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On National Coffee Day

National Coffee Day looks different in producing countries — if it were not for Facebook reminding me that a year ago today we published a response to this day, we would have forgotten. Not to mention all the ads surfacing online for how to get a free coffee today.

Steven and I wrote this piece together. It is, hopefully, the first of many for The Other Journal where we’ll be writing on and critically engaging our work in Tanzania and the coffee industry at large. I’m about to give it a re-read and thought I’d share it again, in honour of those on this side of the industry, without whom there would be no national coffee day.

Give it a read here: http://theotherjournal.com/2015/09/29/a-dispatch-from-the-fields/

 

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The final step before sending off all our paperwork: creating the stamp. Not quite our design, as it seems to have gained a little weight with those big heads, but we think it's kind of cute. We are almost legal, friends!

Starting a work of this sort from the ground up in a third world country is not for the faint of heart. It's been slow, arduous, and we've shed quite a few tears along the way. So grateful for those who've continued to encourage us and stand by us. We are still here because of you.

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Mstafeli Leaf Harvest

Annona muricata (common names: Soursop or Graviola; Mstafeli in Swahili)

Annona muricata is a member of the Annonaceae family. This particular species is exotic to Tanzania. I’m not sure when it was introduced. However, we do have a wild custard apple tree (Annona senegalensis, Mtomoko mwitu in Swahili) that is indigenous. It looks like more of a shrub and was traditionally used as food and medicine, although I’m not sure if it has quite the same effect, as the Annona muricata. We have but one pest with our Mstafeli trees: bush babies. Rarely do we get to enjoy fruit from these trees because the bush babies feast on them in the night. But we’re happy to share. The Mstafeli keeps the bush babies from feeding on our other crops, and we’re still able to harvest these little miracle leaves for our tinctures and teas. The leaves, fruit, seeds, bark, and roots have all been used in traditional medicines around the world for years. However, the leaves are especially sought after as an herbal supplement due to their incredible anticancer properties. The leaves have anti-parasitic, antimicrobial, antiviral, antidepressant, anti-pyretic, and mild sedative effects. The list goes on and on. Photos are from today’s harvest, which is of mature leaves, each of which had a little bud for a new leaf behind the stem of each leaf, to ensure the least amount of damage possible was done to the tree and it will continue to thrive. We have several of these trees in our food forest. One of which has a producing passion fruit vine draping it, and another serves as a living trellis for vanilla. 

[also in these frames: banana trees, cassava trees, a coffee tree, mint, lemongrass, and a lot of indigenous sweet potatoes!]

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Steven snapped this photograph of me a couple months back while we were out collecting and identifying a few indigenous edible and medicinal plants. I thought it was fitting to share with some news I received:

Last fall we began having conversations with Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine about the possibility of a partnership with our work in Tanzania. Yesterday, I received news that I’ve been awarded a full scholarship! I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity. Not only am I excited to learn more, but part of what I hope to do with the wisdom this program offers is to extend my study more specifically to this place, and to be able to share what I learn among the people whom we live and work. This program will be an invaluable resource for our work here. 

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NEW FACES

Things are continuing to progress here with all the legalities of After Trade. As we move forward, we do so surrounded by a team of truly incredible people and we couldn’t be more grateful. They are far more wise than we, knowing this place and this land intimately. It is an honour to have their wisdom, guidance, and friendship, which will only further shape this work with more intention. We’ve updated our website to include our local team. If After Trade does any good in this place, it will be foremost because of these faces. Scroll through our site to the 'About' section to meet the team! 

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GOOD NEWS

We started the process in January to make After Trade an official non-profit entity here in Tanzania. As of yesterday, it has been established. We're grateful to everyone who've helped us get this far. We can now finally apply for our resident and volunteer work permits. We've been anxious, and all the waiting has made us weary. But we're making progress and couldn't be more excited.

