Roasting Coffee on the Rosebud: A Conversation with Karen Moore of Wakalyapi Produce
In this episode of Food Revolution, Matte talks to Karen Moore, owner & operator of Wakalyapi Produce, a coffee roastery located on the Rosebud Reservation. Karen completed the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative's Waicahya Icagapi Kte (WIK, or They Will Grow Into Producers) adult internship program for tribal members interested in becoming local food producers & entrepreneurs in 2020, and shortly thereafter launched their business. Matte & Karen talk about how Karen got into coffee & started roasting, the different beans & roasts they've tried out, what it's like to launch a new business, and Karen's long-term plans to expand her business by growing coffee & ketogenic vegetables right here on the Rosebud.
You can order coffee from Karen here (and yes, they ship!)
Full episode transcription available here.
Enjoy listening to Food Revolution? Consider donating to the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative to help us in our mission to build food sovereignty and a local foods economy to empower our tribal community through food! Donations are 501(c)3 tax deductible.
(Intro) 00:00:00 Hau Mitakuyapi, and welcome to Food Revolution, brought to you by the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative. Every other week, we'll be bringing you stories of food sovereignty from community members and tribal food producers working to build a more just, equitable, and regenerative food system for the Sicangu Lakota Oyate - the Burnt Thigh Nation. Together, we're building tribal sovereignty through food, and we've set a place at the table just for you. Join us and be part of the Food Revolution.
(Matte) 00:00:29 In today's episode, I'll be talking to Karen Moore, a Rosebud based food entrepreneur and the founder of Wakalyapi Produce. Karen completed the Food Sovereignty Initiative’s adult internship program in 2020, a year long paid program which teaches interested tribal members how to become food producers. Karen roasts coffee locally on the Rosebud Reservation, and we'll be talking with them about what it's been like to launch and grow their business today.
Can you introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your background and about your business?
(Karen) 00:01:06 Sure. My name is Karen Moore, I'm an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and currently live in Mission, South Dakota. Um, my background, I, for most of my life, I grew up around here on the reservation in just different communities, um, and went to school and got my Associate's and Bachelor's in science from Sinte Gleska University and just worked like odd jobs here and there at the university. Um, I got an internship down in Virginia and then when I came back, I started working at the local coffee shop and that's really how I got introduced to coffee and like, how you don't have to add sugar and creamer to every cup to enjoy it. Um, and after a few months of being a barista there, I, I became a manager at the Brew and, um, one of my responsibilities was roasting the coffee that we would use in the shop to sell and to make drinks with and all of that.
00:02:07 And I got really interested in like seeing how beans change from how they were shipped to us with like small green beans into like the different roast levels and the flavors that came with that as well as the smells, ‘cause like each bean that you get from a different part of the world really, where they harvest coffee, it has like it’s own taste and smell. And that was just really interesting. Um, and so when I started Wakalyapi Produce, that's one thing that I wanted to do do is to roast coffee, um, just cause I miss doing it at the Brew, so yeah.
(Matte) 00:02:53 Yeah. I definitely miss going over there and seeing what kind of cool drinks you got. What was your favorite drink that you made?
(Karen) 00:03:03 Oh, um, I think my favorite was either the pumpkin spice lattes, just because I am a part of that crowd that loves PSLs, or we had this other one, this other drink that was, um, it was like two tablespoons of brown sugar and four shots of espresso. And then like you can make it hot or cold and it was called, uh, called it cordito and it was like strong, but not too sweet.
(Matte) 00:03:40 Nice. I remember that one. I think my always go-to is always a lavender iced coffee. Um, but my other favorite that, that you kind of curated was the, um, the brown sugar rose mocha. I think that's what it was called. Yeah. That one was really good.
(Karen) 00:04:00 Cool. That was very good. Yeah. I really enjoyed like, putting lavender in the majority of my drinks whenever I was there. And even now I have like a bottle of lavender syrup on my counter that I add to my, uh, my coffee every now and again. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
(Matte) 00:04:16 Awesome. So, um, you were part of our inaugural Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program here at the Food Sovereignty Initiative. Um, what kind of sparked you in terms of wanting to apply for that internship and then eventually getting to the idea of doing coffee produce?
