What comes after Hope’s Edge…

A post from Emily Kerr, Liga Masiva’s founder & CEO…

Nine months short of graduating from college, I called my Mom and let her know I was probably going to drop out. I wasn’t struggling academically. I didn’t have some catastrophic problem to contend with. But I was hugely, tangibly, acutely frustrated.

I was frustrated with learning instead of doing. I was frustrated with the “senior week” mentality in which the goal of college was to study quickly to leave more time for drinking. Mostly, I was frustrated with myself for wanting deeply to do… but not yet doing in the ways I imagined. I wasn’t yet creating what I wanted to for the world… and I was scared that it might not be possible.

I didn’t drop out. Part of it was me was tapping into my patience. Part of it was my Mom’s wise advice. And the biggest part of the reason I didn’t drop out was books and experiences like Frances Moore Lappé and (her daughter) Anna Lappé’s Hope’s Edge. Their book, along with a number of other bolstering experiences I had that year, gave me powerful proof that creating for the world in the way I wanted to was possible. Their book affirmed some of the most radical things I was coming to believe… and put a spotlight on the brave people acting in the world in accordance with those beliefs.

Many years later, a dogeared copy of Hope’s Edge still sits on my shelf and Frances Moore Lappé has continued her work in shaping, spotlighting, and powering work for people, food, and the environment.

So, three months ago, when we were launching our Advocate Program and looking for the most meaningful things we could find to train, inspire, and influence our advocates… we crossed our fingers and reached out to Frances to see if she’d speak with us.

She said yes! This Wednesday, Frances will be giving an intimate talk to Liga Masiva’s advocates. The call will center around Frances’s newest, and perhaps most audacious book yet: EcoMind. We highly suggest picking up this super-readable, super-powerful book. And we’ll be posting after her session to share some of the juiciest bits from what she shares.

Mission Completed: Liga Masiva Advocates Share The Love

Back in October, we launched a search for a group of advocates as obsessed as we are with knowing about the food they eat, the coffee they drink, and digging just a little bit deeper.  We ended up with a group of 23 advocates, all passionately dedicated to raising awareness for the causes they care about.

Once we had the group assembled, we knew we had to bring it: we needed to deliver a program that would challenge and inspire, but that would also translate to our diverse group, across borders and time zones.  We sent each advocate a welcome kit, a bag of our coffee, and asked them to complete three missions:  1) make a darn good cup of coffee, 2) say gracias to our farmers in the Dominican Republic, and 3) share the love.

Next we lined up a series of masterclasses, where we brought together our advocates online, in conversation with some of the people we admire most, like Teju Ravilochan and Amber Rae. We started an Advocate-only Facebook group, where we share ideas, stories, pictures, and links. It’s been such a thrill getting to know such a passionate group of people.

What do our advocates have to say about the program?  We’ve asked them to share their thoughts on what its meant to them to be a Liga Masiva Advocate.

Hannah Hunt Moeller, student of architecture at the University of Michigan and founder of Design for Humans

Liga Masiva centers around community. The basic principle to facilitate a global farmers’ market stretches beyond an economic relationship. As an advocate, I’ve entered into a community of doers/thinkers/activists (albeit virtually) who seek to fully engage the world through creative/positive/intentional impact. I appreciate the sense of unity this brings to the advocacy program. More than a cup o’ joe, the emphasis on open source skills sharing is highly effective. I’m a part of a network that I am proud to support and share. The social networking component has been an easy way to expose my involvement as an advocate and start conversations.  Many friends have reached out to me to inquire about my coffee drinking affinities and I’m thrilled to share about Liga.

Michael Maruca, Peace Corps volunteer, about to leave for service in Morocco

My favorite part of the program is learning about the farmers. The feedback and information that comes standard with the bag of coffee is incredible.  I participated in one of those consumer seminar discussions last week, and we were talking about developing the ideal rewards program.  We were trying to brainstorm about potential non-economic returns for purchases.  And I thought, well, an ideal return would look a good deal like what Liga Masiva sends me and has up online about their farmers.  The information lets me buy in emotionally, and feel like I’m part of the exchange rather than a nameless consumer receiving goods from nameless producers.  And the others around the table said oh yeah, that sounds like an awesome return.  A couple of the participants came up to me afterwards and wanted to know more about Liga Masiva.

Out of the Liga Box: Hibiscus Tea

The snow’s finally falling in my home state of Minnesota, though it’s not quite the white Christmas I’ve been dreaming of.  That doesn’t mean that it’s not freezing.  My mom told me that it had snowed before I arrived and she thought maybe it would last for me, but then she “heard it was going to get warm—like into the 40s.”  Can you say “brrr”?

A girl can only drink so many cups of coffee to stay warm in a day, so I’ve been making the Liga Box’s hibiscus from the “Arroyo San Pedro Jorullo” cooperative in Michoacán into a really simple herbal tea.

