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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