That global coffee with a splash of local flavor

Last modified: 12/30/2013 6:46:03 PM
As 2013 comes to a delicious close, I cannot resist indulging in a bit of sweet celebration. The parade of seasonal holidays may be winding down, but from where I’m standing, the magic of winter is just warming up. One of the best feelings in the world is standing, bundled and warm, embraced by the quiet hush of a snow-covered forest, fresh cold air whispering at my skin as I sip a steaming hot cup of cocoa or coffee and listen to the nature around me. Or gathering in a warm, spice-filled kitchen with friends, swapping holiday confections left over from the many feasts at our homes and places of work.

It’s interesting to me that many of the foods and special treats we’ve come to associate with winter time come from equatorial regions. Cocoa, coffee, sugar, citrus fruits, and spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove are all harvested from tropical places — Mexico, Madagascar, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, California — where plants and people are not frost-hardy like us New England dwellers.

Some of us might wish we could whisk off to those tropical climes, at least until the ground thaws and escaping the icy confines of our driveways no longer requires the herculean effort of a fuel-driven plow or team of shovelers. I think about those places, too, especially while sipping my hot drink and taking in this enchanted, snow-sweetened landscape. I’m aware in that moment that there is a connection between us frost-dwellers and that faraway paradise, and it’s as strong and as close as the foods at the center of our celebration.

Food is such a great way to connect with our planet (not to mention our fellow planet-dwellers), and if we’re lucky, we have the opportunity to connect several times a day. Take your coffee, for example. Many stores in our region carry coffee that was grown either organically (without pesticides), using shade-grown techniques (which protects wildlife habitat and avoids degrading the soil, water, and air), or both. You can buy coffee sourced from fair-trade companies (which pledge decent prices and working conditions for coffee bean farmers), locally-roasted (supporting small businesses in our own backyard and making for one tasty cup), or again, both.

If you take your coffee with milk (or cream, like I do), you can take your pick of farms here in our very own region that are producing some of the best dairy you can find anywhere. If you haven’t bought cream or pudding or cheese from a local farmer before, the new year is a perfect time. It makes everything taste better knowing those cows or goats are treated well and not subjected to the things that go on in industrial-scale corporate farming. Sip by sip, you are protecting your neighbor’s livelihood, while at the same time preserving those tropical places — which, by the way, are winter’s home to many of our New England summer birds.

These are small-scale but powerful ways to live in a more sustainable (and may I say, scrumptious) way. Of course it’s important to think about the large-scale ways, too, and there is national legislation in the works right now that has the potential to seriously threaten local farming. The New England Farmers Union, Northeast Organic Farming Association of NH (NOFA-NH), and the NH House Environment and Agriculture Committee are good sources for information. Citizens, businesses, and groups are welcome to join the Monadnock Farm & Community Coalition’s working groups on education and policy.

In the meantime, there is a Turkish saying, “a cup of coffee commits one to forty years of friendship.” Here’s to our friendship with the earth.

Jess Gerrior is a sustainability coordinator and educator working to protect and promote the “triple bottom line” of ecology, economy and social equity. She lives in Antrim, where she raises garlic, hens and three children, and plays for Monadnock Roller Derby.

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