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On Earth Day

"Human continuity is virtually synonymous with good farming, and good farming obviously must outlast the life of any good farmer. For it to do this, in addition to the preceding requirements, we must have community. Without community, the good work of a single farmer or a single family will not mean much or last long. For good farming to last, it must occur in a good farming community—that is, a neighborhood of people who know each other, who understand their mutual dependences, and who place a proper value on good farming."
— Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace
"Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai … used to say: if you have a sapling in your hand, and someone should say to you that the Messiah has come, stay and complete the planting, and then go to greet the Messiah (Avot de Rabbi Nathan, 31b). How can a person of flesh and blood follow God? … God, from the very beginning of creation, was occupied before all else with planting, as it is written, “And first of all, the Eternal God planted a Garden in Eden [Genesis 2:8] Therefore … occupy yourselves first and foremost with planting (Leviticus Rabbah 25:3)."
— excerpts compiled by Rabbi Daniel Swartz

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A belated happy Earth Day from the Berbecs. We were without power yesterday, so I was unable to make this post in time. The current rainy season has been a busy one for us, the second we’ve experienced since being in Tanzania. After a year of learning about the land, we’re finding our own rhythms and following suit with those around us. Every day, it seems, feels a bit like an honouring or celebrating of Earth Day as our work primarily concerns people, land, and the relationship between the two. It is in our current work, perhaps now more so than ever before, that we have more closely mirrored something of a semblance, a trace, an essence of the Divine. We are grateful for this work, these days, and all that they’ve taught us. We observed Earth Day as we do most other days here, by being in nature, harvesting matembele greens (local sweet potatoes) that cover the ground beneath our ripening old coffee trees, and sorting and planting some of the local bush beans we saved from last year.

If you missed our last post, our paperwork for registering After Trade is on its way to Dar es Salaam to become official. Now that After Trade will be legal, we can finally get resident and volunteer work permits, hopefully before our current visas expire. We are in need of a bit more funds to be able to afford these permits. If you weren’t able to lend support to any other organizations in honour of Earth Day, we’d be grateful if you’d consider supporting the work of After Trade.

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Today is a big day for After Trade: I’m hugging 10 copies of our official Memorandum and Articles of Association. It’s about to be legal in Tanzania, friends! 

After signing these with our local board members, they’ll be sent to Dar es Salaam to become officially registered. We’ve been told this will take one week, and we’ll then be able to finally apply for our resident and work permits. Regarding the latter, we are running out of time to apply and pay for our permits before our current visas expire. The cost has increased drastically so that we’re now having to pay a total of $3,000 ($1,500/each). We’ve got a fraction of this amount, but not enough to cover it. Getting ourselves and After Trade legal has been the source of much anxiety over the last year and has hindered us from really stepping into the work we came here to be part of. Completing this task, I imagine, will feel like a huge weight has been taken off our shoulders and we couldn’t be more excited. Starting this work from the ground up has been an arduous, but deeply rewarding journey. We’re grateful to those who’ve stuck by us this year, and continued to believe in us, this work, and the people it will affect. That being said, now that After Trade is nearly finalized, if anyone would like to give towards helping us become legal to live and work here, we’d be so grateful. 

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We’ve just completed inventory on all the new seeds we received. Again, we’re so grateful to all who contributed. We are in the final stages of establishing After Trade as a legal entity here in Tanzania and beginning to see light at the end of a long tunnel. In many ways, our first year looked much different than we had anticipated, but perhaps it was so out of necessity. It gave us time to ease into life here, without imposing — imposing ourselves, our ideology, or prematurely imposing a work we believed to be a ‘good thing’ for this place. As difficult as our last year has been, I think it more readily prepared us for the work we hope to be part of here, than the years of research we put into it before coming. So with that, I want to acknowledge once more how grateful we are for those who stuck by us and continued to believe in us and this work, and lent much support. There’s absolutely no way we’d be at this point without those who were part of this last year with us. Of the handful of folks who supported us in the last year, only a few have ceased their financial support for one reason or another. All of whom we love and will be forever indebted to for their contributions in making this last season of our lives possible. We’ve been marked by your support of us in ways that we’re not yet able to put words to.