Emily and I served it this way for an event this week at the unique Nu Hotel in Brooklyn. The beautiful, bright red color of the tea was a surprise to guests when we first served it, but after they took the first sip, people’s eyes lit up and a smile slowly crept along their face.

What follows is an imprecise recipe.  All of the quantities can be changed based on your preferences.

1 ½ cups of water
5-7 hibiscus leaves, depending upon the size
A spoonful of sugar, honey, or agave syrup (if you’d like—I like mine without sweetening)

Heat water to your preferred temperature.  Add the hibiscus and sugar and let steep for 2 – 4 minutes.  You can drink the tea with the leaves in it, and it will become more concentrated over time.

I have some lovely fresh oranges that I picked up from Flying Fox at New Amsterdam Market last weekend, and I’ve been squeezing the fresh juice from those straight into the tea.  Cinnamon also makes a great addition.

Wishing and willing.

A post from our COO, Amy Osekowsky…

My boyfriend Peter found this note on our kitchen counter last week and was perplexed about it worried about my sanity: “No amount of wishing and willing is going to get my hibiscus to me.”

I’ve taken to writing myself notes in my sleep about the things, big and small, that keep me up at night so that I can get back to sleep.

Last week started as a week filled with a lot of wishing and willing. Monday began with trouble shipping the chocolate. Then, neither the guava paste nor the hibiscus was sent by Monday night, my mental cut-off time.

The thing was that I had done everything possible to prepare for our import—I scoured the websites of the FDA, Customs, USDA, and Mexican agricultural agencies. I called every government agency possible. Twice. (But that’s another story.) I worked with FedEx and DHL to make sure everything was set-up and understand the process. I communicated the plan with our partner farmers multiple times. I had done the work, and it was time to put the plan in action and step back.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings began with great promise, only to have enough problems with importing the hibiscus and guava paste to give me a headache by 11AM. It was exhausting. It was outside my control. And it left no energy to do the tough work that I actually could influence.

So, (amidst tears and lamenting to my teammates, mind you) I told myself I had done all that was within my power, and I gave myself permission to stop obsessing about it. It was relieving to tell myself that I could stop worrying, I could go back to doing something productive, and the shipment was in God’s/a higher power’s/the FDA’s hands now.

All that’s not to say that this isn’t a work in progress. After all, I did obsessively check my email between Friday evening and Sunday morning to see if FedEx sent me an update on the hibiscus. It requires practice, but I’ll undoubtedly have countless opportunities for that.

As close to organic as possible?

This past week, we gave our Liga Masiva Advocates a sneak peek of our Liga Box. Amid the excitement, one advocate asked a very savvy question. In the Liga Box magazine, we say that the products in the box are from producer relationships that are works in progress. That applies to all parts of the producers’ practices, including the degree to which they grow organically. We summarize this part of things by saying that the products are “as close to organic as possible.”

And despite our brief explanation in the magazine, it begged the question: what the heck does that mean?

First and foremost, I would just say that all of these producer relationships are works in progress. That means that at least some facets of the producers’ work leave room for evolution and improvement… while others are stellar.

Our hibiscus producers, for instance, are tirelessly (and certified organic) but have other challenges. Although the chocolate and guava producers weren’t certified organic and left some things to be desired in growing/sourcing practices, we decided it was worth moving forward because there was real evidence that we could support them in transitioning, which obviously is more positively impactful than just seeing them as a “lost cause” and moving on to more established producers. (Especially since they were so exceptional in other areas.)

Also, we’re working on creating a consistent “scorecard” that we make transparent to both consumers and farmers so that it’s clear where producers are struggling and where they’re already successful, as well as the criteria they had to meet to participate at all… and where we want to work with them to head.

Ultimately, I think the key thing to communicate is that we see our job as not simply to buy from producers that are doing things perfectly, but to make the system work perfectly for producers… and support them in evolving their practices to match.
 

The Liga Box! It’s Real (almost)!

Aside from some minor import delays and an exacto knife wound (oops!), things are going smoothly with our hand-made batch of 500 Liga Boxes. We’ve just gotten the beautiful magazines back from the printer (printed on recycled paper with vegetable-based inks, of course), and we have almost all the components needed to put them together. The rest should be arriving any minute now, and then we’ll spend all weekend weighing and labeling the products, filling the boxes and wrapping them in their beautiful sleeves.

It’s a thrill to be back in the make-it-all-by-hand phase. It’s a lot of work, of course, but a bit of music, an exacto knife and some scotch tape is making it all come together. Check out the attached pictures to see the boxes in progress, and make sure to order yours before they’re all gone!

Clearance Delay.