(Karen) 00:04:37 Um, so while I was working at the Brew is when I met a lot of you from like the Food Sovereignty Initiative. Like I knew Prate, but like I met you, and Hollis, and Rachel, and was hearing more about your work. And I'm like, wow, they're really doing really cool stuff. And then I became interested in learning like where my food that I make for myself and my family, like became really interested in where that came from. And so when, um, when you started posting about like accepting applications for the internship, I was like, hey, this is like one way I can get my foot in the door and like figure out how I could, you know, eventually be able to grow produce for myself and my family and like other people. And I just, I mean, and another thing was like, I always say this, like learning how to not kill plants. ‘Cause I was so bad at that. Like all of my indoor plants, they would not last. Um, and now I have like shelves and shelves of plants, which is really cool, but yeah, that's, I mean, that's how I became interested in applying for the internship.
(Matte) 00:05:52 Awesome. Yeah. I, uh, every now and then I catch a, a photo, your, um, one of your coffee plants, I believe. So I would like to see how it's doing.
(Karen) 00:06:04 Yeah, she is. She's getting bigger. She's getting ready to put out two more leaves. So that's really exciting.
(Matte) 00:06:09 Yeah, definitely. So I think the last time I really talked to you was kind of during our, um, you know, towards the end of your internship with us last year and you were, um, you know, pitching your business plan and then applying for seed money. Um, how has your business, how has it been going since you launched?
(Karen) 00:06:31 Uh, so it's slowly grown, which I really appreciate, um, like taking a couple orders a week at a time, to now, building, I like had someone order like 10 pounds of coffee from me. It was like just one order a couple of weeks ago. Um, and like I was telling someone the other day business is growing slowly, which is good. And like friends of mine are people that follow my business on social media. They're like sharing it with their friends. And so like friends of friends are finding out about it and I'm getting orders from them and they're like sharing that further and further basically like word of mouth is how my business is growing, which is really, really, really cool. So, yeah.
(Matte) 00:07:22 Awesome. Um, what has been your most popular, roast or your origin coffee bean origin?
(Karen) 00:07:32 Hmm, I think it has to be like, um, I have this medium Mexican bean from the, I hope I'm saying this right. The Chiapas region, but it's like, it's a, it's a medium roast and it's sweeter. Like you could just drink it black and it would be pretty sweet without adding anything to it. Um, but it's been interesting. Like I did some research before I started Wakalyapi Produce, like a year ago. I started asking people like, if there were a local roaster, what would you want to have available? And I figured, um, like majority of people would want like a medium or a dark roast, but a majority are wanting more like medium/light roasts. And I wonder if that's because like the lighter roasts have a higher caffeine content. Like me, I usually like drift towards the medium and dark roast because I like that the extra flavor and richness in my cup. So it's been interesting and then like getting samples of beans and roasting them up and trying them out with some friends and getting their feedback as well as like, Oh, well I liked, you know, this bean over this bean and, um, yeah, it's just been interesting. It's not what I expected it to be. So I'm like, I'm definitely still learning and yeah, always looking forward to feedback from people that buy beans from me.
(Matte) 00:09:09 Awesome. Did that, that Mexican one sounds really tasty. I’ll have to try that one day. Definitely. Um, yeah. Are there any other challenges that you kind of face, um, inside of your business?
(Karen) 00:09:29 So before I started it, um, I purchased like this countertop roaster that looks like a little crockpot and I was able to roast like a half a pound of coffee in there at a time. And, um, then like right before I got my tribal business license and became like legit and everything, it broke down. And so I was like, Oh no, like I have all these orders I need to fill and like no way to roast coffee. And so I was like, googling it and like, what do I do? And trying to fix my own machine and it wasn't working. And so I remember seeing these videos on how you could actually like roast your coffee on like your stove top. And so I was like, yeah, I was like, well, I'll try it out and we'll see how it goes. And so I've been doing that basically up until last week.
00:10:24 And it is interesting because I'm like right there and watching these beans go through their physical changes and like smelling everything. Um, but then at the same time, it's like the beans have to like be continuously moving as they're being roasted so that they don't burn. And so for like half an hour, I'm sitting by my stove or standing by my stove with a whisk and like moving these beans around and all this smoke in my face. And like it's hot because they have to be hot to go through their changes. Um, so I purchased like this little air popcorn popper thing, um, from the site that I get a lot of resources from on roasting coffee and all of that. And it's so much quicker. I mean, I can only roast like a couple ounces at a time, but instead of like three hours to roast a few pounds of coffee for like letting things cool down and the beans to cool down and everything, it takes me maybe 15 minutes tops to like get through an entire round before I can start back up again. So trying to find the right roaster that will like get the job done and not wear myself out physically or damage. Yeah.
