PO BOX 12492 Toledo, OH 43606 info@radicalloveinc.org 517.442.9809

Change the World With A Cup of Joe

A few years ago my wife and I rented a booth at the Toledo Farmers Market. The market took place in the parking lot of an Elder-Beerman. We’d been to our fair share of farmers markets, but being on the other side of the booth was a different experience. There were hundreds of people walking up and down the rows of vendors, trying to find free samples and good deals. We learned quickly that people connect well when your product tells a good story. We’d get asked what made our coffee ‘unique’ or ‘different’.

Recently, people have been reaching out to me once again and asking what makes our coffee ‘unique’. I know that people have hundreds of options when it comes to coffee, and peopl want to know what separates us from the crowd. So I wanted to write about why I think Rad Roast Coffee is unique, and why you should give it a try!

We purchase exclusively fair-trade/organic coffees (and shade certified when available). Certification is the best tool available to ensure coffee production is ethical, equitable, and sustainable. Surprisingly, few coffee shops and stores sell certified coffees. Just 8% of the coffee produced globally is certified, and that percentage is much lower for coffee beans that have multiple certifications (i.e. fair-trade and organic). We want to change that. Without coffee most of us would not survive our mornings, or those late night study sessions. Coffee farmers are the reason we get to enjoy our cup of joe each morning, and we believe certification is an important tool that benefits farmers.

So what’s so great about certification? 

Coffee certification is unique because most other globally exported goods don’t have certification programs. Many people are unclear about what the certifications actually mean, so I want to explain why they matter. And the next time you go shopping for coffee, take a minute and scan over the coffee bag to see if it contains those important certification labels.

1. Fair-trade.  Fair-trade certification ensures that the farmers and laborers who plant,  prune, harvest, dry, and prepare our coffees earn an equitable wage. Fair-trade certification is a ‘stamp of approval’ on the economic side of coffee production. Like any globally exported good, coffee is subject to the laws of supply and demand. The fair-trade certification sets minimum prices to reduce risk and increase profits for coffee growers, and it protects them from large corporations looking to undercut farmers. Whether you buy coffee from us or someone else, we recommend that you try to purchase coffee that has the fair-trade certification symbol on the bag.

2. Organic.  Organic certification ensures that our coffees (and the workers who produce them) do not receive chemical inputs, and this certification is also non-GMO. In many instances, those working the coffee fields live on or near the farms. Their families and kids drink and bathe from the streams that flow through the coffee farms. Some of the chemical used to manage coffee pests (i.e. endosulfan) are lethal. These agrochemicals can end up in streams, or on the clothes of the workers spraying coffee plants. Organic certification reduces these risks. In addition, coffee plants takes on the flavors of the landscape, and having natural growing conditions can improve the quality and flavor notes of the coffee.  Thus, we purchase organic coffees because it benefits the health of farmers and their families, and because it makes our coffee better.

3. Shade. Shade certification (i.e. bird-friendly) is less common but still an important certification. Coffee was originally discovered as an understory plant in the forests of Ethiopia. The legend says a man named Kaldi was herding his goats near the forest, and a few of them went missing. He went looking for his missing goats and found them dancing and frolicking, and eating these mysterious red cherries. After eating a few himself, he found himself dancing as well. Thus, coffee grows best as an understory shade crop in a forested landscape. When coffee is produced this way, it provides habitat for many bird species that migrate and overwinter in coffee farms. Jaguars and other large mammals have also been discovered using coffee forests as habitat. Shade certification provides important ecosystem benefits for both abiotic and biotic processes.

We believe our coffee is some of the best around. That is because the coffee beans we purchase are grown by farmers who are passionate about coffee. The farmers are the real heroes. We think they deserve to get paid well for the amazing work they do. Certification is the first step in empowering coffee farmers and improving livelihoods. We want to help them in other ways too, but we’ll save that for another post!

Our job as coffee roasters is to precisely roast our coffees to accentuate the unique flavors and notes each coffee farms has to offer. We believe our coffee will taste different than what is currently stocked in your cupboard, and we’d love for you to give us a try. If you are interested in purchasing coffee for your store, office, or church – send us an email (info@radicalloveinc.org). We’d love to provide you with top-notch coffees, or we can by do a free coffee tasting for your place of work. You can peruse through our coffee in our online store.

Looking for part-time work? We are looking to hire a coffee sales person ASAP – someone to help us grow and find places to sell our products. If you are interested or know someone that might be a good fit, please send me an email (justin@radicalloveinc.org) or call (517-442-9809).

So you like roast coffee, catch bees, and go to Mexico?

