Jesse Durham is a co-owner of Sisters Coffee Company—a brand started by her parents, Winfield and Joy Durham, in Sisters in 1989. Today, Jesse and her two brothers are at the helm of the company, which operates cafes in Sisters and Portland, as well as a wholesale business roasting and packaging 300,000 pounds of coffee per year. Last year, Jesse spearheaded an effort to convert their coffee bags to a new, biodegradable packaging made from sugar cane and wood pulp. For the company's 30th anniversary, Jesse designed and launched a coffee blend of which 10% of profits go to Partnership for Gender Equity. She also spearheaded the launch of Grow Together—an effort to make coffee and its supply chain more accessible to all who love the drink.
Jesse's tenacity in the business space and her commitment to women's empowerment were just a couple of the reasons the judges recognized her for the Woman of the Year award.
Durham described to me how in 2015, she discovered that the Nyampinga Women's Cooperative, an all-women co-op in Rwanda, was spending excessive amounts of time hauling water from a river to its coffee washing station—holding the co-op back economically. Durham decided to raise funds for the co-op by signing up for the 2016 Kigali International Peace Marathon in Kigali, Rwanda, teaming up with 10 Barrel's Portland location to craft a coffee beer as a fundraiser. The funds raised went toward obtaining a water pump that would deliver clean water to the co-op's washing station.
That had a huge impact on the co-op, but also local customers. As she described, "For Sisters Coffee, one of the huge wins in that whole campaign and fundraiser was, we had a little jar out front that said, 'hey, help the co-op get a washing station—and that was a helpful tool because it got the customers thinking."
Here's more from our interview with Jesse Durham:
Source Weekly: I like to give every woman nominated in these awards, firstly, the opportunity to name someone who's impacted their own life. Who's that person for you?
Jesse Durham: The first person who comes to mind is my mom. She has this larger-than-life personality and it's one of those warm, jovial compassionate personalities that other people around her are really impacted by, but she's just being her.
SW: During the [judge's] interview I was intrigued by your description of the connection with the farms you work with. Can you share a bit more about that?
JD: This is my favorite part about coffee—the supply chain—I think mostly because there's so much that we can do. Sisters Coffee is a small business, but there's so much impact that we can have with the coffee that we buy, so it's really cool when you go travel to these countries to see how much it matters to them that we're buying their coffee, and our feedback on the coffee matters to them.
SW: What does being nominated for Woman of the Year mean to you?
JD: It's a huge honor. I think growing up in Central Oregon and seeing how Central Oregon has grown since I was a kid in the 1990s, and to see the direction that it has moved—Central Oregon has become such an incredible community throughout the course of my life and so many talented people have moved to Central Oregon because they want to live here. And they bring in a whole host of expertise and skill sets that I admire, and I aspire to cultivate in my own life, and so to be nominated for woman of the year, just makes me feel very honored that I get to be part of that community.
I think it inspires me to ask myself, well, how can I get more involved? When I was at the interview [with the judge's panel] I was looking across the room, and I was like, 'gosh, I want to be a leader.' I feel like in many ways I am a leader in the community, but it just begs the question, what more can I do? How can I get more involved?