(Matte) 00:11:57 Awesome. Um, so in terms of the future, what are your dreams for, Wakalyapi Produce and like, what role do you see yourself playing in Rosebud’s food sovereignty movement?
(Karen) 00:12:12 So, as it gets warmer, um, I mean, like, I'm still trying to figure out kind of a living situation, but I want to build something on site where I can actually grow vegetables, um, during the warmer months and eventually year round. And like last year, I think when we talked last, like I was planning on a walipini, like an underground greenhouse. Um, but then I've been doing some more research this winter and have been considering like building on a little greenhouse on the south side of my house, kind of like to help insulate that end of my house. And then keep it away from like the North wind as much as I can, so it doesn't get damaged as much. And so I’m trying to figure out like, what would be more efficient, um, and honestly, like what would cost less to build and, you know, just stuff like that. And then eventually, like once I have a structure where I can grow year round, my coffee Arabica plant that I have, Sharon that's on my countertop right now, transplant it once it's big enough to be outside. Um, so I can roast the coffee cherries off of that in a few years and add more plants. Um, and you know, in like ten years time or so, like looking that far ahead, be able to produce like some coffee that was grown here on the reservation and share that with people.
00:13:51 And for the vegetable part of it, I want to focus on like ketogenic vegetables. Cause I mean, you know, there's a lot of people living around here with like health issues and how like the foods that you eat can really affect that. And, um, yeah, just focus on like organic veggies that no matter what your health conditions are, you can eat it without it affecting like your sugars or, um, like the different levels of, uh, what's the word I'm looking for. Not like your different levels in your blood work, like potassium and like just those different kinds of things.
(Matte) 00:14:38 Yeah. Cool. Definitely that the whole food is medicine. Huh. Okay.
(Karen) 00:14:43 Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Cause I mean, since I've become more aware of like, um, the work that goes into the food to like start it, care for it, harvest it and all of that, like, I feel like my health has definitely changed for the better just, just by like being more aware of that, that whole cycle and yeah. And I want to be a part of the, of the change with that around here, so, yeah.
(Matte) 00:15:18 Awesome. That's really awesome. Um, yeah. Yeah. I, I think for the next part, for anybody who's looking to start a food business or, you know, to start growing, what advice would you give a young entrepreneur who wants to start their own business?
(Karen) 00:15:37 Um, definitely start small. Like you can always build, but, um, I'm really glad that I took the route where I, I would only like, like with the coffee, like only roast a couple of pounds a week and kept it to like my personal page before I became a business. Um, because yeah, you can always grow, but like, and I, and I know that you shouldn't feel bad if you have to scale back on what you're doing, but I mean, like that feeling is there anyway. Um, so yeah, yeah, just start small, like go at your own pace. It's your business that you're starting and you don't want to burn yourself out before it really takes off. And you've been like, get to the point where you want to be so.
(Matte) 00:16:33 Awesome. That's some good advice. Um, my last question, how can we, how can people support Wakalyapi Produce and where can we find you?
(Karen) 00:16:46 Um, so right now I'm just on Facebook and Instagram, really. Both of those are Wakalyapi Produce. Um, I'm working on a website, like I actually have some windows open up on building a website so that it's easier to place orders. Um, but just, I mean, continue to send in orders. Um, if anyone has like ordered beans from me before, I love getting your feedback, I've started doing more surveying on the social media, like, uh, looking at new beans for the next month. Do you prefer like this flavor profile over this flavor profile and just, um, different stuff like that. I'm trying to be more active and reaching out to my audience on there. So, yeah.
(Matte) 00:17:38 Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Karen. That was great interview. I love all your work you're doing. Um, love the coffee. Definitely want to reach out and try out some of the Mexican coffee that you're talking about. Sounds really good.
Karen Yeah. Cool.
Matte All right. Well that was Karen Moore of Wakalyapi Produce. Catch us next week (in two weeks!) for the next episode of the Food Revolution.
(Outro) 00:18:03 You’ve been listening to Food Revolution with the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook at Sicangu Community Development Corporation, Instagram @sicangucdc, and check out our website at www.sicangucdc.org. Thanks for tuning in and we'll catch you next time in two weeks.
Host: Matte Wilson
Produced by: Mairi Creedon
Brought to you by Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative of Food Revolution