Have Your Cup and Drink It Too!

Support Small Farmers and the Environment – Drink Organic Coffee

Why should one pay a premium for organic, and often times fair trade certified coffee? Although the roasting process eliminates most chemical residue within the beans, protection of the land and soil, the support of small farmsteads, and the safety of farmers and people within coffee producing areas should be paramount in the minds of those concerned with preserving the environment. This article explores these concerns and will give you advice on how you can get started drinking organic and fair trade coffee.

organic coffee

Farmers in coffee producing areas of the world, such as Latin America, South East and South West Asia, and the tropics of Africa, still are engaged in the use of many chemicals, such as DDT, that have been banned in the US. A lack of understanding of the effects of pesticides and herbicides and their correct use may be a secondary factor, but the primary reason many of these small farmers make use of such chemicals is purely economic.

When you are barely a step above sustenance farming, every little bit of extra income can contribute to the bottom line and the monoculture of coffee is at serious risk to many different contagions such as blight, rust, and insect (both native and imported) threats. One bad season of coffee rust can cause irreparable damage to a farmer’s entire crop for which he can lose his land and, in some countries, even jailed if he owes money and cannot pay.


Both pesticides (chemicals that target insects) and herbicides (chemicals that target undesirable plant growth) have a devastating impact to those natural organisms that make up a healthy ecosystem with the soil. Although many folks are not aware as it remains relatively unseen, a healthy soil supports a huge bio-diverse ecosystem consisting of many forms of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and worms.

• These organisms, when undisturbed, provide hundreds of benefits to plant life. The “good” predatory species keep the bad, plant damaging varieties in check by devouring the eggs, larvae, and adult varieties before they can cause much damage to vegetation.

• Many of the species directly or indirectly add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.

• Fungi work by breaking down old plant matter into “free” compounds that are usable by living plants.

• Some bacteria attach themselves to the roots of legumes (nitrogen producing plants) and form symbiotic relationships with their hosts and transform nitrogen from the atmosphere into soil born forms in exchange for sugars produced by the plant.

• Good nematodes kill other nematodes and bacteria that attack vegetation.

• Worms aerate the soil by providing tunnels that air and water can enter which ensures these vital compounds reach the rootstock. Moreover, they provide very high quality fertilizer through their waste products.

When these organisms are doused with pesticides and herbicides, these fragile ecosystems and be utterly destroyed, and coupled with monoculture, may allow a small problem to grow into a very large issue. In a more natural environment, a plant or two of a particular species may experience the ill effects of a disease with the remaining examples remaining unaffected. However, when there are no natural enemies left to combat it, the disease or other pest can grow exponentially, requiring more and more chemical products to be applied to combat it – creating a vicious cycle of pesticide/herbicide use.

Though slash and burn farming techniques, the surrounding vegetation in coffee growing areas are often stripped, leading to erosion and loss of top soil. This loose soil, along with the pesticides, herbicides, and excess chemical fertilizers, enter into the water supply and contaminate lakes and rivers leading to a whole host of other issues in coffee growing regions such as:

• Loss of potable water sources for humans and livestock.

• Birth defects from chemical exposure.

• Algae blooms from excessive nitrogen.

• Loss of marine life; the chemicals affect the plankton and other microscopic organisms that form the basis of the food supply.

These chemicals directly impact the lives of the famers, their families, and other people living in the area with high rates of cancer, birth defects, and respiratory issues. The famers and/or farm labor often do not use proper protective gear and often do not apply the chemical with proper procedures – many often cannot read the instructions as high illiteracy rates are systemic throughout many coffee growing areas.

Benefits of Organic Coffee

Farmers who produce organic coffee normally do so through sustainable methods such as multilayer crop practices which includes two or more harvestable plant species occupying the same fields to reduce monoculture environments, no use of man-made chemical products, and practices that encourage a healthy soil structure. These practices follow the natural systems of growth an decay to include a layer of mulch provided by a tree canopy which helps to reduce the requirements for irrigation. The second crop also helps to increase the income of the famer and the reduction of chemical costs increases the money in his pockets. However, the process to become certified takes, at a minimum, three years so a famer needs to have an expectation of higher prices for his products and this is where the practice of fair trade comes into play.

Steps You Can Take

Like Coffee? Take these steps to support small farmers who produce your beans with ecologically sound practices and improve the taste in your cup at the same time:

• Buy FRESH certified free trade and organic beans from trusted sources – either you local roaster or from internet based sources. Many of the roasters work directly with specific farmers to ensure that they are paid a premium price for their beans which allows them to farm in a ecologically and sustainable manner. Coffee beans should be use within two to three weeks of being roasted to ensure the best flavor. After this time period, the beans will become stale.

• Grind just before you brew. You’ll need a good quality burr based grinder designed to produce nicely consistent grounds. Do not skimp on this device – it is the most critical piece to ensure great flavor.

• Use a premium brewing device that properly blooms the grounds, applies hot water evenly at the correct temperatures, and is adjustable to dial in your brew.

Through purchasing certified organic and fair-trade coffee, you can improve the livelihoods of many people throughout the developing world and help to protect ecologically sensitive areas where coffee is grown. You can greatly improve the taste in your cup by purchasing these beans from companies who guarantee a fresh roasted product and through using the correct techniques and equipment to make your brew under optimal conditions.

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