I wanted to write a blog about RLI and how my experience in grad school has shaped me as a nonprofit leader. People see little snippets of my life on Facebook and Instagram, and since I post like one thing a month at most, people get a rather vague picture of what I do. Some people think I spend all day in the metroparks catching bees, or roasting coffee and making chocolate-covered espresso beans. They think RLI is this weird nonprofit that is mixture of bees, coffee, missions trips, urban gardens, and ecology. Since I’ve been talking about RLI and asking people to be a part of our support team, I thought I should talk about how the things I’m doing in grad school help make a RLI a better nonprofit.

When we started RLI back in 2013 our team had dreams, vision, and passion. We knew we wanted to change the world. And when we got that letter from the IRS saying we were an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, we had the legal status to actually go out and do it. However, the one thing we lacked was experience and expertise in the functioning of nonprofit world. This is one of the primary reasons I decided to go to grad school. I wanted to learn about nonprofits, writing grants, international development, education, growing food, etc. Four years later, I’m still in grad school (almost done) and I’ve gained a lot of insight and met some really good people that influence the way I view nonprofits. So I wanted to share with you some of the ways my time in grad school as changed the way we do things at RLI.

What have I learned in the past four year of grad school?

1. Have a narrow focus. You find success when you have a narrow focus. Grad school is all about honing in on an excruciatingly narrow topic that nobody has researched. As an undergrad I took all those random classes that had nothing to do with my degree (i.e. history of jazz). My focus was insanely broad, and I learned a little bit about a lot of different topics. It’s kind of like when you go to a restaurant that has a 40 page menu, and you just know that the food is going to taste like ‘meh’. Grad school is the opposite. It’s like this restaurant in Brooklyn that only serves avocado-based foods. The menu is 1 page and every item contains avocados. And I think nonprofits benefit when they actually identify their focus. That’s why RLI has strategically narrowed our focus to 3 things: food, education, and health. Rather than do a bunch of stuff and be ‘meh’, we want to do a few things and do them right.

2. Ask questions. The most fundamental part about being a successful grad student is the ability to ask good questions. My job as a PhD student is to ask a lot of questions, and to design experiments so that I can answer those questions. I read a ton of papers so that I can get information to help me answer questions, and to learn what others have done to answer similar questions. Nonprofits are also in the business of asking and answering questions. Almost every nonprofit exist to address and solve the problem plaguing society, and the nonprofits that find success ask really good questions. Why do homeless people remain homeless after years of assistance? Why does 40% of the food we grow end up in the trash and not in the bellies of hungry people? Why does Africa remain the poorest continent when it has received the most aid over the past 50 years? We at RLI want to be continually asking questions, critiquing our methods, and ensuring that we do what we do well. 

3. Set goals regularly. Throughout the majority of my undergrad, I was a major procrastinator. And I do admit that I would stay up all night writing papers for a few of my classes. But you can’t procrastinate your way to a PhD. I mean, when you have to write a 100+ page dissertation, it’s not really a one-night deal. Similarly, nonprofits shouldn’t expect to go from A to Z in a night. We set goals to keep us on track, and so we can tell all the cool people who support us that we’re using their money wisely.

4. Meet people who are different than you. Grad schools are filled with students from all over the world that have different cultural, religious, and home-life backgrounds. And these differences are encouraged and celebrated. It’s part of the experience of grad school. Nonprofits need this. We need to spend time listening and hanging out with the people we serve. That’s why we’ve been working in the same communities for 5 years. We don’t want to walk in with our agenda in order to do our thing. We want to first listen and hear from the people we serve. And then work with them to implement change.

5. Do your research. I’ve collected a ton of data on the diversity and health of bees across Northwest. I’ve collected around 50 species of bees, and I know super specific information about them. The exact coordinates where they were captured; the humidity and temperature the moment they were captured; the soil moisture and the species of flower they were pollinating; their exact weight and length and how much water was in their body the moment they were collected. Collecting good data is the reason I can analyze and make conclusions about what factors influence bees. We want to do the same thing at RLI. It’s so important for nonprofits to collect data on their programs so they can actually see if the programs are effective. Many nonprofits don’t. We want to collect good data so we can improve and be the best at what we do.

There are tons of other things I’ve learned about mentoring, teaching, dealing with conflict, failure, etc. While I’ve learned a lot of things in grad school, I’m excited to be done. To be able to devote all of my time to RLI and to working with communities to implement change.

Interested in hearing more? Some people have asked to read about some of the research I’ve done in the Toledo area. Send me an email (justin@radicalloveinc.org) and I can send you some of the papers I’ve published in the past few years.

Want to support RLI? Donate Here.

