Types of Organic Coffee, An Overview

CC Flickr photo courtesy of grimmnitz.

If you’re worried about pesticides, there are plenty of organic options for the foods we eat. Organic coffee is no exception.  Organic coffee is grown in a healthy manner that is beneficial to consumers and to our precious ecosystem.  Keep reading to learn about the various coffee certifications and what each one means.

Organic Coffee

Organic coffee is coffee that is grown according to modern organic farming standards.  In order to gain organic certification, farmers must ensure that the land they are using has been free of synthetic pesticides and other prohibited chemicals for at least three years.  This ensures that their organic crops will not contain potentially harmful chemicals from past crops, which may have used pesticides.

In addition to being chemical free, growers must have a plan in place for crop rotation.  Crop rotation provides a way to keep the soil from degrading.  It is also a sufficient means for combating pests without the use of synthetic pesticides.

Fair Trade Coffee

Fair trade coffee is a type of coffee that is purchased directly from growers.  Fair trade certification ensures that growers are protected and it gives consumers a way of knowing that they are supporting healthy business relationships.  Coffee that isn’t fair trade could potentially be produced in unethical circumstances, but isn’t necessarily.

For instance, some coffee plantations have used child labor.  Other plantations have paid workers unfair wages or didn’t respect human rights.  Buying coffee that is certified fair trade is a way to ensure that you are supporting positive community development and not encouraging unethical practices.

Shade Grown Coffee

Most of the negative environmental effects of coffee plantations are due to the practice of growing full sun coffee.  In contrast, shade grown coffee can have a positive impact on the environment. Shade grown farms consist of coffee and an assortment of other trees.  These other trees provide a canopy above the coffee plantation.

Shade grown plantations resemble a natural forest, and they may contain as many as 40 species of trees.  The diverse ecosystem of a shade grown plantation helps to maintain soil quality and reduce pest problems.  Shade grown coffee plantations also provide habitat for native species, especially birds, and they increase the production of oxygen and uptake of carbon dioxide, which is especially important given the current state of climate change.

Making a Difference When You Choose Coffee Beans

Over the last several decades, modern farming practices used without regard for the environment or health of consumers has led to disastrous consequences.  Fortunately, as consumers we can make a difference by purchasing products which are produced in an ethical and healthy manner.

Organic, fair trade, and shade grown coffees might cost a little more, but by purchasing them you can help to make a difference and ensure that coffee cultivation is here to stay — and that’s good news for those of us who can’t go without our daily coffee.

I’ll admit that I don’t always stick to organic or shade grown or fair trade coffees. I’ve been using the Aeropress coffee maker at my house lately, and it makes totally amazing coffee. It only makes one cup at a time, but it’s worth it.

What’s your favorite coffee type? Leave a comment!

Coffee and the environment, and what you can do

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Love drinking coffee but concerned about the environment? Coffee has earned a reputation as a crop which is not particularly eco-friendly. Concerns about soil degradation, deforestation, pesticide use, and water quality have become commonplace. Yet westerners continue to drink one cup of coffee for every two cups of water consumed– and that’s a lot of coffee! Fortunately, we coffee consumers do have environmentally friendly options.

Coffee and the Environment

Coffee wasn’t always harmful to the environment. Once upon a time, coffee was sensitive to the sun and grown under the shade of forest canopies where it required fewer pesticides, less water, and it added to the habitat. However, increased demand for coffee led to more efficient growing methods, which didn’t treat the environment so kindly.

The use of fertilizers increases the yield of coffee, but only when grown in full sun. Soon coffee was adapted to full sun growing, and the natural canopies that once provided shade were altogether removed. This led to the rapid deforestation of coffee growing nations. Unfortunately, much of the world’s coffee is grown in the rainforest regions of the world. Full-sun plantations have a devastating impact on the local ecosystem. Indeed, these plantations support 90% fewer species of birds than shade-grown coffee plantations.

