Making it Work - Business in Action

by Paul K. Haeder & r & Huckleberry's & r & Issues of social justice and environmental impact aren't usually conversation topics of grocery chain executives, but Huckleberry's Don Whittaker believes in "giving more back to the earth than we take out."

Remodeling a once premier IGA store from the '40s and 1950s, Huckleberry's opened up on Spokane's lower South Hill right after Ice Storm in December 1996 as a neighborhood boutique grocery store specializing in healthy food alternatives.

Whittaker insists that his store's philosophy and objectives are to make sure local foods are best represented. That includes organic and healthy foods whose growers and manufacturers take into consideration how growing, processing and distributing the food impacts the land.

The Walla Walla Huckleberry's, Whittaker notes, has just been remodeled and put in 12 feet of wine racks just for the wines of the Walla Walla region.

"We opened strictly by the seat of our pants," Whittaker recalls, pointing out that by not conducting demographic and customer surveys, Rosauers (which owns Huckleberry's) still understood the growing demand for natural and organic goods in a small neighborhood market.

The aspect of agricultural sustainability -- making sure pesticide and herbicide use is cut down to a minimum or not used at all -- seems to be Whittaker's main mantra.

Sustainable food distribution includes making sure the characteristics of freshness, quality and organic are matched by localness. Whittaker says he just sent out 250 letters to area farmers and food makers to invite them into Huckleberry's.

"Act locally and think globally" might be another credo Huckleberry's demonstrates.

Craven's Coffee & r & What do you say to a bloke who's given up his Yorkshire roots for a little java niche in the Inland Northwest?

"Make that a double latte with the Sumatra Gayoland blend and a pinch of organic cinnamon."

Yeah, well, this Limey is Simon Craven-Thompson, the coffee guru and proprietor (along with partner Becky) of Craven's Coffee. He's been slugging it out in the coffee wars since 1993 when he first introduced the specialty roasts his coffee business quickly became known for.

Descriptors like "buttery," "smoky," "lively" and "rich" are just a few industry characteristics that help Craven-Thompson work his magic hawking coffee in his thriving wholesale-provider business. Some of his local clients include restaurants like Luna and Great Harvest Bread Company and grocery stores like Tidyman's, Rosauers and Albertsons.

Coffee consumption has soared over the past 20 years, which has propelled the growth of Spokane specialty roasters like Cravens and 4 Seasons. At consumption rates of more than 3.1 cups of coffee per capita per day, coffee accounts for more than $19 billion a year in trade in the United States. Those of us drinking the bean's brew shell out more than $164 per year for it.

Along with this coffee craze, predictably, has come huge inequities in the coffee trade, pitting small and mid-size growers -- in the Ivory Coast, Sumatra, Mexico, Central and South America, and Africa -- against governments and large distributors like Folgers, Proctor and Gamble and Sara Lee, which have in some cases festooned indentured poverty onto proud coffee growers.

Craven-Thompson's role in all this is making sure he buys coffee at a fair price, sometimes more per pound than what even Fair Trade certifiers push for. He just returned from a trip to Nicaragua, one of many trips he's made over the years to Latin America, Africa and Asia to see where the coffee is grown.

"The best thing we can do is continue buying the most coffee from these farmers [who grow coffee with the least amount of environmental impact] to make sure it stays a viable entity," Craven-Thompson says.

He likens his company's philosophy to making sure the money gets to the farmer's gate. These are coffees that are considered organic and fair trade -- essentially meaning the coffee is purchased at above-starvation prices through certified markets so that communities centered around growing coffee can become and remain sustainable.

"Fair trade and organic have become a significant part of our business," he says. While certified fair trade and organic coffees make up more than 20 percent of Craven's sales now, Craven-Thompson insists that all of the coffee that he markets is purchased at fair prices and is grown with environmental stewardship in mind.

Craven's gives back to communities thousands of miles from Spokane by buying high-quality coffee at fair prices. By telling the stories of each of those coffee farms or cooperatives, more and more customers are opting for the fair trade formula.

"We're seeing more people identifying with certifications -- organic and fair trade. That's our biggest growth area," he adds.

Global Folk Art & r & Bob Sheehan, developer and owner of the Community Building in downtown Spokane, had a vision for the retrofitted and sustainable-designed building. He wanted to make a space for groups and organizations that give back to the community, including those that are using sustainability as part of their operating principle.

Sheehan wanted a retail store as an anchor, and so Global Folk Art has set a course to provide an outlet for small communities throughout the world to sustain themselves through marketing arts, crafts, coffee and chocolate.

Since 1992, Global Folk Art has given people in Spokane a window into the labyrinth of cultures around the world. Pottery and tapestries, jewelry and ceramics, wood carvings and brass work, all from places like Guatemala, Indonesia, many African nations, India, Vietnam and so many other places in need of assistance to keep their cultures alive.

What makes Global Folk Art different than other artisan ware stores is the Fair Trade component -- essentially a network of artisans, buyers, marketers and vendors whose goal is to give a fair, livable price to the people making the products.

"Our purchasing power can make a difference," says Global Folk Art's Lisa Ogle. "By paying the artisan a fair wage, improving their lives -- whether it is proper diet, or education for their children -- we all can make a difference."

Global Folk Art is an ideal place for unusual gifts for birthdays or the winter holiday season, but it's also invested in putting on Fair Trade fairs and does work toward community outreach.

Soon a restaurant and the Magic Lantern Theater will add to the buzz around Global Folk Art. In a less than two years, the adjoining building, the Saranac Hotel, will be another completely remodeled building under Sheehan's guidance, whose directive is "to serve the community."

Spokane Bike Swap @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Sat., June 12, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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About The Author

Paul K. Haeder

Paul Haeder is a contributing writer to The Inlander. He is a communications instructor at Spokane Falls Community College and a student in the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program at Eastern Washington University.