Higher Grounds Trading Company Blog Entry

These are the words of Nasser Abufarha, founder of the Palestine Fair Trade Association & Canaan Fair Trade. He & I sat down last week during his visit to Traverse City for the premiere of The People & the Olive, Stone Hut Studios’ documentary about On the Ground’s Run Across Palestine back in February.

Nasser is a stylish, stately & well-traveled man, but he also carries a self-ease that made me immediately comfortable. As we sat at a picnic table on the Higher Grounds patio, his friendly warmth matched that of the early autumn sun dripping through the maples overhead. I had scribbled down a few questions to ask him: about the highlights of his visit to Northern Michigan (HG owner Chris Treter’s wedding, touching base with the runners he’d met in Palestine, & salmon fishing near Honor), what the film represented for him (a way to bridge communities not connected through politics but able to connect through food), & what’s on the horizon for PFTA & CFT (almonds, a new crop for farmers there; new markets in Europe). Through all of these subjects, our conversation kept coming back to one thing.

“What’s the biggest challenge in your line of work?” I asked.

“Managing the growth,” replied Nasser, “staying focused on the mission, & keeping small attitudes.”

Small attitudes. That phrase resonates with me. In the midst of steady growth as a business—something currently experienced by both Canaan Fair Trade & Higher Grounds—maintaining our commitment to justice & our valuable relationships with farmers is essential. It would be easy to get caught up in the excitement of growth & expansion; more business obviously means more consumers are aware of our product, & brand recognition is spreading. We could ride the wave & follow the corporate & societal model that says bigger is better. But even though our pocketbooks might win, without nurturing the mission that motivated the very birth of our organization, without keeping our egos in check & our attitudes small, we could lose sight of what really matters: community.

“[At Canaan], we want to create a model of community,” Nasser explained, “where we work together based on certain shared ethics. Building it, having it be visible while showing the capacity to succeed. Business doesn’t need to be unfair or exploitative to be successful.”

There’s a dual pressure in any business selling goods, a positive tension between the producer base & the customer base: you need to have one to have the other, & when you strengthen one, you strengthen the other as well. And it’s important to demonstrate transparency in the structure & financing of our company, illustrating the components of a sustainable business so that everyone in the community understands our role & how we work, even behind the scenes. Equally important is that our business recognizes our connection to the community that surrounds us & uplifts us. The day after my chat with Nasser, I was accompanying Ruth, HG’s bike delivery girl, on her route (to get a feel for her job & meet some of the people she sees regularly). One of our last stops was the Oviatt House Bed & Breakfast on 8thStreet, where we delivered two five-pound bags of coffee & two bottles ofPalestinian olive oil. As we parked our bikes, we were greeted in the driveway by Franny & Ken, the owners–& by Nasser, who was staying there. It was the perfect manifestation of Higher Grounds’ mission: connecting our global community with our local community. And even when we don’t all meet face to face, we’re still close-knit, via the path our products travel from the field to us.

We completely agree with Nasser that our success as a business should never rely on unfair or exploitative practices; in fact, I’d hesitate to call those things “successful” at all. We treat our workplace environment as a community as well; we’re definitely a family around here. Personally, I can say that I feel appreciated & respected by my coworkers for what I do. That in itself makes me want to do the best job I can, which benefits not only Higher Grounds but my wellbeing too. So I’ll repeat Nasser’s words, a declaration that rings true to us here at HG & will echo in my brain for all time: Being good should always be good for business.

Higher Grounds Trading Co. is fueled by its social mission to advance economic justice worldwide, and driven by a passion for sourcing the highest-quality coffees from around the world. We are proud to supply them Canaan olive oil under their own brand, and our fair trade Palestinian foods.SEPTEMBER 18TH 2012

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