In addition to deforestation, coffee production leads to soil degradation and environmental damages from pesticides and fertilizers. Full sun coffee plantations require enormous amounts of chemicals compared to shade-grown plantations. For instance, Colombia, where most coffee is full-sun, uses roughly 400,000 tons of chemical fertilizers annually. These chemicals can have a negative impact on the farmers that use them too.

One of the least environmentally friendly approaches to coffee cultivation involves razing the landscape of all plants (sometimes using toxic herbicides) and then planting coffee. After the soil is completely degraded, the operation is abandoned and moved to a new location. This process of migratory coffee plantations leaves behind a wake of degraded land, which is unsuitable for wildlife or other crops.

What You Can Do

The negative effect coffee production has on the environment is a result of coffee’s high demand coupled with careless consumer choices. But don’t worry, you don’t need to give up on coffee yet. As coffee consumers, the choices we make when purchasing coffee have an impact on the production methods employed and how coffee cultivation affects the earth.

Not all coffee is bad for the environment. There are organic coffee options, which are free of chemicals. Shade grown coffees are a better alternative to the more common full sun variety. And fair trade coffees guarantee farmers aren’t being taken advantage of. These coffees cost a little more, but that’s because it’s cheaper to destroy forests, plant coffee in the sun, and douse it with chemicals.

We’ll be covering the topic of coffee and the environment more thoroughly in future posts. So stay tuned so you can learn more about coffee production techniques– the good and the bad– and how you can support positive coffee growing practices while still enjoying that fresh-brewed cup of joe.

What is your coffee situation? Do you drink it? And if so, what kind? Fair trade? Organic? Regular? Let us know in the comments!

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How to Lose Weight the Eco Friendly Way: 10 Diets That Help Your Waistline and the Environment

If you get people started about diets, you’re sure to stir up some passionate ideas.

Whether it’s low carb, vegetarian, vegan, primal or local, there are literally dozens of different ways to approach the subject of losing weight and staying healthy. Gurus from each individual diet will inevitably tell you that only their way of eating is the healthy and best choice, and that every other diet might imperil your health.

I’m a fan of Michael Pollan, and I like his Food Rules, although I’ll readily admit I don’t always follow them.

But today’s post is a collection of diets that are healthy for you, and also good for the environment because of a reduced environmental impact.

See if one of these diet choices is something that works for you.

1. The Go Green, Get Lean Diet.

This one is based on a book by Kate Geagan, a registered dietitian. She’s heavy on plants, and light on meat and fish, pointing out the impact that eating them has on the environment. Beef, in particular, comes into her crosshairs.

2. The Kind Diet.

This one is based on a book by the actress, Alicia Silverstone. She’s pro vegan, but she recognizes that not everyone else is, so she presents three different levels in the book. Flirt (where you get started), Vegan, and Superhero. Superhero is actually a level beyond vegan, where you think about things like macrobiotic foods, locally grown, and so forth.

3. The Flexiterian Diet.

Flexi-huh? Flexitarian is basically an attempt to eat more fruits and vegetables and cut way back on meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Many people are aghast at the thought of completely giving up these foods, and eating Flexitarian is a “flexible” approach that let’s you still enjoy some of those foods when you feel like it. This is also known as a semi-vegetarian diet.

It has been covered in USA Today and Newsweek, if you want to learn more. The Mayo Clinic blog also writes about it.

4. A Vegetarian Diet.

The Vegetarian Resource Guide site has a great frequently asked questions page about eating this way.

5. A Vegan Diet.

A vegan diet goes a step further than vegetarianism. Vegans will not eat any animal products including meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy, honey, etc. Vegan Action has a good explanation of veganism.

6. A Locavore Diet.

Locavores like to eat food that only comes from a 100 mile radius from where they live. Locavores.com has a good explanation of the concept, and PBS has a great article about 10 Steps to Becoming a Locavore.

