There is a saying that everything old is new again.
On Tuesday, the German schooner Avontuur arrived at Pier 25 in Halifax, but unlike most tall ships that call on Halifax these days, this one was carrying cargo.
Just Us Coffee found Timbercoast, the operators of the Avontuur, just over a year ago and the opportunity was just too good to pass up.
According to representatives from the Grand Pré coffee co-operative, for Just Us the opportunity was to transport the green Arabica coffee beans using a low-carbon footprint.
By doing do, it helps to extend the personal contact with the product grown by small producers, to the transportation leg of the process.
“Our (small) producers brought the product to the dock,” said Shelby Lendrum, Just Us Coffee’s marketing co-ordinator. “For them, it was the first time they ever saw the ship that carried their product to us.”
Just Us Coffee is an employee-owned co-op that has been in business since 1995. When it was founded, the co-op was the first fair-trade certified coffee producer in the Maritimes. It sources its product exclusively from fair-trade certified producers in the global south.
From their roastery in Grand Pré, Just Us Coffee operates three coffee houses in the Annapolis Valley, supplies 285 locations that brew their coffee, and another 785 retailers that sell the product — including Sobeys.
While Just Us normally imports product via shipping container, the success of the Nova Scotia co-operative allowed it to undertake the voyage.
“This shipment gave us the opportunity to do something to align our transportation with our corporate values,” said Lendrum.
Though she was unsure of the exact cost of this shipment, Lendrum said she felt it was slightly higher than traditional container shipping. She noted that the size of Just Us Coffee allowed the co-op to undertake the project while accommodating delays and lower margins due to the small size of the shipment.
Built in 1920 in the Netherlands, the Avontuur worked as a cargo schooner for almost its entire life. The ship hauled cargo around the Netherlands until 2005 when it was then put to work as a day-sailing tour boat.
Timbercoast took over operation of the sailing vessel in 2014 with a mission of eliminating pollution caused by shipping. It is modelling a clean shipping future with the Avontuur.
The schooner features a cargo hold about the size of two shipping containers, and is carrying other cargos, including coffee for clients in Germany and Britain, and barrels of rum.
Cargo schooners were once a common sight in Halifax Harbour, and up and down the coast to the Caribbean. In those days, the ships called at the finger piers on the Halifax waterfront, directly in front of the premises of the importer. Back then, the cargo was hand loaded into the holds, transported and discharged with very little machinery. Ship schedules were at best estimates.
The Avontuur voyage recalls that history.
The 2,359 kilograms of coffee, in 55 kilogram bags, was hand loaded by stevedores in Veracruz, Mexico on April 11. Once under sail, weather delayed the Avontuur en route, and the scheduled arrival in Halifax was pushed back several times, with the voyage taking a full month.
The cargo was unloaded in Halifax by members of the Halifax Longshoremen’s Association Local 269, who volunteered their time. The bags of coffee were stacked into bundles, then lifted out of the hold with a small pier-side crane.
It has likely been several years since a cargo was handled that way. Prior to containerization, ships holds were manually packed by stevedores to fit the cargo tightly into the available space.
Ensuring the finished product remains true to its journey, Just Us Coffee will be branding the shipment as its Stevedore Blend, and plans to produce 5,000 bags of coffee from the cargo. The medium blend will be available this summer.
Lendrum said the co-op has been excited about the shipment, and hope that it will become an annual event.