with such advanced technology helps to explain why we are getting such a high quality product from these beautiful Peruvian farms.

 

 

Peru Origin Trip

Peru Origin Trip

Peru

 

At the end of August 2017, we will be heading to South America, to visit several small coffee farms. This will be our first origin trip, and our first attempt to bring home something that is truly unique. In the next few weeks, we hope to secure outstanding single-farm coffee, trading directly with the producers who own the farms. This is true sourcing.

 

In a previous blog post, we touched on one form of trading called “Fair Trade” and the controversy that surrounds the certification. Since its inception, the Fair Trade label has become weighed down under layers of bureaucracy and the money from the roaster didn’t always make it directly into the hands of the farmer. It is filtered through different hands until only a fraction of the purchase price makes it to the producer.

 

Due to the shortcomings of the Fair Trade system, many roasters decided to circumvent the import process, and source their own coffee by paying the farmers directly. They hired importers to come with them on the trips, they paid the farmers and the importer separately. The coffee skips past several links on the chain and both producer and roaster win in the end.

 

Producers of specialty coffee are extremely talented and hard-working farmers, who understand the growing conditions, and the harvest processes that will produce exceptional, one of a kind coffee. Often these producers are humble families of meager means, and their hard work shows in the quality of their product. These farms are usually small plots of land, and their yield is typically dozens of bags of coffee (not the hundreds of bags that some larger farms produce).

 

Direct Trade has been the buzzword for many years now, but just like Fair Trade, the waters have become muddied. Since no central governing body has oversight over the label Direct Trade, anyone can call any coffee by that name. People claim that they “source” coffee or that a coffee is “Direct Trade” all the time, and unfortunately sometimes they never even left the country.

 

So how do we differentiate ourselves from all of the “grey area” labels that exist, and let the people buying our coffee know that we have gone the extra mile (thousands of miles, actually)? We are creating a special label that will let you know with certainty that the coffee you are holding is from one of the farms that we have visited, and purchased the coffee from directly. We are dedicated to making sure that there is transparency in our products, and we will go the extra step to continue to bring amazing coffee to you, and we will work hard to tell the stories of the farmer while respecting the process along the way.

Connections- Jimmy & Spade EAT!

Connections- Jimmy & Spade EAT!

This is the first of our guest blog series. Please meet Jimmy & Spade Eat, a dynamic duo of amazing culinary insight and creative write ups for local food venues. Check their blog out, and find some new favorite places for grub!

Have you ever sat and had coffee with a friend while discussing some of life’s most intriguing questions? Have you ever spent time serving in a soup kitchen or enjoyed a family gathering around an array of delicious delicacies? Maybe you’ve had lunch with a new business partner and brainstormed innovative and exciting ideas. We all love the guy in the office that brings in donuts on Mondays when most of us don’t want to be there. There seems to be a certain nuance that food and drink bring to the human experience. Our existence here has many complex facets. One that I believe most of us may overlook or gloss by is the connection we share with other individuals on this planet. C.S. Lewis puts it like this, “Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees is, it would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.” How profound that it is time and space which constricts our view of humanity as a whole. One of the greatest adventures in life is realizing this misconception and reestablishing our connectivity to our fellow man. 

Reestablishing connectivity—this, I believe, is what food and drink are meant to facilitate. It will take most of us a good meal or a fresh cup of brewed coffee to break down these barriers. We have become so over-obsessed with self that we need a conduit for conversation. I would reason to say that this is a barrier that transcends time, but it is even more relevant in the day and age we live in. We spend more time using technology which is meant to connect us but ultimately separates us. We have every form of entertainment at the click of a button. We can drift off into the distraction of nothingness for hours and completely forget about the outside world. The idea of social media seems like a revolutionary concept that would propel a communal humanity. However, it often serves to only feed our self centeredness and disconnect us from the “real” world. If you were to try and explain Facebook to someone a hundred years ago, one could describe it as a page that ultimately is a shrine to a self image manufactured by one’s own skewed perception. I am not denigrating technology. It can be an impactful tool in many avenues. Rather, I am raising the awareness of motive. Also, I reason that there is no consolation for the kinship evoked by a meeting of two or more soulful beings in person. This is something that a labored meal or beverage can create that technology never could.  

Every good restaurateur may seemingly have different passions. Each one is unique in this. One’s passion may be to create the best cup of coffee. Another’s may be to install a new way of life through food. Another’s may be more simplistic in nature—to bring their family’s old recipes back to life. These passions, while being very personal and real, are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an even greater, much more climatic end. The over arching theme is connecting people. They connect individuals with each other as well as assimilating and introducing them to new ideas, concepts, and even ways of life.  I cannot speak for every restaurant, café, or coffee shop because I know that there are many out there with false motives. These are establishments that because of a lack of passion create an inconsistent or low-grade product and service. However, the culture of passionate business owners that I do know and support bring all of these thoughts to life every day through there diligence, tenacity and perseverance.    

This is the platform that Spade and I build our entire model off of. We are here to create convocations of connectivity in the community. We wish to become a medium where we can bring together all types of people. We want to introduce patrons of all ages and races to genuine, authentic establishments that will care of them and their loved ones. We desire to allow business owners a forum to introduce themselves to people in the community. We also hope to create a hub for cross-cultural connections of different business owners in the area. We connect people through food. I hope that as you sit down to your next meal you will be aware of this dynamic— this great and wonderful connection between food and community, food and family, and food and friends.