TRAVERSE CITY – Higher Grounds Trading Company director and co-founder Chris Treter admits he doesn’t have a mind for business.
There’s strength in that declaration. Treter is a community organizer. He’s good at building the relationship between Higher Grounds customers and the farmers who grow its coffee beans. He’s not so good at interpreting the nuances in an insurance plan.
“The biggest flaw I see in entrepreneurs is their egos,” Treter said. “If you can let go of the ego you can thrive. I recognize in myself that I’m horrible at a great amount of things in business, and I plug people in that are amazing at it. I have found amazing people here in the Traverse City area that are passionate and good at all those things, so Higher Grounds has been able to thrive as a result.”
Higher Grounds grew from selling 5,000 pounds of coffee its first year in 2002 to 220,000 pounds a year now and continues to grow at 15 percent.
That growth comes without the traditional business model, in which companies buy raw materials at low prices and sell finished products for as much as they can.
Higher Grounds sells organic, fair trade coffee that Treter called environmentally and socially responsible. The company funnels money into On The Ground, a nonprofit organization housed in the same building that organizes projects in coffee-growing regions, such as promoting education in Ethiopia, agriculture in Palestine and gender equality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Treter wants to connect coffee drinkers to coffee bean farmers, to connect high quality coffee to a high quality of life.
“If cherry farmers were coffee farmers on Old Mission Peninsula, and those cherry farmers lived the way coffee farmers do, no one in our community would allow that because the disparity of wealth would be so apparent we’d be appalled at the living conditions,” Treter said. “We as northern consumers here in the U.S. don’t have to see or know, and therefore we don’t have to care. We would care if we saw, and that’s part of my job, creating that bridge and awareness so people can have a better understanding of the global economy.”