Big welcome to our new ED!
After many months of planning and several weeks of searching, interviewing, and deliberating...Cooperative Coffees is proud to announce that Janet Utecht will be taking over the Executive Director position from our dear founder and director of 10+ years, Bill Harris! Janet joined our team in January, when she "hit the ground running": in the span of a weekend, she ended her stint with the Peace Corps in Ecuador and hopped on a flight to Ethiopia for a two-week coop delegation. We may have only just met her, but with that kind of stamina, we know she's up to the challenge of steering the Coop Coffees ship! We're thrilled to have her with us - please join all of us at Cooperative Coffees in giving Janet a big, warm welcome!
A Note from Bill Harris:
Has a decade really passed since a few idealists gathered in Atlanta to design a unique green coffee importing model that would directly connect small-scale coffee producers with small coffee roasters? When we started Cooperative Coffees, we placed an enormous amount of trust in the principles of collaboration, cooperation, and fairness in our dealings with fellow members and, most importantly, with coffee farmers. We used the cooperative business model to directly connect small roasters throughout North America who cannot import coffee on their own to small farmers all over the world who cannot directly export their crop. A simple but powerful model was born which, this year, will import about 100 shipping containers filled with over 3.5 million pound of organic, fair trade coffee.
One year ago, I informed our board of directors that it was time to pass the baton along to someone who could bring the new leadership, organizational skills, energy and enthusiasm that this organization needs to continue our success and tackle the challenges that we face. Our board began an extensive search, and I am delighted to introduce you to our new Executive Director, Janet Utecht. Janet comes to us with over 20 years of business management and leadership experience. She was born, raised, and attended college in the Midwest. After college she worked for Kimberly-Clark Corporation in Finance, Manufacturing, Marketing, and Supply Chain leadership roles. Four years ago Janet made the decision to leave the “for profit” world to work in international development. She joined the United States Peace Corps as a business adviser volunteer and worked on various projects in the Environmental, Technology Transfer, and Sustainable Agriculture programs in Mexico and Ecuador. It was in Ecuador that she worked with her first coffee growing cooperative and became interested in fair trade, organic coffee production.
Janet’s first day on the job last month found her en route to Ethiopia to meet with our trading partners there, and she has already visited six of our roaster members while driving from Minneapolis to her new home in Americus. She will continue to travel extensively during the next year in order to meet and better understand our members and trading partners. She will also attend the SCAA and Fair Trade Federation conferences in April and May to meet more of our allies in the industry. Her other top priorities are to make the leadership transition seamless and to spearhead the development and implementation of our strategic plan.
Meanwhile, I am stepping down and planting a few blueberry bushes, but not wandering off into the sunset. I will assume the role of part-time Chief Financial Officer at Cooperative Coffees and will continue in that role for the foreseeable future. I am also starting an organic farm a few miles north of Americus on land that my great-grandfather farmed organically 80 years ago. Easterlin Farms will specialize in blueberries and beans – two of my favorite foods! Picking season for blueberries begins in late June and lasts until mid-August and we welcome visitors to Americus during those months...
Over the last 11 years, Cooperative Coffees has imported over 15 million pounds of fair trade and organic certified coffee. We have a seasoned professional staff at our headquarters in Americus, Georgia and at our quality laboratory and producer relations office in Montreal. Our 22 roaster-owners and our dedicated staff ask that you please join us in welcoming Janet to the team and help her as she assumes the leadership of this unique organization. We look forward to continued growth and friendship with our trading partners and allies and our exciting future at Cooperative Coffees.