Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Organic, Fair Trade, Shade Grown

While walking all over Seattle, Ryan and I had a chance to sip countless cups of coffee.  Several of the cafes that we visited, and hundreds that we didn't are proudly roasting, brewing, and selling organic, fair trade, shade grown coffee beans.  But what does that all mean?  And why is it important?  

As the organic/all natural movement continues to gather steam many people are learning the nuances of their meaning.  In general, organic refers to produce grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage, genetically modified organisms, and has not been treated with radiation.  For meat/fish/poultry/and dairy organic means that the animal in question are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.  However, this does not mean they are out roaming around on green pastures.  For that you have to look a little closer on the label and find out if they grass fed and free range.  For more in-depth information on the different classifications of organic labeling and products check out www.organic.org 

It's similar to the minimum wage here in the U.S. but applies to farmers in developing countries.  Farmers who grow specific crops (coffee, chocolate, bananas, cotton...) become fair trade certified and are able to sell their goods at or above market value. This encourages companies to pay sustainable wages and helps prevent discrimination and abuse.  While farmers must be paid at minimum the market price, they are able to earn more if people are willing to pay it.  This is called a premimum.  The use of the extra money is determined democratically by a comittee of that specific plantation/farm and must be invested in some form of social, environmental, or economic project.  (Ex: coffee growers in Costa Rica were able to plan more shad trees to help prevent erosion as well as purchase special furnaces which burn coffee shells and dried macadamia nut husks).  Fair trade may not necessarily be organic, however by using their premiums to implement more sustainable farming practices, many of them head in that direction.  To learn more about fair trade or where to buy products visit www.fairtrade.org.uk or www.greenamericatoday.org

 Coffee plants evolved to thrive under the shade of taller tropical plants and trees, this helps create a biodiverse ecosystem. Unfortunately much of the coffee grown today is raised plantation style where trees are planted out in the open under the harsh rays of the sun.  This is possible through clear cutting and burning of healthy forests and genetically modified coffee beans which are better able to tolerate the direct sun light.  Unfortunately this has dire consequences on the environment.  Like any single crop farm land, the coffee trees deplete the soil of nutrients and increases erosion.  These trees also need  more pesticides and fertilizers than shade grown trees.   Thankfully, conservationists recognize the importance of the whole forest and how trees, plants, and animals interact.  Today more and more growers are switching to organic and shade grown practices which make up approximately 1% of the coffee bean market in the United States.  Want to know more?  Check out these sites for information on the benefits of shade grown coffee.

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