Saturday, Sep 23, 2017
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Mary Bilyeu

Coffee effort aims to help others rise above poverty

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Sandusky native Matthew Hohler earned his master’s degree in public health from the University of Toledo in December. The next month, “I sold my car and went all in,” he said, on an entirely different project: Levanta Coffee.

For our interview about the company, Mr. Hohler called from Lima — Peru, not Ohio — where he and his business partner, Robert Durrette, have been preparing for a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign. It will run through Aug. 20, Mr. Hohler said, with a goal of raising $35,000. This “is an all-or-nothing platform;” if that amount isn’t reached, he said, “we receive nothing.”

According to the company’s website: “The Spanish word levanta means wake up — but also rise up.” The word was chosen with the intent to create “economic opportunities for the coffee farmers we partner with,” said Mr. Hohler, who developed a love for coffee, and for the people of Central and South America, when he taught English in Honduras in 2012.

The company has already purchased beans from two producers, the first of whom — Daniel Diaz, a 40-year-old farmer who has grown coffee for 25 years — is featured at levantacoffee.com. Mr. Hohler is committed to telling the stories of the partner-farmers they work with, “to create this connection” between producers and consumers that extends beyond merely a business relationship.

Roasting of the coffee will be done in Charlotte, which “seems pretty random,” Mr. Hohler said with a laugh. But as they investigated companies, family-owned Broad River Roasters seemed the best choice because it was “really behind what we’re doing.”

Levanta won’t be certified as fair trade, because it would be better to invest the money in the farmers, Mr. Hohler said, rather than spending it on administrative costs. “We want to be better than fair trade,” he said, so Levanta “will pay 50 percent above the normal fair trade rate.” The company plans to eventually offer extra bonuses rewarding quality and environmentally conscious efforts.

As of today, you can pledge your support and receive rewards for doing so: one bag of coffee for $20, two bags for $35, three bags for $50, or a yearly subscription for $199. Kickstarter funds will be used to launch an online store for future purchases.

Levanta is reminiscent, to me, of Kiva (kiva.org), the microeconomics lending site, and Dining for Women (diningforwomen.org), which supports entrepreneurial and educational efforts. Both offer an opportunity to learn about the people whose lives you’re supporting around the world.

It also reminds me of the community-supported agriculture model, which lets people invest in local farms by purchasing shares and then reap benefits from the joint effort with weekly returns of the produce grown. CSA members know precisely who has labored to produce their food.

This is not a nonprofit venture, Mr. Hohler said; he’s not forming this company in Peru as a charity. Instead, Levanta seeks to create “business solutions to poverty,” enabling the partner-farmers to improve their own lives and situations with greater financial resources.

Mr. Hohler said that this effort results from the most important lesson he learned while studying at the University of Toledo: “You need to listen to the community you’re going to work in.”

Contact Mary Bilyeu at mbilyeu@theblade.com, and follow her at facebook.com/​thebladefoodpage, bladefoodpage on Instagram, or @BladeFoodPage on Twitter.

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