Stewarding Earth’s Gifts: A Conversation with Jonathan Ramm

Jonathan Ramm, 38, has lived in the Tyler area most of his life, aside from a few years in the Dominican Republic. Today, Ramm owns Porch Culture, a coffee roasting business delivering ethically sourced, sustainably grown coffee to customers’ front doors.

📷 all photos by Nico Grayson

For Ramm, sustainability is not a passing trend for his business but a way of life. He considers himself an optimist when it comes to the environment, despite escalating issues in his lifetime, such as climate change, pollution and deforestation. Ramm says stewarding the land is key to the world he wants to live in.

“There’s this idea that if we as humans didn’t exist, the natural world would just be abundant, and there’d be fruit everywhere. I actually believe it’s important that we tend to the garden and we take care of the earth, because the earth can produce more fruit due to the fact that we’re working within it as a part of it,” he said.

Some of Ramm’s inspirations to take care of the earth come from his dad; the owners of Red Moon Farms; the time he spent living in the Dominican Republic; and poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry.

“I read a lot of Wendell Berry,” Ramm said. “He talks a lot about the economy, and when he talks about the economy, it almost always goes back to the soil.”

Like Berry, Ramm agrees connection to the land provides free gifts for all people.

Ramm, who appreciates the principle of thrift, said his criteria for living thriftily asks, “What do I already have? What’s coming my way? What is not waste that maybe we think of as waste?”

“There are a lot of free gifts around us that we don’t necessarily see all the time. It’s been amazing to see the small, beautiful things that we can receive from even just a small yard,” Ramm said.

And it’s in his own small yard that eco-friendly changes have transformed his 90-year-old Tyler home. For example, after a tree was cut down, Ramm covered his backyard with the remaining wood chips. 

“We had all the wood chips left at the house and put them all in the backyard. We put a lot of those into the garden, too. And we actually used a bunch of the stumps for the kids to play on. We spent money to have a tree taken down, but maybe the tree isn’t wasted. So, there’s a sense of using what’s already here.”

Ramm’s backyard shows other signs of thrift, like his rain water barrels. 

Ramm said his plants prefer rainwater to treated city water. “The rainwater just feeds the plants a lot better. Also, it’s just a really easy way for the kids to grab buckets and water the garden. We use that to fill up a little experimental pond we have in the backyard, because it’s good for fish to have natural rainwater. We also use it for irrigation.”

Ramm points to his front yard gardens as another way to reimagine life, this time through connections with neighbors. 

“I think having a garden in your front yard is a great way to meet people. I’m really shy in general but if I’m working in the garden, it’s always a conversation starter. We definitely have people that’ll stop and say, ‘What are you growing? Or what are we eating?'”

Ramm’s garden overflowed with a variety of crops fresher than anything from the grocery store. 

“We’ve got oregano, dill, sage, and thyme. The basil’s kind of tucked in everywhere, right around the pear tree. Then all this lettuce, it’s about to be too hot for them. They’ll start to get really bitter, but everything’s thriving right now. Then these are a bunch of tomatillos coming in here, and we’ve got some late-season carrots in here.”

After much trial and error, everything in the front and back yard of Ramm’s home is linked together and works as a system. 

“I finally installed the drip irrigation. Everything struggled so much last summer. It’s a really slow drip, and they are just on a simple timer.”

Another component of Ramm’s set up are the composting bins.

“Coffee grounds and coffee chaff is the biggest thing we put in. Coffee chaff is a byproduct of when we roast the coffee,”he said. “You can also incorporate fresh kitchen stuff.”

When asked what advice he would give to someone trying their hand at sustainability for the first time, Ramm said websites made the difference.

“YouTube was where all a lot of this started. Anytime I have an interest, it’s like a bottle that explodes: I’ll research and research and research until I just kind of feel sick of research, and I need to just do it. I just need to jump in and figure out how this actually works,” Ramm said.

While some of his projects were simple to install, adding solar panels to the roof required more investment and labor. 

“It’s expensive and we do pay like a monthly loan. We’re not saving money on our electric bill yet. I mean, the electric bill is less, but the loan payment for solar is still expensive. I think the lowest we’ve seen in our bill is maybe like 40 bucks, which is pretty good.” 

In addition to solar panels, Ramm has invested in a greywater system.

“We’ve got greywater that goes to the back. We do use a biodegradable soap. It’s really all underground. It was a bit of an intensive learning curve and installation. Greywater is no joke; installing a pipe underground is no joke.”

For Ramm, teaching his children about sustainability motivates his practices. He makes an effort to include his children by making a playhouse, pond and mini-garden.

“My children participate in the things I do. I don’t take that for granted, because that’s not a given for your kids to love what you love.”

Stewarding the earth and educating others drives Ramm’s green life. When he is not at home tending his garden and being with his family, he is delivering coffee — often by bike — to people’s front porches, building community. 

“We need each other, you know? No man is an island.” 

Nico Grayson (they/them) were born and raised in Tyler, Texas and graduated as salutatorian of the first graduating class of Early College High School where they obtained an associates degree in Business Administration from Tyler Junior College. They graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with degrees in communication & leadership and in international Relations & global studies. Nico has worked in sectors they are passionate about, including equitable housing, education accessibility, mental health advocacy and LGBTQ+ rights. Their favorite hobby is writing songs and producing music.

Love what you're seeing in our posts? Help power our local, nonprofit journalism platform — from in-depth reads, to freelance training, to COVID Stories videos, to intimate portraits of East Texans through storytelling.

Our readers have told us they want to better understand this place we all call home, from Tyler's north-south divide to our city's changing demographics. What systemic issues need attention? What are are greatest concerns and hopes? What matters most to Tylerites and East Texans?

Help us create more informed, more connected, more engaged Tyler. Help us continue providing no paywall, free access posts. Become a member today. Your $15/month contribution drives our work.

Support The Tyler Loop!

Previous articleThe Tyler Loop Interview: Cheyenne Lortz of UT Tyler Social Work Club
Next articleRefuge Recovery Offers Teaching, Meditation, Fellowship
Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop and storytelling director of Out of the Loop: True Stories about Tyler and East Texas. In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and attends Sam Houston State University remotely, where she studies sociology. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former teacher of French at Robert E. Lee High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.