Click to Print
. . . .

In for the long run

Erin Cowell - August 6th, 2010
In for the Long Run
By Erin Crowell
When Higher Grounds Trading Company started several years ago, the
mission was to offer Northern Michigan handcrafted, gourmet and
organic coffee through fair trade: by providing a dignified wage to
small community farmers in the less-developed regions of the world,
including Columbia, Ethiopia, Mexico and Peru.
It was a vision owners Chris and Jody Treter saw through to the end;
but there was something more than just fair trade coffee behind that
Enter On The Ground, the non-profit wing of Higher Grounds that
focuses specifically on the needs of the fair trade farmers and their
“We have three main areas we focus on,” says Chris Treter, now the
sole owner of Higher Grounds, “water, education and healthcare.”

OTG’s largest fundraising endeavor to-date is Run Across Ethiopia, a
400km ultra-marathon that will help raise awareness and funds for
Ethiopian education – $100,000 to be exact.
“We have a lot of people—local and abroad—who are focusing on this
project,” says Treter.
Seven runners – most from Northern Michigan (two are from South
Carolina), are currently raising funds for the 250-mile trek across
Ethiopia and include: team leader Timothy Fitzgerald Young,
president/executive chef of Food For Thought; Hans Voss, executive
director for the Michigan Land Use Institute; Chris Girrbach, owner of
Pangea Pizza and Great Lakes Potato Chips; Matt Desmond, president of
Finance Outsource Associates; Norm Plumstead, branch administrator for
Honor State Bank in TC; Dena Piecuch, City of Charleston police
officer; Jeffrey Metzler, manager of Lowcountry Crossfit & Crossfit
Holy City in Charleston, South Carolina; and Chris Treter.
Money will go toward Ethiopian education projects, including the
construction of three schools in coffee-growing communities, along
with support of a union that represents 129 fair trade coffee
cooperatives, encompassing a collection of more than 800,000 families.
However, the real numbers lie in Ethiopia’s education statistics: In
Yirgachefe, only half the region’s children complete primary school,
only 36% of adults can read and life expectancy is 53 years – this
coming from a region where some of the world’s most sought-after
coffees originate.
“Literally half of the kids there don’t go to school,” Treter
stresses. “The United Nations wants every primary-age child in the
world to have access to education by the year 2015.”

Some of Ethiopia’s elite marathon runners will join in the 12-day,
250-mile journey, starting on January 8 in the capital city of Addis
Ababa and finishing near the town of Yrgacheffe where they will be
joined by members of the OCFCU along with the residents of Afursa Waro
for the last 10km.
Girrbach recently joined fellow runners Voss and Treter for the North
Country Trail Ultra Marathon, a 50-mile cross-terrain race in Manistee
County. Although a high-mileage race, it still pales in comparison to
what the team will see in Ethiopia.
“It’s such a different thing to prepare for,” Girrbach says. “We did a
couple marathons to prepare for the 50-miler, but there’s no organized
races that can prepare you for (250 miles). You just have to run a
When looking at what he’s looking forward to most about the Ethiopia
undertaking, Girrbach says he really has no answer.
“I don’t think I’m looking forward to anything, if that makes any
sense. I think the whole thing is going to be great. I don’t want to
go in with expectations. It’s going to be amazing to see a culture our
society has never seen before. There’s going to be living conditions
that you and I would never consider living in.”
On that note, Girrbach also emphasizes the importance of donating to
the cause.
“Individually we’re trying to raise about $15,000 each. I think if
people understand what the cause is about and how it ties to our
community, then it’s a great cause to contribute to.”

Higher Grounds’ On The Ground offers Fair Trade Tours – also called
substantial tourism – where locals are invited to see, first-hand, the
farms and communities that provide their coffee. The latest fair trade
product includes olive oil from Palestine and Israel, with trips to
All trips provide the history, culture and political implications of
the fair trade products and their impact on the community and abroad,
with money going directly into the communities.
It was on one of these trips that Higher Grounds focused on the issues
pertaining to its product provider.
The Chiapas Water Project started in 2005 after a group of Northern
Michigan residents visited Chiapas Mexico and saw the lack of access
to potable water, which bred illness and poverty.
The group of concerned citizens had their first On The Ground project.
After several visits and stages of setup, the project was up and
running, raising enough money to build a gravity-fed water system,
channeling clean water to the village. Now, the Chiapas Water Project
is providing fresh water to several communities.
“People are digging ditches and carrying water. They’re learning about
the realities of these places,” Treter says about the project.

With both Higher Grounds and On The Ground pulling him in various
directions all over the globe, Treter decided it was time to hand the
reigns of On The Ground over to Bill Palladino, principal consultant
and owner of Krios Consulting, based in Traverse City.
“I decided I wanted to spend more time working hands-on in the
communities and not worry about the logistics,” explains Treter. “Bill
is our push to make the organization, itself, sustainable.”
Palladino is now executive director, strategic planner and chief
fundraiser for Run Across Ethiopia and all other OTG projects.
“My main tasks are to raise a significant amount of money for the Run
Across Ethiopia project in a short period of time, while also creating
the structure and systems that will help the organization sustain
itself beyond this singular event,” explains Palladino. “Chris Treter
has taken a personal vision of philanthropy and handed off to a core
of board members and me.  That’s a lot of responsibility to continue
someone else’s passion. But I love it.”

More information about On The Ground is available at There, you will find information on Run Across
Ethiopia, including donation opportunities. Get directly involved with
the race by running the Run For Ethiopia 5k, 10k & One Mile Fun Run at
Food For Thought Farm, in Honor, on Oct. 16. The event includes a
dinner and a movie, 7 p.m. Races start at 5 p.m. Register at

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5