Missoula nonprofit looks to make global connections through trade, storytelling

“What we’re trying to do is connect farmers and their stories with people here at home in the U.S.” Jackson said. “We’ll imbed ourselves with coffee farmers during the height of the coffee harvest, and we’ll assist them harvesting and processing their product.”

“When it comes down to it, at the end of the day, it’s the stories that people remember,” Jackson said. “It comes down to working with communities, solving problems and building trust. It’s about people’s lives.“

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Field Report from a student

Mikaila Way, then a senior environmental studies major from Pacific University, joined us as a volunteer in January of 2012 on a harvest workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico.  In these excerpts, she describes a typical evening with our friends and host famers after a day of coffee picking, and talks abut how her time with Thomas and Elvira influenced how she views coffee. 

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Taking Flight (with help from mountains)....

Up on the hill at night, it's the shape of the valley, the familiar bowl from the shores of the old Lake Missoula that lets me know I am home. Geologists tell me that when the ice dam broke and drained the lake twelve thousand years ago, the flood ran with the force of sixty Amazon rivers.  A whole watershed was re-shaped, exposing the rich valley floor that we've landed on, our farmland.  While I know that this, here, is the most stable base I've had in years, there is still a certain uneasiness of footing. 

This unnamed hill I run is the backside Blue Mountain, and I'm often almost as alone as I can be.  Dark-running on the hill, I feel as well as see the late night jets funneling in: first from Seattle and then another, later, from Denver pushing the cold air mass down around me. Home lights blink from the old lake bed below, while the erratic red zig-zag of the LED on the husky’s collar  follows its own path, guided by the land, smells, walkers’ tracks from earlier in the day, scents of deer and foxes in search of food. 

At this time of year, weather and terrain change quickly, and all of a sudden, when I have my headlamp off and am guided by nothing other than the ambient light, or feel, it's a surprise to transition to the grass, and then frozen soil, and then back again.  I have learned to watch treelines, suspect ice, and not be surprised to see the light of a jet, coming into the valley floor low.  On the downhills, sometimes I get going too fast, in the sea of darkness and it’s all just strange lights: homes, jets, and a running husky blur together.  It can be slightly out of control, just hoping to hit each stride and push off again on firm footing, but also feel like I could somehow take off completely.

Forested Slopes Over Sumatra, Indonesia
Forested Slopes Over Sumatra, Indonesia

I have known this sensation before. Years ago I lived in a bamboo house in the Philippines. At night, when all the village fishermen had gone to bed, I would swim in the bay outside my house. Bioluminescient plankton, reacting to the current of my own body, flashed light ahead of me and behind me. The glow, especially with the reflecting stars on the bay, formed trails that seemed to guide me, not unlike an airport runway. I'd feel as if I was getting ready to take off.

Now that feeling comes, not just in the running or swimming, but in the entire plan, all the ways I try to navigate a distinct life and livelihood.  There’s a certain blur, a mix of excitement and terror, when take-off approaches.  Soon, we will board a plane to Sumatra, Indonesia. We are going there to get everything sorted for our first full student course in May.  We’ll meet with village storytellers, conservationists, and others who are work in the landscape, on their own small coffee farms. These are wonderful, indigenous people restoring forests and farmlands. We’ll ask them to open their homes to students wishing to learn. These farmers form part of a fabric of pathways, on the backside of another mountain, far from where I run here.  I think I respect them so much because they are also guided by their own visions and lights - some electric, some oil candles that burn into the night. 

In the preparation, in getting ready for our own flight, there it is again--the moment when you are racing down the hillside, or trusting your feet to find the path through a coffee garden at night. There might be stars or lit houses for guidance, might just be the feel of the footpath on the slope, the knowledge that it's going to lead somewhere. But really, I suppose, it's just raw belief. Belief in much more than the details and preparations, or even the return with bags laden with green coffee: belief in becoming part of our own community, landing and settling more deeply, more fully engaged. There is a wonder and a terror in the that pre-flight moment just before takeoff, that is so important for so many of us.    

We are calling this batch of coffee the Pre-Flight Roast, for the imminent and very literal flight to Indonesia in less than two weeks, but also for that sensation: the feeling of quickening, rushing, as everything gathers speed. This one is for taking big steps, and getting things done you might only have dreamed of. It's for the falling and still keeping the motion, guided by the magical combination of history, signs from the landscape, knowledge, and intuition. This roast is for the farmers who can look at a field and vision a food forest or a berry patch where neighbors might gather seasons later. This roast is for new friends and neighbors:  those we meet slowly through knocks on the door, and those we meet abruptly, when the husky barges through their door looking for food and friendship of her own. Share this with your own friends, people in your office, or like us, with farmers in Sumatra.