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Cafe Chicago promotes sustainably, job training

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Latino Union and the Chicago Coffee Federation created a new model of social action, job creation and non-profit funding.

The Latino Union is known for fighting for the rights of immigrants and specifically rallying for fair working conditions for day laborers. Now, the group is trying to move into sustainability for themselves and for the land.

Coffee beans are more than just a precursor to a morning jolt. They may be the seeds of economic independence.

"A lot of workers in the Latino Union needed work, but also needed a different sort of way of creating dignity," David Meyers, Chicago Coffee Confederation, said.

The Latino Union and the group of small batch coffee roasters known as the Chicago Coffee Federation is entering the coffee business with Cafe Chicago; the proceeds benefit the nonprofit Latino Union.

"A lot of people start really cool coffee companies that are fair trade and organic to fund social change and that's what we do, too. But we put the workers directly into the driver's seat," Meyers said.

The company is training day laborers who ordinarily work construction jobs to learn the coffee business. They are roasting, packaging and even marketing the product. The product is one they say they are proud to sell.

"We chose coffee from Nicaragua because Nicaragua has one of the best," Norberto Gonzalez, Cafe Chicago, said. "It's premium coffee. It's Arabica bean and it's actually from the higher mountains and it's shade coffee... The fertilizer has no chemicals. We use the skin from the bean as the fertilizer."

The local group has partnered farming cooperative in South America to grow the beans and guarantees the workers are paid a fair wage.

"Not only do we help a cooperative called La Fem farmers, female farmers in Nicaragua and their families, but also it's like the circle of life. It comes back to our workers here at Latino Union and we help their families," Marisol Willis, Cafe Chicago, said.

The packaging is made from recycled paper and is lined with a plant-based material. Cafe Chicago coffee is available in several area stores, and online at cafechicago.org.

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