business out of the classroom and become a client at the SEA; register Rock Roast as an official Pennsylvania business; create a board of directors; and start selling the coffee. “Working with dedicated students has been a very rewarding experience,” said Snow. “Joe is an incredible web designer with skills I can’t even fathom, and Clare’s commitment to making positive change in the world is truly inspiring. To top it off, they are both fluent in Spanish which helps on our farm visits.” Together, the trio has not only been able to move the project forward in rather rapid succession, Rock Roast has been available for sale online since November, but they partnered with Robert Rice, a scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, to obtain a bird-friendly certification for the brew. That certification guarantees every bean was grown under the canopy of a rainforest. In addition, Rice helped the trio select a farming cooperative from which to purchase their beans, San Juan del Río Coco. The cooperative is comprised of 133 small family farms, with 22 percent of those owned by women. “Being involved with this particular cooperative has been a great learning experience,” said Snow. “Not only were we attracted to it because of the large female presence, but with our partnering on the bean purchases, they were more than open to agreeing to conduct sustainability research with us.” Part of that research agreement included a 2016 study abroad visit to the region by a Snow-led group of 12 SRU geology, environmental science and environmental studies students. As part of the excursion, the group spent two weeks backpacking across Nicaragua, learning about the rainforests, conservation efforts, visiting volcanoes and watching sea turtles hatch on the beach in addition to visiting with local coffee bean farmers. “Part of what we’re doing is about helping the people,” said Clark, who noted that $1 to $1.60 from every bag of coffee sold will go back into supporting student research and the farms from which the beans are purchased.
That man was John Sacharok, owner and CEO of Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters, a family owned and operated artisan coffee roaster based in West Chester. The company has more than 30 years of experience in coffee sales, national distribution and branding. It roasts a large selection of organic, shade-grown, bird-friendly and fair-trade coffees and teas. They provide hot beverage solutions for small private label retail programs to larger scale food service customers. “Our conversation just ‘spoke’ to me on many levels,” said Snow, “but at the end of the day, I’m an atmospheric chemist. I know nothing about business. But what I did know is that it sounded like an amazing opportunity because there were so many positives about what John was doing and the program he was running.” Through the Golden Valley program, the company supplied funding to undergraduate students at Widener University and Lycoming College to conduct sustainability research in developing nations through the sale of its coffee blends and working with Nicaraguan farmers to rebuild the rainforests surrounding their farms. Knowing her business acumen was a little light, Snow reached out to SRU’s Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator for guidance. The SEA is a resource for students and entrepreneurs to jumpstart or grow a business with sustainability in mind “For me, it was never about making money, but rather making a global by providing guidance in transforming promising difference. I thought it would be amazing for our students to get involved ideas into thorough business plans and early-stage in such an endeavor and they collectively agreed to take it on as a project.” businesses. For those operating an established –Julie Snow, professor of geography, business, the SEA delivers help identifying geology and the environment opportunities for improving value creation and assistance in developing solutions for high-priority business challenges. “It’s hard to really understand the true nature of the poverty there Additionally, it helps grow regional employment and increase economic until you visit,” she said. “We got the chance to visit with some of the development. The SEA assists in developing competencies for students families and it was a very intense experience. They have so little and seeking green jobs. are dependent on the farm to provide everything for them including “For me, it was never about making money, but rather making a food, housing, health care and schooling for their children.” global difference,” said Snow. “I thought it would be amazing for our “You’re working with people who live in little shacks with maybe students to get involved in such an endeavor and they collectively one table and a dirt floor,” added Snow. “You really see how life can be agreed to take it on as a project. affected by the little choices we make like what coffee we buy.” “However, it’s been a slow build over the past three years. My original Snow was referring to the difference between sun coffee, which hope was that by making Rock Roast a student-run business, we’d be able comprises the majority of what is sold in the U.S., versus bird-friendly to make a more immediate impact. But with student turnover occurring coffee such as Rock Roast. While bird-friendly coffee is best described every semester, the company was not significantly moving forward. as shade-grown, where the beans are grown under the canopy of the “It was like driving an old, used car. It would get so far, then stall out rainforest; sun coffee is grown as the result of scientifically-developed and you’d have to get it out and start it up all over again. Sometimes it hybrid beans that can grow in full sun conditions, yielding significantly had to get towed all the way back to the garage. It just wasn’t working.” more product. That lack of movement is what has seen Snow and Co. take the There are approximately 6 million acres of coffee-producing
18 The The ROCK ROCK 18