At 7 Corners Coffee, our coffee is properly sourced with traceable origins. Not only does this make for a purer, richer brew, but it allows us to better support the farmers and communities that work hard to grow this wonderful resource.
It also means there’s a story behind each cup of coffee we serve.
Today, we’d like to share the story of Long Miles Coffee Project. Long Miles Coffee Project was started in Burundi, Africa by our director, Ben Carlson, and his family in order to support local coffee growers and connect them with roasters across the world.
Rich Coffee in a Poor Land
As the second poorest country in the world, Burundi, Africa faces seemingly insurmountable problems. Approximately 80% of its population lives in poverty, and it is ranked as the least happy nation on Earth. One of the positive things Burundi is known for is its coffee.
For a long time, the Burundi coffee market was controlled by the government. In an effort to reduce corruption and improve the lives of coffee farmers, the World Bank pressured Burundi to privatize their coffee sector.
Acting as a consultant, Ben Carlson was asked to gauge the quality of Burundi’s coffee beans. He discovered that they were very good. Everything surrounding them, however, was a mess.
Ben and his wife Kristy decided to move their family out to Burundi to try and make a change. Their initial thought was to setup a proper coffee shop that could use local beans and employ local residents. They quickly realized that the people were too poor to afford their own coffee.
If the Carlsons were going to make a difference, they needed to help the coffee farmers directly.
In order to properly prepare their crop for sales and distribution, farmers needed a washing station near their farms. In case you didn’t know, coffee beans aren’t actually beans. They’re seeds that come from coffee cherries. When coffee cherries are ripe, farmers pick them and gather them in baskets. In order to separate good cherries from bad cherries and get to the coffee beans inside, the cherries need to be processed at a washing station.
The Carlsons saw their opportunity to help. They were going to build a washing station.
New Year, New Problems
A nearby commune called Bukeye was surrounded by plenty of coffee farmland. The trouble was it, lacked a washing station. Without one, the coffee farmers would never be able to thrive. So, in 2013 Ben and Kristy put all their savings into buying a hill in Burundi and wrote a blog post explaining the situation to their friends, family, and followers. 48 hours later, they received enough donations to start the construction of a Bukeye washing station.
The Long Miles Coffee Project was officially born.
The washing station was completed in 2013, just in time for that year’s harvest. Well, sort of. The depulper, one of the most important pieces of equipment for the facility, got stuck in customs. As a last-minute replacement, Long Miles was able to acquire two very old hand-crank depulpers.
Only eighty bags of coffee were produced that year, and even those struggled to find homes. Ultimately, 2013 turned out to be a learning year more than anything else.
Unique and increasingly problematic situations seemed to arise with each passing year.
In 2014, a second station that was being built in Heza ran out of time and water, forcing Long Miles to earn their name and haul the harvest 45 minutes away to the Bukeye station.
In 2015, an attempted coup broke out in Burundi, forcing the Carlsons to flee the country with their kids.
In 2016, the Carlsons returned to a fear gripped Burundi. Armed men showed up one night, apparently believing that Long Miles was collecting too much coffee.
In 2017, the country experienced a simultaneous fuel and water crisis.
In 2018, the Carlsons started to see the need to grow and strengthen the local team which had grown to nearly 50 full time employees. They appointed Lauren Rosenburg, one of their own dynamic employees, as Managing Director of Long Miles Coffee. This move enabled Ben and Kristy to start thinking of scaling Long Miles Coffee, as well as address the issues of gender equality in coffee.
2019 was the worst coffee harvest in Burundi history. The already impoverished country produced only 20% of its annual crop. Long Miles was no exception. The miniscule harvest hit Long Miles and its 5,000 farmers equally as hard. As the year ended farmers whose lives depend on coffee received a lifeline from Long Miles giving a bonus to them despite the company taking big losses on the season.
Meanwhile, the government of Burundi continues to change and introduce laws in an attempt to stifle the private coffee sector. Long Miles Coffee Project has faced constant hurdles ever since they launched, but they remain committed to growing Burundi’s coffee economy and improving the lives of local farmers.
7 Corners Coffee is proud to partner with Long Miles Coffee Project as we work towards creating a sustainable coffee market. One way we do this is by planting trees in the Kibira Rainforest in Burundi. We also have featured roasters who get their beans through Long Miles.
If you’d like to share in the story of these wonderful coffee farmers, come visit our coffee shop by the University of Minnesota. Our walls are adorned with some beautiful photographs of Burundi captured by Kristy Carlson.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Long Miles Coffee Project, click here.