Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cafe YO! - Made by Artists: Made by Youth: Making Community and a New Economy.

It started seven years ago.

Loss of employment led a guy to start roasting 100% fair trade organic green coffee beans in a friend's garage. Then selling it, bartering it, trading it for sandwiches and shoes and shelter, making a living while also raising funds for social change efforts ranging from the Chicago Women’s Health Center to Radios Populares to the Latino Union to West Town Bikes.
This endeavor became known as Resistance Coffee, and maybe you’ve seen it on the shelf at Newleaf Natural Grocery in Rogers Park.
Over two years ago, this quirky success morphed – not by growing into a larger, vertical, vertigo-producing corporation, mind you, but horizontally.
Two other fellas took up the original model, roasting on homemade equipment (BBQ grills! Propane! Dilapidated Garages! A field in Michigan!) with little or no investment, and now have parallel micro-endeavors, Grinderman Coffee (, and Miscellaneous Treats. This trio call themselves the Chicago Coffee Confederation. This trio have gone on to bring in serious creative energy, artists of all kinds to assist with graphics, writing, artwork, web design, and even music related to social change and … coffee.
Last year, two of these roasters, David Meyers of Resistance Coffee and Michael McSherry of Grinderman, started working closely with the Latino Union in the creation of a larger project, called Café Chicago ( Café Chicago has grown into the city’s first immigrant-run worker-owned cooperative coffee roaster, toasting up fair trade organic beans grown by the women of La FEM cooperative, funding the immigrant rights work of the Latino Union ( Day laborers who've stood on corners braving bitter cold and extreme heat and boredom waiting for jobs to turn up, are now taking on all aspects of a coffee-roasting business. Not for profit, but for people and community.
Now the gang are up to something yet again.
The next phase of this movement, which is largely about growing community, economic justice, and the leveraging of resources and talents for people and the environment not profit, is youth-focused.
It’s a coffee venture.
It's Café YO!.
Café YO! Youth Organizing, Youth Occupying. The economy and the community.
The idea taking shape is the creation of a city-wide, youth-oriented coffee company. Fair trade? Check. Organic? Of course. Workers make the decisions? Mais oui. The workers and the creators this time - with the generous support and talents of a burgeoning group of adult artists, writers, musicians, activists, organizers who meet weekly at the Hideout's fantastic Bread and Soup gatherings – are youth. From across the city, we are coming together to not only roast, package, sell, and distribute this amazing coffee, but also to travel to countries of origin to establish relationships with coffee growers from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, and African countries.
Café YO! is also developing a citywide band of youth and adult musicians – bringing economics and creativity together in new ways. Another piece of the puzzle. Probably another story.
Café YO! is now making connections with teens around the city on street corners and through rad schools, and developing fundraising materials – a public relations packet, if you will. Funding will be forthcoming from various unions in Chicago and across the country, as well as from generous individuals of all stripes.
Consider supporting Cafe YO!. Your first reward? Making possible the very first stage of the very first youth-run, community-based fair trade organic coffee company in the country. In the world.
Your second reward? One day soon, drinking the coffee they bring.

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