7. A Raw Diet.

A raw diet is typically a more hard core approach to the vegan diet, where food is never heated above 116 degrees. There’s a better explanation on About.com. CNN also has covered the subject.

8. An Eco Atkins Diet.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably familiar with the traditional Atkins Diet. It’s the one that’s very big on meat, and doesn’t like carbs and refined sugars. With the Eco Atkins Diet, researchers at the Archives of Internal Medicine wanted to see if they could figure out a low carb diet that would meet the needs of vegetarians or vegans. They discovered that you can lose weight with Eco Atkins, and also improve cholesterol significantly. Learn more on the Atkins site.

9. The Real Foods Diet.

From Twinkies to high fructose corn syrup, there’s a lot of “food” out there that comes from manufacturing things. The Real Foods Diet gets rid of processed foods and sticks to the natural stuff. About.com once again has a pretty good summary.

10. Simple Til Six

This one is a clever twist on the Flexitarian diet. Simple Til Six is a diet where you eat completely vegan until 6 p.m., and then you can eat however you’d usually eat for dinner. It allows you to go out with friends and not be the weird person who can only eat a few things.

So what did I miss?

Leave a comment and tell me about other eco friendly diets that I have neglected to mention!

World Habitat Day – 10/5/2009

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Photo courtesy of oxfam international at Flickr.com

Poverty has drastic effects on the natural world. People living without access to treated water, sustainable fuel supplies, or adequate food can have a huge impact on their surroundings. Slums and destructive farming techniques can do as much damage as SUVs and chemical spills.

To highlight this issue, the UN has an annual event that focuses attention on living conditions. World Habitat Day falls on the first Monday in October. The theme of this year’s celebration is Planning our Urban Future.

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Photo courtesy of andreasnilsson1976 at Flickr.com

Why should we focus on the urban environment? People are moving into cities at a staggering rate, and the way that these cities grow is going to have a huge impact on surrounding areas. At the dawn of the twentieth century, only 14% of humanity lived in cities. Now, more than half of all people call a city their home. Some of the largest cities have more than 10,000,000 inhabitants.

People who are starving are more interested in survival than in wildlife conservation. When your stomach is empty, conserving natural resources is an abstract concern. Without working sewage systems, trash services, or reliable electricity, people are unable to minimize their impact on the natural world.

Many endangered birds have beautiful plumage or produce enchanting birdsong, but starving people are unlikely to be interested in watching or listening to Blyth’s Tragopan Pheasants or Mandarin Ducks. They’re more likely to eat them.

Poverty is tightly associated with a host of environmental problems, including sewage contamination of wetlands, deforestation, and poaching ( for food as well as profit). When drought or poor management cause crops to fail, baboons, gazelles, elephants, and other endangered animals often show up on the dinner table. Native plants and animals are often featured in local medical and spiritual practices; when these species are harvested with modern technology, they are often unable to reproduce fast enough to replace their losses.

Poverty and cultural attachment were cited as the main reasons for bushmeat exploitation. Bushmeat-eating households regard bushmeat as more tasty and medicinal than livestock meat and fish

Looking down the road, there is major concern that climate change and over exploitation of resources by developed countries are going to make the problem worse. As new land is cleared for human use, wildlife habitat disappears. As the number of people living in an area grows, so do appetites for food and timber.

While a lot of attention has been focused on how McMansions waste resources, poor urban development is a problem that affects both the affluent and the indigent. For example, growing slums are also destroying forests to supply building materials and charcoal (for cooking and staying warm in the winter). Disease and illiteracy are major problems in these shanty towns that can easily affect the wealthier neighborhoods of town.

PE - World Habitat Day - The Advocacy Project
Photo courtesy of the Advocacy Project at Flickr.com

Even though poachers earn very little money from killing endangered species, wealth is relative. Small sums of money are often a kings ransom in third world countries. People who have no other job prospects are often tempted to break the law, especially when enforcement is weak or when the animals are seen as a nuisance.

