Higher Grounds: Traverse City, MI


Higher Grounds Trading Co. was envisioned through passion for both social justice and the environment. To this day the company and its owner Chris Treter continue to make strides in supporting & fundraising these very fundamental causes both locally and throughout the world. Chris is originally from Toledo, Ohio and ventured to Vermont to attend graduate school for Organizational Management of Social Change. After graduation in 2001, he travelled to Mexico with a human rights organization where he met coffee farmers struggling for basic human rights. These coffee farmers were also producing high-quality coffee but had no connection to the international market. Chris saw an opportunity to import great coffee using fair-trade practices and help the coffee farmers to earn what they deserved.  

Chris_Jose_in field

photo courtesy of Higher Grounds Trading Co

In 2002 Higher Grounds was started as a wholesale business out of Leelanau County. Working together with an importing co-op of 23 different roasters, Higher Grounds, among others, pool their resources to purchase great coffee directly from farmers all throughout the world. Fair trade practices are at the heart of this ‘roasters co-op’ as well as the core of Higher Grounds itself. In their words, “Fair trade means working directly with small-scale growing groups, providing them with above market pricing and pre-financing for their products when necessary.” In 2007 Higher Grounds moved to The Village and greatly expanded their operations. In addition to adding a coffee bar, Higher Grounds increased their available production space from 800 square feet to 6,000 square feet. Today, Higher Grounds has expanded their offerings of fair trade imports to include jewelry, olive oil, woven baskets and more. Not only does Chris still work with a few of the coffee farmers he first met in Mexico in 2001, but Higher Grounds now imports from growers all over the world, including: Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Columbia, Peru, Indonesia, Ethiopia, the DR Congo, and Uganda.

Apart from spearheading support for social justice, Higher Grounds has an unwavering commitment to the environment. All their coffee is certified-organic and Higher Grounds is a Zero-Waste coffee shop. They compost their coffee grounds, recycle everything and only provide reusable ceramic mugs to their customers. Another one of the unique ways Higher Grounds supports the environment is through their bike delivery service. In the last year Ruth has delivered over 20,000 lbs of coffee by bike. The service is mandatory for local Traverse City retailers and consumers within their predetermined bike delivery radius.

hiking in coffee country

photo courtesy of Higher Grounds Trading Co.

Chris Treter’s commitment to social justice and the environment spans even further than Higher Grounds coffee. ‘On the Ground’ is a non-profit that encompasses a number of projects with the mission to support farming families (primarily those disadvantaged) around the world. Three major projects have been established since 2005. The first being ‘The Chiapas Water Project’ which focuses on water quality in Mexico. A second project in Ethiopia emphasizes the importance and development of schools for young children, while a third project specializes in agriculture and micro loans for farming families in Palestine. With each new ‘On the Ground’ project, an event is launched in succession to help kickstart the effort. Some of these events include ‘Run across Ethiopia’ & ‘Run Across Palestine’ which raised funds through committed athletes running a marathon a day for 11 days & 5 days respectively. Each event also represents the title of two separate documentaries produced by Stone Hut Studios & On the Ground. The documentaries have a global focus and help to spread the word about issues of poverty and social inequality.

Between Higher Grounds & On the Ground, the employees, athletes, musicians, partners and film makers work diligently to help with any and all efforts related to the environment and social justice. To find out more visit onthegroundglobal.org or help support Higher Grounds by purchasing some of the 200,000 lbs of fair trade coffee they import and roast locally every year.

–I originally published this article in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons Newsletter, where it was featured as a Business Spotlight article highlighting the diverse businesses that make up “The Village.” I have a great appreciation for Higher Grounds, as well as the efforts of On the Ground and wanted to share the story behind the company with you. Higher Grounds also offered a great coupon in this week’s Taste the Local Difference Local Food Companion. You can find it on the TLD blog here and save up 15% on Holiday Gift Boxes. Purchase the perfect edible holiday gifts this year and choose to support Higher Grounds in the process!


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