MEET Emily and Hillary: coffee bean toting globe trotters
Do you ever browse the shelves of your local grocery store or Starbucks wishing there was a more interesting way to get your morning caffeine fix? Look no further. The FEED has found coffee that makes a difference. Meet Emily and Hillary. In addition to allowing us to conduct our first-ever Skype interview (Emily lives in NYC), these ladies are revolutionizing the concept of community supported agriculture as a global system of fair and direct trade. They spend part of their year in the Dominican Republic talking to farmers and the other part telling the world about awesome coffee. Best of all, you can have their tasty beans delivered to your door! So pour a cup and read on to meet Liga Masiva.
Tell us about your project:
Hillary: Liga Masiva is a direct trade company working to build an international farmers market. We connect organic small-scale farmers in Latin America directly with consumers here in the US. Emily had spent a lot of time in Dominican Republic and made contact with a lot of small-scale farmers who were producing amazing organic products but they didn’t have a market channel where they could get a value added price for them. Liga Masiva was born from the idea of how to connect these phenomenal farmers with people who want to buy their products but don’t have way to do so. We started with coffee farmers in the Dominican Republic and are aiming to expand to other products in the coming months. It is a kind of CSA model but for international products. You subscribe online and we ship your selected goods to your house along with information on the farmers.
Emily: We are still growing, but the eventual vision is that as a member of the Liga Masiva community you would be able to get an entire basket of products that complement your local CSA purchases. CSA’s give you the satisfaction that your purchases really support your values and things you care about. Through our program you could buy things not grown locally and feel the same way about them.
What inspires you to do this work?
Hillary: I love the connections with the farmers and people who are producing amazing things. We get the opportunity to share super cool stuff from amazing places with people who otherwise wouldn’t experience them. Helping people become connected and more aware of the world as a big beautiful place.
Emily: What gets me up in the morning is the amazing people we work with. When we open an email from someone who is a subscriber and how becoming part of our community has changed their life is a huge motivator.
Hillary: We occasionally get emails from people who say “I feel like I joined a family”. That is what we want to do! We want to help them realize they are connected to other people through the things they purchase and use. Connection makes change is a big mantra for us. Feeling like people are getting that really makes our work worth it.
Who are you collaborating with?
Emily: We do not exist alone, we have been helped and continue to be helped along the way. Like the Unreasonable Institute where we were fellows last year. There is a small group of phenomenal social impact investors who are a big part of our community. We have done partnerships with company colleagues as well. Groups like Runa which is an amazing team company from the amazon. They really work hard for the community of tea farmers.
What challenges have you faced?
Hillary: When you are creating something that doesn’t exist yet there is a lot of resistance from people about how you are going to make that work. The balance of trying to acknowledge the fact that there are a lot of challenges and yet that we think there are ways to do a particular thing. Last year we launched a pilot program to provide access to cash prior to the harvest for our farmers. Our farmers told us they needed access to credit before the harvest to expand or make other improvements. We talked to many micro credit groups and they were hesitant. Everyone said it wouldn’t work. They said the farmers would use the money for motorcycles or things not related to coffee. Even so, thanks to one of our angel investors, we were able to do a pilot program last year to lend farmers money at the beginning of the harvest. We worked closely with the farmers throughout the year. We visited in March and found that they had really invested in their farms. It was great to see hillsides previously unused now covered with coffee plants. Over the summer we were able to give them each a certificate that they had paid back 100% of what we had leant them.
Emily: Once you build something it is obvious that it should be there, but as you are building it you and everyone else can think of a 1,000 reasons not to do it. The challenge is figuring out which parts of the critique are valid and which are just used to the status quo and having a hard time envisioning something new. That is the fun part, but also the challenge.
What kind of impact do you hope to have?
Hillary: I will speak to the community where I have the most interaction- the farmers. The aim is to have a long-term relationship with the farmers we work with. We want to figure out ways for the international trade system to work better for small-scale farmers. Farmers need access to markets with fair prices, access to capital and access to information. We are working to provide all of those to our farmers.
Emily: There is a big picture, we envision a way of buying and selling things based on relationships. Our direct trade model is still small, but I think it can grow as a model for a system of all international trade. Our 3 keystones are that trade is direct, just and human centered. We want to build it farmer by farmer and country by country.
Would you like to see this replicated or expanded?
HIllary: We are looking for ways to expand to new products and new farmers and locations, both more in the Dominican Republic and then in other countries. We will do a similar program with various products around Latin America.
Emily: Already this year we are starting to expand the number of farmers we work with. And the number of subscribers we have.
What kind of help or assistance do you need?
Emily: Our focus right now is on something exciting, building a community. Here in the US we want to do a better job of engaging people in our products and mission. We are starting a Liga Masiva advocate program where we choose 100 go-getters to help us build a global farmers market movement. They get some benefits plus it is a great chance to get more people involved in direct trade.
What are some key issues facing Atlanta?
HIllary: I think Atlanta has a lot of issues and innovative responses. Something exciting for me since I moved here a year ago is that I keep encountering people trying to address these issues. I feel hopeful and excited that Atlanta is the place to be to connect with people who are active in whatever the issues there are. For me that has been the local sustainable food movement. I have been privileged to do things like volunteer at Truly Living Well farm and to visit many of our local farmers markets. I feel that there are a lot of projects on how to live sustainably. It is exciting to see how people here are making life more place-based. There is a lot of cycling and scootering around town.
Emily: I have been to Atlanta before. Being from NY, Atlanta is a place that seems to have a tremendous amount of growth, innovation and new ideas partly because there is a smaller community in entrepreneurship and social enterprise. I see a lot more collaboration and connection happening because it is smaller than something like New York.
What are some of your favorite organizations?
Hillary: Here in Atlanta I love the Atlanta Local Food Initiative. I think it is an awesome initiative and group of people. I love getting my hands dirty at Truly Living Well farms. I only have a few vegetables growing in my yard so getting to be surrounded with soil and people who know how to grow things is great. Dr Bombay’s in Candler Park is a great space. If you don’t know it you should definitely go there. The owner runs a learning center in Darjeeling India. A lot of the proceeds from this tea house go to support the projects there.
Emily: I have a tremendous amount of belief in the Unreasonable Institute from having first hand experience of what an incredible launcher it was. One lesser known organization in NY that I worked with for a short amount of time is Just Food. They run great CSA’s and community gardens.
Where can interested readers find you:
What FEED’s your soul?