With that being said, however, it does raise an issue concerning our monthly support. This has been a pressing need throughout the last year, but one that we’ve managed to adapt to by our being able to live more simple and off the land. However, with the legalization of our work with After Trade, what has been enough to cover our basic living expenses and smaller projects will simply not be enough to continue our work here among coffee farmers as we grow. If you’re interested in being part of this, we would be incredibly grateful for any help in meeting this need. Send us an email, or visit aftertrade.org/donate for more info.

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Several months ago we put out a request asking people to donate seed for our work here in Tanzania. A handful of good people responded and with the arrival of our friend Taylor, we received an incredible amount of seeds. Sow True Seed, of Asheville donated $300 worth of  open-pollinated, untreated, organic, and heirloom seed. Stacey and Alex of Wild Dahila Homestead (Ardea Homestead Sanctuary) donated a generous variety, the majority of which being of the herbal medicinals we especially needed. We also received seeds from Beccie and Elaine, Hanah, and mom. We are so grateful. Thank you for believing in and being part of this work. Not only have we received an incredible amount of seed from you all, but we feel grateful to have gained a little community of fellow seed-savers as well.

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Coffee growing among peppers — food forest style — and so many mchicha (amaranth) seeds, all from our land!

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A quick update: we have been covered up in paperwork here trying to get everything in order for After Trade to be an NGO and so that we can get our resident permits. We’ve been in the process of building a team of incredible friends / locals to serve as board memembers with us, and we’re looking forward to introducing them to you all soon. We need to have everythingcompleted and sent off for final approval before March, however, this leaves just a short time to acquire the necessary funds.

Thanks to a few generous supporters we’re halfway to our goal of $4,000, with only $2,000 left to raise! If any friends or businesses want to help us move After Trade forward by investing in this hope for smallholder coffee farmers in the Kilimanjaro region, we’d be so grateful. We are also grateful to all who’ve helped us get this far and we could not be more excited for this year.

Every little bit helps. If you’d like to be part of this startup, send us an email: hello@aftertrade.org or visit: aftertrade.org/donate

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Here it is: Field Notes 03: On Year One

We were not planning to send out another newsletter so soon, but this month marks one year of our being in Tanzania, and we have exciting news to share to kick off year two!

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Big Changes

In our most recent newsletter, we mentioned several big changes taking effect; most notably that we are moving forward with establishing After Trade as an NGO. In light of all these changes, we gave our website a much needed facelift:

  • We have a new WORKSHOPS section that was birthed from all that we’ve learned and been involved with over the course of the last year.
  • We also introduce our friend Taylor here, and the work she’ll be doing alongside us.
  • Scroll through our GRATITUDES to find some new faces whom we're incredibly grateful for.
  • And at the end of the site, we’ve added a PUBLICATIONS section where you’ll find an interview we did with Common Table Co. and two essays we’ve published with The Other Journal.

A couple more IMPORTANT things to note:

  • We are excited to announce that you can finally donate directly and securely without ever having to leave our website! Simply click to ‘give a one-time donation’ or to ‘become a monthly supporter’ from our DONATE page and within seconds you’ll either have made a donation or be set-up for recurring donations. (NOTE: for current supporters, EITanzania is still handling our donations while we process everything to establish After Trade as an NGO. For now, you don’t have to change anything about how you give, but may switch over to giving directly through our site at your leisure, or until further notice.)
  • In an effort to distinguish our personal accounts from the soon-to-be NGO, we’re excited to have partnered with Google Apps. For all After Trade inquiries or to just say hello, feel free to drop us a line — hello@aftertrade.org

Lastly, we are really grateful for the responses we received this week concerning our newsletter and the funds needed to establish After Trade as an NGO. In just one week, friends have given $1,300 toward the $4,000 we need. Friends, we can’t thank you enough. For those who haven’t read our latest newsletter, you can find it here.

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One benefit of the power being out so often here, is that we use a lot of matches. We save our matchstick boxes for storing all the tiny seeds we save from our land, or gifted to us by friends.

One benefit of the power being out so often here, is that we use a lot of matches. We save our matchstick boxes for storing all the tiny seeds we save from our land, or gifted to us by friends.

