By Jessica Kirby, Senior Editor of The Green Gazette –
Many of us know the rich, aromatic beckoning of a hot pot of coffee—how it tickles the senses and carefully lures you to its dark, deliciousness in the wee hours. Like all things decadent, not all coffee is created equal, at least not from economic or ethical standpoints. More than 125 million people worldwide depend on coffee farming for their livelihoods, which means the choices we make about buying it directly impact others, not to mention the environment, wildlife, and forests. It’s time to perk up and take note of how to recognize the most ethical choices in enjoying the java.
Fair trade coffee, for instance, is certified to have been produced to Fairtrade standards by fair trade organizations, with the intent of achieving greater equity in international trade. The Fairtrade brand was developed in response to Mexican coffee farmers who were struggling when world coffee prices collapsed in 1988. Your average coffee farmer living outside of Canada lives on $2 a day; Fairtrade ensures farmers receive the Fairtrade Minimum Price, which is intended to cover production costs and acts as a safety net against low market prices. If the market price exceeds the Fairtrade Minimum Price level, then farmers receive the market price. Watching for the Fairtrade logo on the bean juice you enjoy is a great way to ensure your consumer dollars are being used responsibly.
In 1990, the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act established the National Organic Program under the USDA, legally defining “organic” as, “grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers and untreated with preservatives and other chemicals on its way to the consumer.” Coffee is a fickle mistress—it requires specific growing conditions, is a generally temperamental crop requiring great swaths of land where there isn’t enough, and demand is limitless. This combination makes coffee one of the most heavily treated foods out there, so the health benefits of buying organic are real. Without all those chemicals, consumers, farmers, the land, and the environment are cleaner, and organic coffee farms even combat climate change by emitting less carbon than chemical farms while sequestering significant amounts of carbon.
And don’t forget agriculture and the effects monoculture farming have on biodiversity. Prior to the 1970s, it was hard to tell a coffee farm if you happen to be strolling about in a tropical forest and stumbled upon one because traditional growing methods depended on the shade of the forest canopy and therefore integrated their crops to be almost undetectable. Hybrid coffee plant technology introduced after this time led some farmers to cut down their forests, abandon traditional farming, and implement full-exposure sun techniques that have devastated lands and species throughout the tropics and developing countries. Shade-grown, bird friendly coffee preserves habitat for forest creatures, especially migratory songbirds. Besides being organic, Bird Friendly coffee meets standards for shade cover, plant species diversity, canopy structure, buffer zones, leaf litter cover, and even more ways to ensure wildlife flourishes.
Whew! That’s a lot to remember when it comes to greening your coffee choices. One way to simplify your options is to always reach for the Rainforest Certified label on your favourite bag of Joe. The Rainforest Alliance certifies coffee sources that are ethical and sustainably grown ensuring their practices protect forests, conserve wildlife, and support communities around the world. To earn the seal, farmers must meet the requirements of a rigorous annual audit for environmental, social, and economical criteria that protects them and the biodiversity. Rainforest Alliance Certified farms operate in harmony with nature, protecting healthy soil, clean waterways, and thriving wildlife habitat. The Rainforest Alliance is also working with many farmers to employ climate-smart agriculture, which strengthens them against the effects of climate change (drought, torrential rains, changes to growing seasons, and others) and helps farmers implement water conservation measures, composting, hand-weeding, organic fertilizers, soil conservation, pest management, and agroforestry methods. If you love your jitter juice, brew up a cup or three and check out http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/articles/what-is-climate-smart-agriculture to learn more.
There are more than 50 bean roasters in BC and thousands in Canada—far more than we can list here. However, nothing is stopping you from taking advantage of your caffeine-fuelled enthusiasm and diving into the research. Start with what is in your cupboard. Is that company working hard for the environment, the climate, and farmers in developing country? If not, start poking around and make the switch to someone who is.
We love Kicking Horse Coffee because it is BC-based, organic and Fairtrade, donates to the Nature Conservancy, and is kick-ass in flavour. 49th Parallel in Vancouver works directly with farmers to strike beneficial deals and establish life-long partnerships with the communities from which they source. Ethical Bean is all you want in a bag of sustainability, plus it donates a dollar from each bag sold in December to two NGOs: Child Aid International and Project Somos. The list goes on.
Finally, while we always recommend shopping local before all else, we realize some people love their morning jolt from the big retailers. Luckily, there are indeed big brand stores jumping on the ethical train. Starbucks has its own Fairtrade and sustainability program, and McCafe from McDonalds now carries Rainforest Alliance Certified beans. These big buyers stand to make an important difference in the lives and habitats of so many—if you sip with the big fellas, do your research, be discerning, and keep the pressure on to do better and stand up for the planet. They have the dollars and the buying power to do it, but your influence is stronger than all of that.