You Don't Have to Only Drink Overflow Coffee

But please, please, please drink direct trade!

Two new direct trade offerings are available for the South Loop.
  • Spoke and Bird opened this year (yay for being locally owed and operated!).  
  • La Haven will open soon.
We couldn't be more excited that there's more ethical coffee being served in the South Loop.  There's a couple restaurants that also use direct trade coffee.  We can't mention them all (ask your waitstaff at your favorite places).

Obviously, we still think we're the best.  No offense to the others.  :-)

If you're reading this and live outside the South Loop, come visit!

  • There are lots of coffee and food options for brunch, dinner, date night, get togethers, etc.  
  • Visit a museum.  
  • Take a pit stop on the way to a White Sox game.
  • Visit one of our many parks.

A Journey Into Ethical Economics

written by Amanda Neely*

We are all consumers. We have to eat, drink, and be clothed. We can't stop consuming unless we want to go totally off the grid and survive off our own homestead (if that's what you want to do, more power to you!).

I was exposed to Fair Trade in college and have spent all my adult years trying to figure out how to make more and more of my consumption ethical.  It's been hard.  I'm not totally there yet.  But it's been totally worth it.

My journey started in college.  I actually wanted to major in economics when I arrived my first year.  I had gone to econ camp in high school and loved what I learned about supply and demand and such.  But when I met upperclassmen who were majoring in econ, I realized that path wasn't for me.  I cared a lot about people and wanted to make decisions in my life based on how they affect real people, not based on logic, science or economic theory.  In case you're wondering, I ended up studying psychology and minoring in music but took as many social science classes as I could. 

There is no single moment I can point to when I started thinking about ethical economics but several smaller circumstances that added up (you'll see this pattern again before we're done).
  • My university served fair trade coffee in our cafeterias so my first cups of coffee to stay awake when my first finals approached were fair trade.  
  • One of my professors added Fast Food Nation to our syllabus and I learned about how inhumanely animals and humans are treated in our fast food system.  
  • I took a class my last quarter called "Love in the Time of Capitalism" and learned how our evolving economics have transformed our relationships - marriages, families, friendships, all of them.  
In short, during college, my mind and my emotions were awakened to how our economic system works and its flaws. 

Then, I took that giant leap into the real world.  Like most recent college grads, I didn't have a lot of money so I was faced with the challenge of continuing my ethical economics journey without being able to spend a lot for products that actually paid people well and took care of the planet. 

In the almost 10 years that have passed since, I learned quite a bit about what I can do.  Here are two examples:
  1. I might not be able to buy fair labor clothing all the time but I can always afford thrift stores.  Thrift stores are not adding to the slavery system that produces many of the clothes we wear.  Plus, there's an added environmental impact of reusing materials so that no new materials need to be produced. 
  2. I couldn't necessarily afford to buy all my food locally and certified organic but switched my milk and eggs.  When I'm able, I buy other items locally and certified organic but these two products have been any easy switch and are probably making a significant contribution to my overall health, not to mention the health of farmers, cattle, chickens, and our ecosystem. 

Most significantly, this journey has led me to start a coffee shop that promotes ethical economics.  We go beyond fair trade to offer direct trade coffee, tea, and chocolate.  Our baker uses local, non-GMO ingredients.  We have a gift shop with fair trade artisan products from around the world.  Plus, we improve our entire product sourcing as we're able.

I've also learned some related principles. 

First, it is not just about switching my purchasing habits to more ethical products but also about buying less.  For example, it's virtually impossible to produce smart phones and other technology without using slave labor.  There's a particular mineral needed, 90% of which comes from slavery conditions.  So, I have learned to only upgrade my technology as needed.  I don't need the latest and greatest cell phone.  I can wait until my current phone breaks before purchasing something new.  It's not that big of a sacrifice and it actually helps me feel better about my actions.

I've also learned that I can't just spread this awareness or consciousness about the impact of consumption on the planet and the people who live here.  Along with rising consciousness, I need to help people take action. When people are aware of issues but don't have something tangible to do to correct that injustice, I have noticed that they become jaded and cynical to the issue.  They lose their sense of empathy and compassion for those most affected by injustice.  Yet, I believe and have witnessed that when people have something tangible to do, however small, we do it and trust that we are making a difference.

