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Life Off-the-Grid

Coffee Grounds, Blueberries and The Evil Empire

By Cam Mather

I hate having to admit when I am wrong. I don’t know if this is a male trait or just a personal one. From an evolutionary perspective, you would think that males would have evolved in such a way as to admit wrongdoing more easily. After all, we seem to have enough opportunities to do so and we should get lots of practice at it! Sometimes the concept of evolution doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Take chipmunks for example. Whenever we go for walks along our road we can always tell when a chipmunk is nearby. We rarely actually see the chipmunk but for some reason chipmunks have evolved in such a way that they seem to instinctively make a huge squeaking racket as they scamper for cover. The loud squeak causes our dog to suddenly become aware of their existence and do everything in his power to chase them and find them. If they just kept quiet he’d never notice them.

Today I am going to admit to being wrong about something. I no longer consider Starbucks the evil empire. In fact, I guess you could say I’ve gone over to the dark side, or they’ve come over to join the rebel “green” force.

It all started in 1999 when Starbucks was framed as the face of globalization in the Battle For Seattle at the World Trade Organization talks. It was pretty clear to me that corporate globalization proponents just wanted all trade barriers dropped so they could pursue the ultimate “race to the bottom” and move all production off shore. I wasn’t sure how they thought North Americans could buy anything if they didn’t have jobs, but I don’t think they’d thought that through. I was already aware of Starbucks’ propensity to build stores right beside small, independently owned coffee shops, which more often than not led to the demise of the independent shop.

So by the time anarchists began throwing chairs through the windows of Starbucks outlets in Seattle I was like “right on man, you show’em.” Then for years I really didn’t give them any thought other than to avoid them. A few years ago my eldest daughter Nicole got a job there while attending university. It turned out they were a pretty good company to work for. They paid her reasonably well and even provided benefits. In fact, she was making more money than I was, but Michelle and I are pretty used to making less than everyone else. It actually seemed to be a pretty good company to work for. Not that I would ever admit that out loud.

One of the problems for me was that I have a love/hate relationship with coffee. I love the smell of coffee and I love drinking it, but it makes me feel like crap afterwards. I guess it’s sort of like a heroin addiction, only cheaper, and a coffee addiction doesn’t seem to inspire the same level of creativity that artists high on heroin seem to achieve. Nicole got a free pound of coffee every week, and she certainly couldn’t drink that much herself, so she started giving us some. I didn’t like most of it, but she found us an organic, shade-grown Mexican blend that was unbelievably good. And it was, well, organic, and apparently there was an attempt to grow it sustainably. I still felt like crap after drinking it, but that wasn’t Starbucks fault, that was my own lack of self-restraint at play.

So I obviously started to mellow a bit on Starbucks as I pounded back their coffee. Then I started my blueberry odyssey. I’m starting to plant high bush blueberries that love an acidic soil and coffee grounds are one of the best ways to make your soil acidic. I know this because after I drink coffee I feel like I have battery acid in my stomach, so obviously it should have the same effect on your soil. I don’t drink enough coffee to produce enough grounds for my blueberry plants so I needed to find a coffee store that would give me their used coffee grounds. Canada’s national coffee chain doesn’t give out their coffee grounds, but guess who does? Yes, turns out Darth and the Storm Troopers serve a lot of coffee on the Death Star and they give out their coffee grounds for free.

From a marketing/public relations standpoint it’s fantastic. Give customers “Free” soil supplements. From a business standpoint it’s brilliant, because businesses have to pay to have their waste hauled away and used coffee ground are really heavy. So they save money and look good at the same time.

So I am in full retreat on my “Starbucks is the evil empire” core belief and have become a huge fan. Now that Nicole doesn’t work there I don’t drink their coffee, but I love getting their coffee grounds. When we’re going to Kingston I call 3 or 4 stores the day before and ask them to save them for me, and they do. The staff is almost always really friendly and helpful. Don’t you hate that, when you want to make something out as really bad but it isn’t? The staff is predominantly young and I guess this is what happens when you pay people more than minimum wage – they actually treat customers well. I guess it doesn’t hurt that they are fired up on free caffeine all day.

If you want more examples of me admitting I was wrong you’ll have to wait for the book. It’ll be the size of an encyclopedia.

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  1. Larry

    I like buying their Fair Trade coffee. I also like the fact, you can at least recycle the cups(Hello Tim Hortons?)

    And the pumpkin spice scones? Don’t get me started. Yum! 🙂

  2. Denice Wilkins

    Cam, Try the small independent coffee shops and restaurants too. They are also very happy to give away their coffee grounds!

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