MECHANICSBURG – A few years ago adman Parker Palmer authored a book called Let Your Life Speak. It urged muting surface noise and listening for the authentic voice of vocation. He might have been writing about Paul and Grace Kurtz.
They are the founders of Hemisphere Coffee Roasters, Inc., based in Mechanicsburg. Queried about what influenced their choice of vocation, Paul says, “We try to live our faith, to live up to the truths and values Christianity represents; our work is a calling.”
The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Mechanicsburg is one of the beneficiaries of Kurtz’ faith-directed occupation. Hemisphere has donated high-quality, fresh-roasted and ground coffee for the free monthly Community Meal program since it began five years ago.
Our Saviour has served an average of 50 to 60 guests the last Wednesday of each month since 2011. That’s a lot of coffee. But, to Paul and Grace Kurtz, the hot, fragrant drink is a whole lot more than a pleasant complement to good food.
It all began while Paul was a staff member of Rosedale Bible College in nearby Irwin and Director of Global Missions for Rosedale Mennonite Missions, a sister institution. During missionary travels to Central America he made friends with native coffee growers in places like Guatemala, Sumatra, Costa Rica and Nicaragua; middle-aged men, he said, and mostly Christian.
He explained that coffee is the main source of income for native peoples in these countries as the rich, volcanic soil is ideal for that crop. He was appalled, however, by the primitive farming conditions; all hand labor and inefficient, homemade equipment. Heavily in debt, the small farmer pulled against corporate corruption, below market prices and lack of influence in the industry. Kurtz felt everywhere the crushing sense of hopelessness.
Their despair lay heavily on Kurtz’ spirit. He pondered what could be done to redeem the situation. Then came the idea, the calling, if you will, that was to shape the rest of their lives and that of many others.
It was risky and had no precedent. Paul and Grace left Rosedale and formed Hemisphere Coffee Roasters, Inc. Assisted and encouraged by friends in banking, marketing, shipping and agricultural agencies, they embarked on what they call Direct Trade with individual coffee growers. “Our relationships were business to business, equal to equal,” Kurtz said. “We offered a hand up, not a hand out.”
From that foundation of trust they built a solid bridge of faith between Hemisphere and each of its partners. They’re not just names on a contract. Kurtz has cultivated deep personal friendships with each coffee grower, some now as distant as Thailand.
Untainted by greed, ego, self-serving or exploitation, the venture has created miracles of biblical proportions. With Hemisphere backing and guidance, financial advances at critical junctures and improvement of product quality, small coffee producers have become profitable businessmen, able to support their families and hire additional native laborers as well.
“Good coffee, doing good,” is one of the slogans of Hemisphere Coffee Roasters, incorporating their concept of coffee as a representative of live people and real places. Farmers trust and confide in Kurtz; he listens and respects cultural differences.
There are 100 steps in the production of good coffee, Kurtz says. The reddish-brown coffee “cherries” are handpicked as they ripen, hulls removed, pulp sluiced away and grayish-white bean halves washed and dried. About March or April, several of the gigantic 40,000-pound containers of raw beans are shipped to Kurtz’ Mechanicsburg warehouses, then roasted and ground into various blends at the Main Street location.
Villagers say that on roasting day, the downtown is exotically perfumed with that unparalleled fragrance which delights the senses of those who drink coffee and those who don’t.
Hemisphere sells to cafes, institutions and grocery stores and welcomes guests to its charming coffee shop with a village view at the South Main Street building. Its website, www.hemispherecoffeeroasters.com tells the firm’s story and introduces Diego Chavarria and his wife, Gloria, of Nicaragua, one of the successful partner families.
During Paul’s tour of the roasting facility, his trendy, shaved head gleamed in the overhead lighting. From the perspective of the lives transformed by the enterprise, the glow shapes itself into an unmistakable halo.
Submitted by Sally Johnson on behalf of the Northern Miami Valley Episcopal Cluster.