Water crisis prompts Michigan coffee roaster to pour funds into Flint

PITTSBURGH—Fireside Coffee Co. in Swartz Creek, Mich., is no big bean box store. In fact, community is at the center of the artisan coffee roaster’s six guiding principles.

That unifying doctrine is what motivated the small business to pitch in when they learned lead was contaminating the drinking water in Flint, its next-door neighbor, three years ago.

Not long after details of the pollution debacle were exposed, Fireside entrepreneurs turned their coffee expertise into a fundraiser for local children by crafting a dark blend they christened “Flint Strong.” A portion of sales proceeds is directed to the Flint Child Health & Development Fund, a charity dedicated to caring for youngsters exposed to lead. The heavy metal is a potent neurotoxin that is especially harmful to children.

Thus far, Fireside’s effort has raised more than $1,700, Angie Root, company vice president for sales, tells Renewal News in an interview.

“We started roasting Flint Strong in April of 2016, but it didn’t start really gaining momentum until toward the end of 2016,” she says. “It describes not only the coffee, but the spirit of the city and the people in it.”

Outsiders often define working-class Flint by its water crisis, poverty and people exiting the city, Root continues, but they know nothing about the “amazing” Flint Institute of Arts and its museum art school or that the city’s downtown farmers market has won national awards.

“We decided we could do something to highlight the positives,” she says.


Swartz Creek is a western suburb of Flint.

Flint Strong is Fireside’s best-selling coffee, Root notes, adding that it’s especially popular among native Michiganders who have moved away but are eager to support their home town or state. A 12-ounce bag sells for $15.99.

Representatives from the Flint Chamber of Commerce promoted Flint Strong earlier this month at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) annual conference in downtown Pittsburgh.

Next year, Flint is scheduled to be the host city for SEJ’s 28th annual conference. Many of the panels, tours and other events will focus on lead in the city’s water as an environmental health and justice issue. The gatherings attract hundreds of reporters and editors.

A series of questionable decisions by government officials about Flint’s water supply led to a public health disaster that began in 2014 and has yet to be abated.

Fireside’s goal with Flint Strong was one of support for a city in a rough spot, Root says, adding that the company never intended to send a message about whether the city’s tap water was clean enough to brew coffee. That decision is best handled by health officials, she adds.

The dark roast with hints of nuts, dark chocolate and apples is a blend of beans from Indonesia, Honduras, Ethiopia and Brazil.

“Like the city of Flint, these beans are strong and bold,” the package label reads. “This blend is inspired by the generations of Flint men and women who have always risen early, worked hard and stayed ’til the job was done.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Amari Myles, sales manager with the Flint Chamber of Commerce, holds a bag of Flint Strong coffee at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Pittsburgh earlier this month. 


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