From the farm to the table, why sustainability is fundamental to businesses

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From the farm to the table, why sustainability is fundamental to businesses

Mike McEnearney, Chef and Owner, Kitchen By Mike, Creative Director, Carriageworks Farmers Market

Mike McEnearney on a Colombian coffee farm

Mike McEnearney surveying the coffee farm

As a chef I have always championed the little guy: the farmer, the producer, the artisan. It underpins everything I do. For those farmers and producers sustainability in their business is arguably the most important goal.

It wasn’t until I saw first-hand the work that Nespresso does with its coffee farmers in Jardin, Colombia that I realised that this huge global corporation believes in sustainability as much as I do. Nespresso champions the little guy too.

In Colombia coffee is grown in mountainous regions on incredibly steep terrain. The farms we visited are run by small scale farmers where everything needs to be done by hand. (There are larger farms where machines are used but the charm of the places we saw is that everything is done manually.)

Mike McEnearney picking coffee cherries

Pick of the crop: Mike learns which cherries are ready to pick and when.

Nespresso came into the Jardin region around 20 years ago. The company knows what it wants: premium coffee that meets the rigorous standards of the AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. This is important to Nespresso so that the company can ensure supply and give customers the best quality coffee. To achieve this benchmark, the company’s agronomists work closely with farmers, most of whom have never been educated in agriculture, on how to improve their crop and achieve better sale prices. In the process they have transformed these small growers into sustainable farms.

The agronomists coach the farmers on every aspect: how to plant trees in a particular pattern so there is space to move between them; the benefits of biodiversity for soil and crop health; and understanding when to pick the coffee and which cherries to pick. In Jardin I saw farmers growing plantains next to the coffee which not only improves the soil but provides an alternative off-season crop and income from it. For me this is sustainability in action.

In Jardin, we visited a community mill established by Nespresso where small scale farmers bring their crop to market. This allows the farmers to concentrate on growing the coffee rather than selling or distributing it.

Colombian coffee farmer picking coffee cherries

Farmer Humberto picks his coffee by hand at his farm in Jardin

As a long-term advocate of growers, and as creative director of Carriageworks Farmers Market this resonated with me. The processes are the same. At the farms I visited Nespresso’s farmers hand pick their coffee, like you would hand pick grapes to make wine, or hand milk your goats to make fresh curd, or hand pick beautiful peaches at an orchard. Everything is done by hand. It represents integrity and sustainability and made me proud to drink Nespresso coffee.

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