Everyone is familiar with the current trend of tracing processed or imported food down to its origins.  From imported coffee and wine to the carrots in your nearest grocery store, now everyone wants to know who grew it, who distributed it, and who profited.  As first an organic farmer in small-farmer-rich New England and now a local farm advocate in a developing country, I’ve spent my fair share of energy tracing back to the roots of my food and either knowing – or being – the person who grew it.

At the end of October I had the chance to do the opposite – trace forward to where the coffee from several Nicaraguan coffee cooperatives I’ve gotten to know here is exported to, roasted, and sold.  Nick and I spent a long weekend in California, visiting Paul Katzeff, founder and president of Thanksgiving coffee, a long time Nicaraguan coffee buyer and fair trade advocate.  After getting to know the fair trade story in-depth here in Nicaragua, and meeting many of the farmers and cooperative leaders, it was truly a treat to go see one of the places where their hard work ends up.

Thanksgiving coffee is in Mendicino country, California.  Our trip began in San Francisco, where we left early in the drizzly morning to begin the three-plus hours drive up to Mendecino.

We passed through acres and acres of vineyards, and stopped for a wine tasting at one.  The land used to be apple orchards, but once it was discovered that grapes grew well nearly all of the apple orchards are gone.  There are some lingering orchards, and we also stopped to sample some varieties.  At this time of year, Nicaragua imports two kinds of apples – green granny smith and red delicious – from Chile.  My heart skipped a beat when I saw familiar wooden apple crates piled high with jonagolds and macouns.

My heart skipped more than a beat as we stopped to walk into a redwood forest off the highway.  The smell was amazing, and the trees unbelievable. I could have spent days absorbing the soft fern covered soil and towering green canopy.  I wish that every coffee farmer could have this experience, of breathing in the air of such a unique endangered forest and knowing that their small farm of shade grown coffee has a connection, albeit far, to these forests in the north.

Paul Katzeff lives in a redwood forest, but he generously found us a cabin on a point by a lighthouse to stay for the weekend.  We went from the pacific with palms to the pacific with razor-sharp rocks and seals.

With Paul Katzeff in the Thanksgiving coffee café in Mendicino.  The black and white photo on the top shelf behind us is him with his first coffee roaster.  Since the large roasting factory burnt down in May, Paul has gone back to hand roasting all the coffee for the cafe in the little roaster behind us.  The plant on the right is one of his many coffee plants that he has managed to grow in pots; miraculously they all survived the fire.

We went over to the roastery, which is right next to a community garden plot where Paul has a huge bin of worms.  I have never seen a bin of happier worms, gorging on coffee grounds and garden waste.  This time of year Paul gives them all the rotting apples from the small orchard, and he’s sure they wiggle  little differently from all the hard cider consumption!

The community garden paths are lined with coffee sacks from Thanksgiving coffee’s purchases.  The hand planted organic local produce mixed in with coffee sacks painted with designs from all over the world became a metaphor for how I envision this “forward tracing” coffee trade route – quality coffees landing in the fertile soil of Mendecino foodie culture.

Every tree in the little orchard next to the community garden is a different kind of heirloom apple.  Tasting apples is not unlike cupping coffee – we took slow bites, taking the time to pick out subtle flavors of rose, citrus, and banana in different varieties.  My favorite was this roxbury russet, a crisp tangy sweet apple with an incredible glowing skin.

We harvested chard, beets, and brussels sprouts from Paul’s little garden patch, to enjoy a Halloween dinner of local vegetables.

And of course we drank coffee; the best cappuccino I’ve ever had.  Normally I’m a cream and sugar coffee drinker, but Paul’s hand roasted blends shows off the best of coffee’s farmers harvests from all over the world, and the cup is so rich and creamy that I didn’t add a granule of sugar.  The weekend was clearly a lot of fun, but in addition Paul shared with us a deep “be here eat here live here now” way of life.  I am, above all, a local economy supporter, and my work in Nicaragua focuses not on exporting products to far corners of the globe, but on strengthening local markets.  However, the fact that the coffee from the small farmers I know in Nicaragua, who take such careful measures to protect natural forests and work democratically, ends up in this contemplative and appreciative community feels very right.