We left for Mazatlan and returned with a new mission

Last month I had the opportunity to take a trip down to Mazatlan. On most trips, I lead a team of seven to fifteen people, and I’m busy keeping track of people and ensuring their parents that they are alive and safe. But this trip was different because I went by myself. I stayed with my missionary friend and his family. The pace of the trip was slow, and I had a lot of time to think and process and ask questions. I had no worries that someone would lose their passport, or wander off into a squatter camp to never be seen again. I was fully present and focused. 

This was my tenth trip to Mazatlan in the past seven years. RLI has taken over 75 people on trips, and we’ve done a lot of good. We’ve encouraged, fed, clothed, and helped thousands of individuals and families. But sadly, it’s seven years later and those people we helped are still living in poverty. They have clothes on their back and a full belly, but their economic situation has remained constant. Poverty is cyclical, and the cycle is extremely difficult to break.

I have some good friends from the colonias in Mazatlan that are my age. They’ve made it to college and a few even graduated. This past month I saw that they had moved back into the colonias. They are bright and skilled, and are just as qualified has myself for many jobs in our respective fields. However, employment opportunities are ridiculously rare, and they were forced to settle for a job well under their pay-grade and level of expertise. While it makes me grateful to be in the land of opportunity, it also frustrates me. It’s frustrating because if I were born 2000 miles to the south, I wouldn’t be where I am today. None of us would. 

The major obstacles individuals in Mazatlán face are issues of access.  Access to food, education, and opportunity. If my friends had access to employment opportunities, things would be different. If moms had access to fresh fruits, veggies, and water in the colonias, their kids wouldn’t be sick and at risk for diabetes. These issues run deep and they can’t be solved on a week-long trip. They are issues that must be uprooted and replaced and this process takes time. This is why RLI has chosen to shift our focus away from missions trips. We still think missions trips are rad, but we believe our focus should be on developing strategies that target the deeper issues people face. In particular, we have chosen to focus on food, education, and health.

Creating long-term change in these areas will be a lot of work, and it requires time, investment, and collaboration. We have chosen to surround ourselves with experts in these fields, and would love you to join our team. We could use your expertise if you are passionate about (1) farming, gardening, cooking, and preserving good food, (2) teaching kids and ESL training for adults, and (3) healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

The biggest need RLI faces in making this shift in our focus is to hire a full-time director. Currently, all our directors volunteer their time, and thus our time is stretched between our “real jobs” and RLI. We are planning to hire myself (Justin) once I graduate, so I can devote all of my time and energy to make the vision of RLI a reality. I’m pretty pumped for this, and I think there is a ton of good work for us to do that will empower and alter the lives of people living in Mazatlan.

That is why we are asking you to partner with us by investing and sewing into the vision of RLI. We’d love for you to pray for us, offer your expertise, and to give if you are able. We have two big goals for this year: (1) expand our board of directors with passionate individuals in the fields of food, education, and health; and (2) grow our support team to 50 individuals donating to RLI each month.

We understand that time and finances can prevent you from helping us reach these goals – no pressure. But if you want to sign up as a monthly supporter, it’s easy and you can choose whatever amount you want (i.e. $10, $25, $50). And if you have a passion for what we do, please contact us because we’d love to give you an outlet for that passion. And we’ll mail you a bag of Mexican coffee if you sign-up to give!

 

Please feel free to call/text me if you want to get coffee and talk, or ask questions. I’m excited for this next chapter, and I’d love to talk about it with you!

Justin Burdine
Executive Director
517-442-9809

Ten Day Countdown: Mazatlan

We are headed to Mazatlan in ten days. Over the past five years, RLI has taken nearly a dozen trips to build into the work God is doing there. Mazatlan is a youthful, vibrant city known by many for its boardwalks, beaches, and tourism. Many US and Canadian citizens retire in Mazatlan, and it’s a major vacation destination. The city is clearly demarcated by a tourist district (Zona Dorado), and the remainder of the city is unknown to most tourists and visitors. Nearly half a million people reside in this remainder zone, and these are the people we serve.

Focus. Surrounding the central part of Mazatlan are dozens of smaller neighborhoods (colonias). Colonias are a settlements that typically lack basic human needs (i.e. running water, electricity, sanitation). Colonias range from a handful of homes to hundreds. In these neighborhoods, people don’t own the land their homes are on. It can take years before the local government extends water and electric lines to these neighborhoods. These are the communities we work with. Those that have been marginalized and forgotten. Those who have few resources and opportunities, but still strive to make a livelihood for their family.

Purpose. For the past five years, we’ve taken teams to Mazatlan for week-long trips to help these communities with our friends at La Vina. These trips have exposed many to the reality of global poverty, and given them a glimpse into the daily lives of the poor. Our upcoming trip is different. Our goal is to identify the top needs of the people in the communities we serve, and to develop programs to address those needs. Some needs we have identified in the past are education, health, food access, and literacy. However, there could be important needs we have missed and we want community input and support.