Friends! We just published our second newsletter from Tanzania. We’ve been in a bit of a whirlwind of unexpected changes, but we’re finding our way and we’ve got some exciting news.

If you’re a subscriber, check your email for “Field Notes 02: On Finding Our Way.”

Or read it here: http://eepurl.com/bF-rGj

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Our friend Taylor’s most recent update on her GoFundMe talks about the wisdom she hopes to offer during her time in Tanzania. We live in a country that is very much dependent on the land, and yet people are becoming increasingly estranged from it. Many are suffering with both preventable and treatable sicknesses and diseases. Without having access to modern medication—which we’re all guilty of having become too dependent on—the fate of many is death. For those who do have access to modern medication, at the first onset of what appears to be a sickness, people immediately see a doctor and receive medication. Traditional wisdom on how the land can also heal us has been long forgotten. 

Steven and I have been attempting to learn as much as we can about the medicinal properties found in indigenous foods, herbs, and weeds here. Taylor will also be taking on this task. The native flora is different here than in the States, and so together we hope to track down some traditional, nearly forgotten uses of plants as medicine in this country. The salve pictured above is one that Taylor gifted us with prior to our move. It contains Neem, one of the indigenous trees here. And it’s good for healing skin irritations, cuts and burns, and the like.

Much like our work with After Trade, this sort of wisdom-sharing is less about introducing new information, and more about helping people remember and return to their ancient agrarian roots. We’ll be hosting workshops after Taylor arrives to share some practical ways that locals can once again heal themselves  of various ailments solely from all that the land offers. 

Taylor is currently about $290 away from being able to purchase her departure ticket to Tanzania. If you’re able to donate, we’d all be so grateful.

gofundme.com/taylortotanzania

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Taylor to Tanzania

“Much can be understood about a people by understanding the condition of the land on which they live. Here in the West, the United States specifically, much of the land is occupied with city-scapes, factory farms brutalizing livestock, monoculture farms impoverishing the soil, fast food complexes leaving populations malnourished, malls carrying clothing made by exploited factory workers overseas, department and grocery stores housing our food and living supplies, pharmacies and hospitals handling our medicines and employing our healers, these systems and industries, almost always showing as unsustainable. One may look at our particular landscape and understand just how estranged we are from it, having replaced a meaningful, reciprocal relationship to the ground, with a system of convenience, all made possible at the expense of an oppressed and impoverished “other”. It feels safe to say that the convenience of it all, of being a people that are fed, medicated and otherwise provided for by post-colonial, systematic and institutionalized means, has left us, if we consider it honestly, without dignity and otherwise disabled—having no knowledge of how to teach, nourish, heal or clothe ourselves without the aid of such a system. 
[…]
Winona LaDuke, Native activist, writer, environmentalist and economist, quotes her father in many of her lectures as saying, “Winona, I don’t want to hear your philosophy if you can’t grow corn.” In one of her talks, she goes on to say, “Isn’t that an interesting thing to say? But he’s right. You can talk about talking about it. But let us hope that we can do something good.” It is easy for me to sit here and talk about decolonizing myself, yet what is more difficult is putting it into action and still, it is my hope...”

One of our favourite human beings is moving to Tanzania to live in community with us and to join our work with After Trade. The above excerpt is lifted from her GoFundMe page (you’ll want to visit her page to read it in its entirety). We are grateful to have Taylor be part of this and fortunate to have her wisdom as we move forward in our work here. With just Steven and myself, there is a good chance we’ll do what we’ve set out to do, and it will be meaningful. But having another like-minded, but different person join the mix will take this work further than we could on our own. 

Her GoFundMe goal is quite small as she is only attempting to raise the funds needed for her plane tickets. Obviously, the sooner she can get these purchased, the better. We would be so grateful if you’d consider giving. 

https://www.gofundme.com/taylortotanzania

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On National Coffee Day

It's National Coffee Day, and we wrote a response. We'd love for you to give it a read, preferably before drinking copious amounts of coffee. ;)

This is also our first post in a column of sorts with The Other Journal where we’ll be writing on and critically engaging our work in Tanzania and the coffee industry at large.

