Last Friday marked 14 years from the day I started at CRS. Yesterday was my last day.
For nearly half that time, I have been writing this blog. More than 500 posts. Nearly a half-million words. Over 1,000 comments online and some multiple of that number offline. I want to thank you for reading it, for commenting and for so often using it for the purpose for which it was intended: to foster dialogue about the social, economic and environmental impacts of the coffee trade on smallholder growers, farmworkers and the landscapes in which they live and work. I have enjoyed the exchanges, even when you disagreed sharply with me. Perhaps especially then. The debate helped me and my colleagues to sharpen our thinking, improve our programming, and ultimately serve the causes of social justice, economic development and environmental conservation more effectively. Because that was always the point of the blog.
By 2009, I had worked for more than five years in the coffee sector, including several years at origin leading projects that invested significantly in helping thousands of smallholder growers increase productivity, improve quality, access new markets and grow coffee incomes. There were some important realizations along the way.
One was this: that living and working at origin every day afforded a unique perspective and generated occasional insights that others, who engaged with origin less frequently, were missing. In other words, we had something to say.
Another was this: that we were never going to be able to scale the things we were doing well just by doing bigger projects. To achieve lasting impact at scale—something like the Holy Grail of international development—we needed to be part of the conversation about sustainability and impact in the coffee sector. To bring our unique perspective to bear on that conversation. To inform it. And ultimately, to impact it. To bend it, however gently, toward greater inclusion, equity and environmental responsibility. That meant working hard to influence leaders in the private sector and leading decision-makers in the public sector. In that effort, we expanded the scope of our observation in the field, culled lessons learned from our work, commissioned and conducted original research, piloted new approaches, and reported on them relentlessly here in a spirit of radical transparency. As my colleague and friend Paul Hicks wrote here last week, that approach wasn’t always popular. We liked it when our perspectives were popular, of course, but the point was never to be popular—it was to be influential, and to use that influence to contribute to modest improvements in the lives of the poorest participants in coffee supply chains.
I hope I was able over the years to exert some influence on their behalf, and to contribute to modest advances in understanding on some of the topics I explored: certification, Direct Trade, inclusive business models, farmworkers, policy, hunger, poverty, impact, water and climate change.
I will continue to work at origin, and to write about that work. Only not for CRS, and not here. Later this month, I start in a new role as Director of Sourcing and Sustainability at Intelligentsia Coffee. You can continue to follow me on Twitter and Instagram at my new handle @originista, and visit me soon at originista.coffee. Meantime, the CRS Coffeelands feeds on Twitter and Instagram will soon be aligned at @CRSCoffeelands.
The community of coffee professionals who care deeply, think carefully and work tirelessly to make the coffee trade work better for everyone is, sadly, still small. I know I will continue to those of you who have been part of the conversation here over the years. Until then, THANK YOU.
Michael THANK YOU! Your blogs have been amazing. Your work has been so important to get some of our industries most urgent issue’s in the spotlight. A loss for CRS a gain for Inteligentsia! Look forward to keep reading for you. To me you have been a great inspiration.
Bravo Michael! Thank you for many years of insight and your tenacious dedication to deeper sustainability. It’s been a pleasure to read this blog and witness your good work.