You help people by empowering them. Lending a hand to get them back on their feet and on their way. True charity equips and empowers people to be successful without you there.

This transition in our focus from being a “missions trip” organization to a “community empowerment” organization is exciting to us. Through the years, the things that have made us come alive are all related to empowering people. Teaching people English, sharing meals, encouraging community leaders, running kids programs, etc. All centered on equipping, training, and helping people.

Your Part. The work we do is completely funded by people like you. We are looking for a team of monthly supporters to join us. Our goal is to have 50 people sign-up as monthly supporters to partner and share in the work we do. There are two ways you can be a monthly supporter. (1) Join our coffee club. Subscribe and we’ll send you coffee each month. (2) Donate. All donations are tax-exempt and are used to pursue our mission statement.

Contact us for more information.
Email: justin@radicalloveinc.org
Mail: PO BOX 12492 Toledo, OH 43606

Food: Our Most Beloved Pastime 

Food. It’s a remarkable creation. Seeds that germinate in the dark of soil and sprout through ground towards the sun. Stalks growing tall, producing colorful flowers, and developing into the edible foods that we consume. Humans have found creative ways to mix our foods to form unique dishes, flavors, and culinary experiences. Many of the cultural traditions we appreciate as people are centered around food. We take pictures and post about the good (and bad) foods we consume daily.

Food is a necessity to sustain life, but it is also a joyful part of life. Cooking with friends and family. Making sugar cookies at Christmas. Roasting pumpkin seeds and hot apple cider in Autumn. Ceviche and steak tacos on the coast of Mazatlan. Coffee and chocolate in the mountains of Chiapas. Food was designed to be enjoyed. Consuming and sharing food is part of the human experience. We domesticated plants (and animals) in our history for complex flavors and tastes. We plant, prune, harvest, store, cook, sell, buy, and share food.

Yet billions of people don’t have enough food, and millions of other people have a bit too much. People in the United States throw away roughly half the food we purchase. Half. That’s an absurd amount of food. That means we could cut our food budget in half each year. And if you’re like me your first through is, “Well, I know I don’t waste half my food. I’m not one of those irresponsible, uppity people that over-consumes.” Yet, if I really think about all those fruits and veggies in my fridge that begin to wilt, the leftovers that don’t really look appetizing reheated, the hundreds of to-go boxes I’ve left on the restaurant table, etc. We waste because we can and because food is everywhere. Our value on food is a different than people in other parts of the world, or for the food-insecure families in our neighborhoods.

We live in a world where under-nutrition (malnourishment) and over-nutrition (overeating) are major health issues. It’s a paradox, right? Parts of our world deal with people who get sick by eating too much, and other parts deal with people who get sick by eating too little. The agricultural industry produces enough food for everyone on the planet to meet their daily nutritional requirements. However, that doesn’t happen. We know that doesn’t happen because we see the commercials with the kids that need help. And that single parent who works hard but can’t afford the expensive, nutritious foods for their kids. Or that guy who was never taught how to cook so he only buys frozen meals. Or the migrant family that can’t get the traditional herbs, spices, and vegetables to make the cultural meals they are accustomed to.

These are issues of food access. Barriers to local, healthy, nutritious, economical, culturally-relevant foods. Barriers in knowledge on how to prepare meals. Barriers on how to consume a balanced diet. Barriers in how to purchase and store foods to reduce waste. Barriers in getting to the grocery store. Millions of people in the U.S. live in food deserts (regions where majority residents live greater than 1 mile from a grocery store). And the numbers are worse in the developing world. These barriers act like walls preventing people from enjoying food the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed.

Our hope and mission is to increase food access for individuals. That’s access to consume, produce, purchase, prepare, and enjoy food. We believe food is a basic human right. And food is one of the best preventative medicines for at-risk communities. An important strategy we are taking to increase food access is to build gardens. Community gardens have been shown to reduce the prevalence of food deserts in U.S. cities. Gardens provide local, fresh, and healthy food options for communities. Many gardens incorporate fruits, veggies, herbs, and animals to meet all nutritional requirements of communities. It’s a first step on the path toward a sustainable, independent future for many at-risk communities. And it’s a main focus of ours over the next five years to address food access in the places where we operate.

So. Enjoy your meals today.

Try to throw away a little less food today. Eat a few more fruits and veggies. And join us in securing food access for all. If you think this is a cool idea, you can donate towards is here.

P.S. We will be taking a team to build gardens in western Mexico to implement this strategy. You are welcome to join us! Contact us: info@radicalloveinc.org