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Robbie Mason outside Perry Perk Coffee Shop, Perry, Iowa
Robbie Mason outside Perry Perk Coffee Shop, Perry, Iowa

Cycling, Coffee Rust and Climate Change

How we spent a wonderful weekend with close friends, boating, e-biking, and sipping flavorful Arabica bean coffee at a cozy family-run coffee shop in Perry, Iowa.

The freckle-faced young man posing proudly in front of his mother's recently opened coffee shop in Perry, Iowa is Robbie Mason. He's nine and a bundle of energy; and I am told, a crack shot with a BB gun. As strange as it may sound, his future could be impacted by a coffee rust in far away Guatemala, but a bit more on that in a moment.

Opened just five months ago, Perry Perk was born when Robbie's mother, Tari learned that a similar coffee shop down the street was closing. She and her family pooled their resources and started their shop, a comfortable, cosy place to sit and chat, watch a bit of TV or surf the Internet using their free WiFi. Besides premium coffees and smoothies, they serve hand-made sandwiches at lunch time and home-made pastries in the morning. Robbie is learning how to run the cash register. It's a very much a family-owned and operated affair. And the coffee is great.

It was Tari, who while in high school with our son, introduced her mother and my wife during one of the most difficult periods of our lives. Our son was dying of cancer and Tari's mother, Sheryl was a godsend of emotional support for my wife. They have been fast friends ever since, sharing their love of home decorating and design. Sadly, they would move away and Tari would marry and have two children, Madison and Robbie.

2010 would find them returning to Iowa and Sheryl's hometown. As she explained to my wife and me this weekend, never in her wildest imagination did she ever dream she'd be returning to Perry. It had been a great place to grow up for her; it would also be a great place for her grandkids.

So here she is working alongside her daughter several times a week, just a couple blocks off the Raccoon River Valley Trail, a 72-mile loop of beautifully paved biking and hiking trail to the north and west of Des Moines. According to Wikipedia, the trail system is build on the abandoned right-of-way of a rail line originally built in the 1870s. While Perry sits on the eastern leg of the loop, the western leg runs through Panora and just a mile or so from the Franz's lake-side home.

Since May is cycling month in Iowa, many of the stores in town - both the opened and the closed (and, sadly, there are way too many of latter) - have bicycles parked in their windows. Perry Perk is no exception. There in their window is a 1980's vintage Peugeot that belongs to Dana. He's not ridden it in a quite a while, he admits.

So, when I brought along for the weekend two electric bikes in our Honda Odyssey minivan -- my personal 2000-vintage Tidal Force M750 and the 2014 Haibike Xduro Trekking on loan from Currie Technologies -- the idea came to Dana's mind - he just turned 60 - that he and I should ride the trail this year. He'd dust off his Peugeot and I could ride my e-bike and we'd do the 72 mile loop.

Doing the entire loop I am not so keen on, but maybe from Panora to Perry, I'd be willing to try since it follows the old railroad grade and it's fairly level most of the way. So, I'll think about it, because even as I am edging ever closer to 70 -- that's hard to believe -- an e-bike can keep me and other Boomers like me biking longer, a fact demonstrated by the number of cyclists we passed in Panora this past Saturday: at least a dozen, maybe half of them easily over 40. Iowa is, of course, the home of RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, attracting thousands of riders each year. So cycling is a popular and growing activity in the state.

Which brings me back to Robbie's fate and coffee rust in Guatemala.

As you drive across western Iowa, beside the smattering of wonderful wind turbines, their glistening148 ft blades slowly spinning in the wind, it's obvious the ag economy here seems to be doing well. A combination of fertile soil and generous federal farm subsidies means at least some farmers are doing very well. I saw a lot of brand new Ford F150 crew cabs fueling up in the local Casey's General Store, the largest and busiest in the state, we're told. The Raccoon River Valley Trail runs just three blocks away.

Like all predominately agriculture-dependent states, Iowan's use a lot of petroleum and not just in the family pickup truck or tractor. Agribusiness also consumes vast quantities of petroleum and methane (natural gas)-derived herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, not to mention chemical fertilizers. That's a lot of CO2 being produced, although some of it will be reabsorbed by the crops in the fields. Still all that CO2, scientists warn us, is warming the planet, especially in places that depend on cool weather to grow crops like coffee beans. Ironically, it was while I was sitting sipping coffee in the Franz's kitchen Sunday morning that I came across an article online entitled, Devastating 'coffee rust' fungus raises prices on high-end blends. It explains that changing weather patterns in Central America are allowing the spread of a fungus called 'coffee rust' that is infecting large swaths of coffee farms all across the region, dramatically cutting yields.

According the AP story, 70 percent of the coffee trees in Guatemala are now infected, 74 percent in El Salvador, 64% in Costa Rica, 37% in Nicaragua, and 25 percent in Honduras. Farmers are responding by either severely pruning back their trees or replanting more rust-resistant varieties. But the impact is being felt in steadily rising coffee bean prices, which impacts not only the farmers in the region, but the Mason's and Perry Perk. The April ICO report notes the "average price for coffee hit a two-year high — more than US$1.70 per pound" largely driven by concerns over the severe draught in Brazil, home of the world's largest coffee crop.

Of course, a good cup of coffee is one of those small pleasures in life that most of us coffee drinkers are willing to pay the price for. After all, look at what you'll pay for a Venti-sized cup at Starbucks; a lot more than Perry Perk's coffee mug club price of a dollar with unlimited refills.

ePEDALER dot com coffee mug

Speaking of which, I spent my first $5 on 'advertising' for ePEDALER at Perry Perk. I bought one of their coffee mugs for $5 and used a special pen to inscribe in a porcelain-like black ink, the URL for ePEDALER. There it will hang on the converted jewelry display rack along with other club member mugs, hopefully generating over time a few hits from curious customers using their iPads and free WiFi.

So, to tie this long ramble together. The more of us out there cycling for pleasure, or exercise, or commuting to work or school, the less carbon we'll be responsible for emitting. The less carbon we emit, the less warming there will eventually be (some warming is already 'baked' into Robbie and Madison's future, unfortunately). The less warming, the less rust, the more coffee beans, the lower the price, the more coffee we can drink as we relax a few minutes during that 72-mile loop along the Raccoon River Valley Trail at a little coffee shop run by dear friends in Perry called Perry Perk [map].

Stop by and ask Tari to use my mug and I'll buy you a cup of coffee.

Posted By: Bill Moore [02-Jun-2014]

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