Try as I might to not check my email as soon as I roll out of bed, I usually end up doing just that. And what greeted me this morning as I scrolled through? Uh-oh. A “clearance delay” in the export of our hibsicus (hustling its way up from Mexico to join its other Direct Trade brethern when we pack the Liga Boxes on Saturday.) A clearance delay means that one of the thousand details that have to be in place of export has gone… askew.

We’re hustling to un-delay the clearance delay but while I’m waiting for FedEx to call, I thought I’d share the story with you.

Let me back up. Direct Trade means no middlemen.

No middlemen means that us Liga Masiva-ers orchestrate the export, import, and transport of every product we buy from the small-scale farmers we work with in Latin America. Direct Trade can’t be direct with middlemen in the way. (And, boy, are there middlemen in conventional trade! Coffee, for instance, can change hands as many as 13 times before it gets to you.)

Cutting out the middlemen is the heart and soul of what we do. It’s why we do what we do. But it’s not always easy. The farmers we work with don’t know the “ins and outs” of preparing product for export. So we’re learning as we go to make the document-prep process as easy as humanly possible for the farmers. Amy, our operational whiz-kid, has been working all day every day for the past three weeks to figure out every rule, trick, detail, and form in order to get the Liga Box products in the country in the super-short timeframe we had.

We’re not there yet, clearly, and that’s what caused the clearance delay. But we’re hustling to get there! And we’ll keep you posted. (Oh, and cross your fingers for the swift un-delay of that hibscus! It’s delicious and we want to get it to you ASAP!)

From Haciendas to Ejidos.

Last week, two of us traveled from our home-base in Zacatecas, Mexico the 12 hours or so down to  Morelia, Michoacan to meet the producers we wanted to partner with on the hibiscus for the Liga Box.

After arriving in Michoacan, we stayed overnight in the city and early Saturday morning, we drove the 3 hours out to the communities. Almost as soon as we arrived, we were swept up into the pickup truck of Marcoeri, one of the cooperative’s members, and the person elected to manage sales.

As we rattled along in Marcoeri’s truck (slightly overheated from the 100+ degree sun, but mostly in awe of the landscape around us) he shared some of history of the area.

These communities were once haciendas in which non-Spanish (or mestizo) people had no rights and existed in complete service to the owners of the haciendas. They had no rights to land, to food, to money, to build anything, etc.

When the hacienda system was overthrown via revolution in the early 1900s, ejidos were formed– self-governing communities in which the land that was formerly owned by the hacienda was now run together by the family/members of the ejido. In 1993, though, the government came in and demanded that the ejidos divide up the land among the members. The ejido continued, but the communal action and perhaps bargaining power of the ejidos was significantly weakened… and the farmers of the region (almost every family is a farm family) struggled to earn more than their cost of production for their goods (hibiscus, sesame, corn, and sorghum.) Coyotes (produce buyers) would collaborate to fix prices so low that the farmers were losing money each year.

A few years ago, though, the farmers formed cooperatives that allowed them to do some things together as well as to negotiate with a bit more power behind them. And then, about 5 years ago, the cooperatives realized that if they joined together, they would be much more powerful to sell directly to buyers, rather than going through middlemen.

Far from an academic point of interest, the structures (haciendas, ejidos, cooperatives, cooperative union) of these farmers’ community and work has been fundamental in determining the degree to which they’ve struggled or thrived.

So when we came representing Liga Masiva’s vision of Direct Trade, of no middlemen, of just prices, and of complete transparency, the farmers were enthusiastic. They approached us with the measured excitement of someone who has been working for years (decades, in this case) and is optimistic about what you might add to that work.

It’s an honor to be part of the work of Unión de Cooperativas Arroyo San Pedro Jorullo. And we can’t wait to see how things continue evolving.

Moving fast. Happily.

It’s not every day you get to make something that you’re giddily proud of.

So often, logistics, compromises, and mistakes get in the way of turning an idea into a reality.

But in the last few weeks, the Liga Masiva team has sourced 3 delicious, Direct Trade products, cultivated new relationships with amazing farmers, designed a phenomenal box, and created a pretty fantastic 20-page magazine to bring the products alive.

The picture here– blurry, in-motion, smiling, excited, and moving almost too fast– is exactly how the last few weeks have felt. (And how things continue to feel.) But we’re proud, even as we continue working hard. Proud of The Liga Box, proud of our approach, proud of our unwillingness to compromise on the things that matter, and proud of our ability to move fast to make something great.

There’s plenty of time for reflection and self-critique, but for now, we’re going to allow this small celebration.

We’re in O Magazine… take a peek!

We were absolutely honored and thrilled to see ourselves (and our beans!) in the November issue of O Magazine. It was a beautiful and thoughtful article by author Bonnie Tsui… and we’re so pleased to get to know so many new people because of it. So if you’re at a newstand and want to see it for yourself, just check us out on page 44. Thanks, O!