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Our friend took us to his village today to check out his coffee farm and other smallholder growers in the area. We spent a couple of hours hiking through hills of coffee and walking the land, noting each plot and river that runs through it, and learning about the history of coffee and colonization in this particular village. Over the next few weeks we will be talking more around what it may look like for us to work together in this village, as our hope for coffee and smallholders aligns closely with his own.

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It’s been said that all good things take time, but I don’t think we’ve considered that statement with much regard until now, seven months after our move to Tanzania. 

Perhaps it is much easier to come into a third-world country for work when you are simply joining an already established entity with a clear job description and path laid before you. But in our case, we are essentially starting from the ground up. Any forward moving with our work takes time. It is a slow endeavor that depends largely on word of mouth, meeting people, cultivating relationships, and following through when, after learning of our work, we’re told we need to meet someone. And despite our very American (read: driven, fast-paced) selves wanting to make something happen, it is also about allowing things to progress as they may, and waiting it out until we meet the right people.

This past week we had a meeting with one of our neighbors who happens to be a coffee farmer, among other things. The connection the three of us shared was instant. He shared on the reality of what life is like for coffee farmers in this country. And we shared about our hope for After Trade. 

It is one thing to be Stateside and develop a concept and theory around a hope for working with coffee farmers in Tanzania. It’s quite another to actually be here, and have our work be not only affirmed, but needed. 

We listened as our neighbor, now friend, shared stories. He told of how his father, having grown coffee for fifty years, had never actually tasted his coffee until a couple of years ago, before his death. He explained that when the coffee is processed, the good beans sink, and the bad beans, float. The bad beans are intended to be discarded, but these are the ones that his father, as well as other farmers are able to keep for themselves, which they later dry, roast, grind and drink. A couple of years before his father’s death, our friend took aside some of the good beans and prepared a real cup of coffee for his father. The response was immediate. We were told that his father could not believe that this is what coffee tastes like. He was filled with such joy. In all his years, he had never experienced coffee in such a way. Our friend said that when he thinks of this story, he cries for his father. Farmers remain so dependent upon the coffee demands of the West, that they could not imagine ever tasting the real fruit of their labor. Coffee is a commodity. And the good beans are money. 

He told of cooperatives, those that we would like to think are doing good in the community, making it possible for farmers to make a decent wage. There is a huge cooperative located in the Kilimanjaro region, that most of the coffee comes from that is sourced from Tanzania. He said that only 30% of those who are part of this cooperative are actually full-time employees. The remaining seventy percent of people that work with this cooperative are temporary workers, the majority of whom are of those found standing along the sides of main roads that lead further up the mountain, hoping to be selected for a days work. Some of these “coffee farmers” can be found waiting each morning where our dirt road meets the main road. This particular cooperative is still operated by the Germans, and our friend said that if nothing changes soon, then we can expect that over the next several years smallholder coffee farmers will vanish. Many, already, are abandoning their plots as such cooperatives have taken over the face of coffee in this region, leaving little hope for smallholders. This is often what development looks like in the third-world. Smallholders are being pushed out. It is of no coincidence that our hope for smallholder farmers is at the core of what After Trade is all about. 

Next month, we have made plans to visit our friend’s village, which is made up of a small community of coffee farmers. We could not be more excited for what the future may hold as we get to know the growers there. Before we departed, he shared with us 500 grams of arabica coffee he roasted from two of the farms in his village.

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Steven has been doing a lot of research on the use of neem as a natural pesticide and mosquito repellant. It grows everywhere here, but is not being used to its full potential, if it's being used at all. Watching him research and carry out experiments since we've arrived in Tanzania has been an incredible experience for me, as I'm sure it has been for him as well. He is thriving here in a way I've never seen in him before. And as his partner, especially, I'm so inspired by his passion to work with nature, using what's available, what grows for free and that farmers have access to, to find solutions to problems hindering food production and food security. For us, care of the land and care of people go hand-in-hand. In attending to the needs of the land, we are, in effect, attending to the needs of the people. We'll be trying this out on our own garden and coffee trees first before sharing the wisdom with local farmers.

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