Meet the two Grade 12 students in charge of their own non-profit organization.
Emily Lowan and Maiya MacMaster are the two co-directors of Community Earth, a local non-profit closing the coffee ground loop in Victoria. Both are currently in grade twelve at Claremont Secondary School.
When Lowan went to her teacher Mark Neufeld at the Institute for Global Solutions, she was looking for ways to get involved with creating a more sustainable future. It was then that she was offered the chance to take over the non-profit organization. Neufeld had established Community Earth in 2000 but hadn’t developed any new projects for it in over 15 years, so he offered Lowan the chance to rebuild it.
“When he gave me this opportunity I immediately went to Maiya, because we work so well together,” says Lowan The two have since become excellent business partners.
In mid-September, 2017, the duo launched their first project as co-directors—The Coffee Ground Renewal Project.
Coffee grounds are an amazing resource for farms. They can create nitrogen-rich compost which helps plants like tomatoes thrive. Many small local farms want to use coffee grounds don’t have the time to cultivate the relationships with coffee shops, MacMaster and Lowan found after talking to farmers in Saanich and Cordova Bay.
“The farms were really excited about this opportunity,” says MacMaster. If it weren’t for the girls, they wouldn’t be able to access the resources as often as needed. “It’s not really feasible because a lot of them are running the farms by themselves,” she says.
“They don’t have time to foster the relationships [with coffee shops] in the community,” adds Lowan, “so that’s where we step in!”
Though coffee grounds are banned from CRD landfills, Lowan and MacMaster found that many coffee shops were unaware of this rule or weren’t abiding by it. They felt an ethical responsibility to educate the businesses.
And not only are they saving the grounds from the waste system, but they’re saving both the coffee shops and the farms money. Normal compost waste disposal is charged by weight, and famers would have to purchase it, but Community Earth provides their services free of charge.
Community Earth is partnered with six coffee shops in Victoria and three local farms. Lowan and MacMaster pickup and deliver the grounds themselves. Weather permitting, they bike the route, lugging heavy bags of coffee grounds along with them. They even separate the organic coffee grounds from the non-organic for certified organic farms to use.
The farms know where their grounds are coming from and the coffee shops know where their grounds are going. This is fosters positive relationships between the farms and businesses, helping create a more sustainable farming system.
Community Earth eventually hopes to expand the Coffee Ground Renewal Program Victoria-wide. Some of the coffee shops they work with are part of larger chains (Serious Coffee and Red Barn Market). Ideally, they’d be able to expand the program throughout those franchise locations.
“Currently we’re not able to work with more than 10 businesses because it is a lot of time for just two people,” says MacMaster. In the future, Community Earth hopes to recruit a team of volunteers to help them with the pickups and deliveries so they can expand the unit.
Though the Coffee Ground Renewal Program is the main focus for Community Earth right now, eventually they hope to start more projects. As a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps, Lowan speaks around town at workshops and the pair hopes to develop workshops of their own. Collaborations with the Youth Food Network are in the works.
Both Lowan and MacMaster plan to attend the University of Victoria next year.
Visit their website to find out more about the team and their initiatives.
– Ryann Anderson