Chris Treter, founder of Higher Grounds Trading Company in Traverse City, has long been passionate about the fair trade coffee movement. Serving 100 percent organic, gourmet coffee from around the world, Higher Grounds works exclusively with “coffee-producing partners who are leaders in sustainable development and preservation.” But when Treter realized that even farmers earning fair wages were struggling to survive due to lack of access to clean water, healthcare and education, he decided to do something about it.
This January, a group of eight US-based runners will travel to Ethiopia as part of a special project called Run Across Ethiopia (RAE). The trip is the brainchild of Treter, who founded a new division of Higher Grounds called On the Ground to help better the farming communities from which he sourced coffee. The organization’s first ambitious goal? To raise enough money to build three schools for the children of impoverished coffee farmers in Ethiopia.
Other local business owners were quick to jump on board. Team members including Chris Girrbach (Pangea’s Pizza), Hans Voss (Michigan Land Use Institute) and Matt Desmond (Finance Outsource Associates) will run 250 miles across Ethiopia in 12 days beginning January 8 to raise awareness and funding for education in the country. The campaign marks the beginning of what On the Ground hopes will be a long-term effort to revitalize not only the education but the healthcare and clean water infrastructures in coffee-growing communities around the globe.
Back here in the States, organizers also hope the movement will help better connect consumers to their products and make them aware of the impact of their spending choices. “Our decisions impact [these farmers’] lives, yet their living conditions have not changed for centuries, despite their supplying the western world with coffee,” says Food For Thought owner and RAE team leader Timothy Young. “We will change that through fair trade and projects like Run Across Ethiopia.”
While only a small team is traveling to Ethiopia this January, there are numerous opportunities for interested supporters back home to get involved. The below upcoming events will all raise funds and awareness in Northern Michigan this month for Run Across Ethiopia. For more information on the project, including the latest news and upcoming events, visit
Wednesday, October 6 – Downtown Celebration for Run Across Ethiopia
When: 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Where: Crema – 300 East Front in Downtown Traverse City
Crema will host a kickoff party in downtown Traverse City to raise awareness for On the Ground and Run Across Ethiopia, as well as introduce the community to the TC-based team traveling to Africa in January. This free event will feature:
Free tasting of Leelanau wines from 5:30-7:00 p.m.
Hors d’oeuvres provided by Crema
Information about On the Ground, the fair trade movement and efforts to build schools in coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia
Door prizes
Live music
Fair trade Ethiopian coffee
In honor of October being Fair Trade Month, Crema will also donate 100% of the purchase price from standard (non-espresso) coffee sold during the entire month of October to On the Ground.
Saturday, October 16 – Run FOR Ethiopia
When: 5:00-10:00 p.m.
Where: Food For Thought – 10704 Oviatt Road in Honor
This fundraising event for the whole family includes a race, dinner and movie screening on the beautiful grounds of Food For Thought in Honor, Michigan. Runners can choose from three race categories: 5K, 10K and a 1M fun run. For just $30 – with proceeds benefiting Run Across Ethiopia – adult runners get a t-shirt, post-race pasta dinner and a screening of acclaimed documentary “Black Gold,” about Run Across Ethiopia partner Tadesse Meskela, who organized over 1,000 farmers in Ethiopia to join the fair trade system. Runners age 12 and under are just $15 (t-shirt not included), and dinner and a movie alone are $15 (kids 12 and under eat free).
The pasta dinner will feature the debut of Food For Thought’s new Wild Leek Marinara sauce. Food For Thought owner Timothy Young also promises scenic views for runners, noting that fall “colors should be at their peak.” The schedule for the evening is as follows:
5:00 p.m. – Race starts (5K, 10K and 1M fun run)
6:00-7:00 p.m. – Pasta dinner
7:30 p.m. – Film screening of “Black Gold”
Runners can register now until Monday, October 11 at
Sunday, October 17 – Joshua Davis in Concert
When: 7:00-9:30 p.m.
Where: Advent Lutheran Church – 19631 Maple Street in Lake Ann
Lansing-based singer-songwriter Joshua Davis will perform a special solo show at Advent Lutheran Church to raise funds for Run Across Ethiopia as part of the church’s Sola Gratia Music Series, which donates proceeds to various community and social justice causes. Davis is one of the most in-demand musicians currently performing in Michigan, both as a solo artist and member of such popular acts as Steppin’ In It, Shout Sister Shout, The Rachael Davis Band and The Starlight Six.
Advent pastor Justin Grimm curates the concert series, which has raised nearly $2,500 in the past year through performances by artists including May Erlewine and Seth Bernard, Jen Sygit and Sam Corbin, and Rachael and Dominic Davis, among others. He describes the intimate format of the concerts as “MTV Unplugged and VH1 Storytellers combined” – an opportunity for audiences to personally engage with the artists and connect with their music on a deeper level.
Tickets for Joshua Davis are on sale now and are $20 for an individual ticket or $15 for tickets purchased in multiples. They can be purchased at Advent Lutheran Church or reserved by email at
For more information, visit or