Trust is a big related principle too.  This whole concept of ethical economics takes a lot of trust.  I need to trust that my small actions aren't just a drip in a huge bucket that never gets full.  I need to trust that others are also dripping into this same bucket by their small actions and thereby making it much more likely that our positive dripping will amount to a bucket full of positivity that overflows with positive results to the entire world.  Just like those small circumstances in college made a difference in my life, I trust that my small positive actions, along with others around the world doing similar things, positively transform the future.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.  I would spin that into a positive, ethical economics anywhere add up to change the economic system everywhere.


*This is an opinion piece and only reflects the current views of the writer.  It does not reflect the views of Daystar School, Daystar Center, Overflow Coffee Bar, their employees, or their leadership.  The writer acknowledges that her views might change over time and welcomes you to communicate your thoughts about ethical economics to her so that her views are enriched by your own.

Why "The Quiet Workshop" Relates to Drinking Ethical Coffee

In partnership with Daystar Center, we're hosting The Quiet Workshop on Saturday, May 30, 2015.  The idea is that we spend the majority of our lives being stressed and busy.  What if we took 8 hours on 1 day to begin to address our stress and busyness?  Could we step out of the traffic, see how it feels, and perhaps incorporate some quiet into our every day lives?

What does this have to do with drinking coffee that's good for the farmers and the planet?

EVERYTHING.

  • Both have to do with purposeful living (one of Overflow's values).  
  • Both have to do with actually thinking about why we do what we do - from where we spend our money to how we spend our time.  
  • Both are about the habits we build INTO our lives to help build UP our lives (and the lives of others).
If this seems up your alley, we invite you to check out the full details.  Register early for a $20 discount and to reserve your seat before it fills up.  Space is limited to 40 people so there's lots of value to the workshop.

Nichols Farm CSA is coming back to Overflow!

We're excited to welcome back Nichols Farm for the 2015 season!

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  It's about relationship.  You get local, fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables while building a relationship with a local farmer (in this case the Nichols family).  

Nichols has made some improvements for the coming season:

  • All members also receive a 20% discount on any farmers market purchases.
  • Expanding partnership with Local Thyme to include more weekly recipes and tips to best utilize your CSA share. 
  • Now offering a half share that is every other week for those who thought it was just too much produce.  

This 3rd one is probably the most exciting for people who were hesitant to sign up previously.

Find out more and sign up at this link.

Full disclosure: Overflow is not getting paid to host this CSA. We might receive a box of fruits and veggies to split among the staff. People who come to pick up their food might make a purchase from Overflow. We're not sure what might happen. Primarily, we're doing this because it's the right thing to do.

Thoughts on Our 4 Year Anniversary

Today marks 4 years since we opened to the public on March 18, 2011.  In case you're wondering, the day after St. Patrick's Day is most definitely a great day to open a coffee shop, at least in Chicago.  I'm sure you can imagine why.

The past 4 years have had their ups and downs.


We knew when we chose the South Loop neighborhood that we had an uphill battle in front of us.  The South Loop just doesn't have the population density of other neighborhoods. Plus, it is still perceived as "scary" by some who live north of us so they don't visit for eating, drinking, or shopping.  Even more-so in 2011 than in 2015.

We were, are, and will be willing to fight this uphill battle because we believe the long term benefit will be worth it.  We envision that, if we put in the effort at the beginning when small businesses around us was somewhat scarce, we'd become a neighborhood institution.  Even if lots of competition opened up later, we hope we'll be so ingrained in the South Loop that no one could compete with our South Loop neighborhoodliness.  Besides, the more direct trade coffee being consumed the better!

Did we accomplish this vision?  Hard to tell.  But I think that, if we were gone, we'd be missed by lots of folks.

So, what got us through the past 4 years?  In a word, perseverance.  Even when the going got tough, we pushed through.  We tightened our belts.  We put in long hours.  We never gave up or backed down.  We went through the pits of despair and kept our hope alive.  We won't bore you with all the details but I can tell you I wouldn't want to live through it again.  I would add that we didn't persevere alone.  There were lots of friends, family, loyal customers who stood with us and helped us when we couldn't keep going on our own.

What's next? We're close to becoming profitable and then the sky is the limit.  We've got some great ideas along the lines of Placemaking, a real South Loop Chamber of Commerce, franchising, and further mentoring/coaching of others who want to start coffee shops of their own.  There's still a lot of slavery in the world as people produce coffee, clothing, flowers, sugar, etc.  There is still lots of work to do and we're not giving up anytime soon.  Face it.  You're stuck with us.  :-)

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