Coffee bar on the ground floor, farm on the roof

Coffee-bar owner visits rooftop farm for some fresh herbs. (Photo: Jessica Bruah)

Long Island City coffee-bar proprietor Frank Raffaele visits the roof for some fresh herbs. (Photo: Jessica Bruah)

You know that a cup of coffee can get you going in the morning and keep you sharp through the afternoon. You know it can be the perfect premise for meeting friends to unwind, or meet with coworkers to share ideas.

But what else can coffee do, both for the people who produce it on the other side of the world and for people right here in New York’s communities? COFFEED, a coffee house in Long Island City, is proving that coffee can do quite a lot at both ends of the supply chain.

COFFEED is a different kind of sustainable business. For owner, and lifetime Queens resident, Frank Raffaele, sustainability means that you can keep doing what you’re doing for years to come. COFFEED’s intention is that, from the beginning, business as usual is business that can be sustained and be sustaining for others in its positive impact. Here, CSR is not an afterthought or an all-employee workday once a year; it’s integral to everything COFFEED does.

COFFEEDinteriorCOFFEED donates 10% of its revenue (not of profit — of revenue) to help feed the Queens community. The business is located in the lobby of the Standard building on Northern Boulevard in Long Island City, which also houses Brooklyn Grange, a one acre working farm, on its rooftop. COFFEED actively works with the Grange to to help feed and educate local residents by supporting City Growers, a new initiative to “connect urban communities with agriculture, food and environment through farm education and advocacy in order to foster a culture of health and sustainability.”

Raffaele and his COFFEED team support City Growers and their living rooftop lab of Brooklyn Grange in actions as much as in financial contributions. COFFEED brings coffee grinds up to the Grange for composting every day, helps visitors from local Queens family shelters load up bags of fresh produce, and assists in coordinating the 3500 K-12 aged kids and young adults who’ve visited the Grange to date as part of City Growers diverse programs. Raffaele is no stranger to the open-to-the-public volunteer Saturday’s (10-3, weekly), and any day of the week can be found peering up through the rows or peppers or into the compost bins just to see how everything’s going.

“I think peo­ple are social crea­tures and really do want to help one another. And I think that a busi­ness can be char­i­ta­ble as well as profitable.”

COFFEED is committed to the thriving farm on its rooftop, and it’s committed to staying as close to home as possible. The beer on tap is from Astoria, the snacks are from local purveyors, and all the coffee they serve is roasted right in the storefront (think zero extra carbon-consuming transportation miles!)

At origin, COFFEED purchases coffee from small family farms and pays well over the market price to ensure that growers can afford to be sustainable- to also keep doing what they do: grow coffee, earn a fair wage commensurate with their work, and thus have the financial freedom to live their lives.

COFFEEDcupCOFFEED recently began a long-term relationship with a newly formed cooperative of 30 smallholder growers in Tanzania, mostly women working an average of an acre of land. The organization of the coop and their relationship with COFFEED allows the producers to earn $1/lb more than the market price, which, if prices continue to decline, will soon be double what they’re being paid now. This direct relationship not only puts more money in producers’ pockets, it allows them to participate actively in an informed sale of their product, versus blindly selling to middlemen, as has all too often been the case in the history of the coffee trade.

Raffaele says, “I think people are social creatures and really do want to help one another. And I think that a business can be charitable as well as profitable…I want to have 100 of these stores across the city.”

His vision of expansion is already becoming reality; COFFEED has identified the site of their next location in Midtown East, which will feature a conversation-conducive (think lots of tables and space to sit) coffee shop similar to the one in Queens, but, perhaps most excitingly, will also neighbor an urban farm, this one at ground level, finally putting to use a vacant lot that has long been irking the block’s residents and keeping true to the company’s mission that coffee can help feed people abroad as well as right at home.

We can’t grow our own coffee on rooftops or empty lots, but we can make our morning cup more conscious by making sure that it’s sourced responsibly, roasted locally and connected to the local community.

Coffee might come from Tanzania (Raffaele just bought a container-full of Tanzanian beans, so expect to see more Tanzanian varieties on the bar), but carrots can come from your rooftop and feed hungry neighbors down the street. At COFFEED, the usual cup of joe can wake us up to new ways of growing, sourcing, and sharing everything we eat and drink.

 

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