“A villager can earn as much in one night from poisoning and skinning a tiger as he could earn from farming in five years. Eventually, that skin can sell for up to US$6,000 [HK$46,800] in Lhasa.”

To address these environmental issues, it’s important to tackle the root causes of deforestation, resource depletion, and poverty. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is encouraging leaders to engage their citizens in urban planning and to avoid letting inertia determine how we deal with these problems. If you have an idea or a novel solution to fighting urban blight or dependency, now is the time to speak up and act out.

According to the United Nations, more than 100 million people in the world today are homeless. Millions more face a severe housing problem living without adequate sanitation, with irregular or no electricity supply and without adequate security.

Even if those millions of people are squatting in alleyways, hiding under tin sheets, and digging through garbage today, tomorrow they will move mountains and uproot forests in their search for food and shelter. The question of our generation is how to enlist their help in building a healthier, safer, and greener future.

PE - World Habitat Day - Enzinho83
Photo courtesy of Enzinho83 at Flickr.com

How to use solar power without installing a solar panel

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Photo courtesy of London Permaculture

Under new Federal laws, you can get tax credits for 30% of most solar panel installations. Some states have additional incentives, and many utilities are also encouraging customers to install solar panels so that they don’t have to build new coal power plants.

Even with these incentives, photovoltaic panels are pricey. In these tough economic times, it’s important to remember that there are many other ways to take advantage of energy from the sun. Here are a few low-cost options:

Install a solar water heater – Passive solar systems cost a fraction of what solar panels cost and they are much more efficient at heating water (because they generate heat directly, without the need for inverters or battery storage of energy). Solar water heaters are also eligible for a 30% tax credit, the same amount that photovoltaic panels can earn. There are many different designs for solar water heaters, and some are more suitable for different parts of the country.

Use a clothesline – For the cost of a sturdy rope and some clothespins, you can unplug your electric clothes dryer. Even on a cool day, a gentle breeze will suck the moisture out of clothes. Clothes that are dried on a clothesline last longer (there’s less wear and tear from tumbling in the dryer), they smell better, and they’re naturally sterilized by UV light from the sun. Switching to a clothesline can cut your electric bill by 10-15%.

Turn out the lights – When the sun is shining, there’s no reason to keep the curtains closed. Instead of using a couple of hundred watts of electricity to power lightbulbs, turn off those lights and let the sunlight in! If Peeping Toms are a worry in your neighborhood, install slats or polarized window coverings for privacy. These window treatments will also filter out UV light and reduce carpet fading. Or, you can plant a window box full of kitchen herbs and obscure the view with tall plants while still letting in natural light.

Build to take advantage of the sun – When drawing blueprints or choosing a place to live, remember that a building’s layout can make a major difference in the amount of air conditioning and heating that’s needed. One thing to consider is orientation – building short walls on the east and west sides reduces the surface area that’s exposed to early morning and late evening sunlight. Another thing to consider is solar massing – using thick, heat absorbent materials like adobe can insulate a building against hot weather during the day and cold weather during the night, cutting heating costs by up to 65%.

Use trees – Trees provide wonderful natural shade, and they also capture solar energy the old fashioned way, by converting sunshine into firewood. Tree choices can also complement the way that buildings capture sunlight in the winter and block sunlight in the summer. One popular landscaping choice is to plant deciduous trees on the east and west sides of a building. That way, the leafy trees block sunlight in the summer (when leaves are full) and let sunlight through in the winter (after the leaves fall off).

Try a solar cooker – Sunlight is a great way to boil water and cook food. It’s easy to focus sunshine with collectors, and simple solar cookers can be made for less than $15 using just about anything and aluminum foil. Here are instructions for making a solar cooker out of a used pizza box. There are compact solar cookers tailor made for camping and larger models suitable for crock pot cooking.

In many developing countries and off-grid locations, solar cookers are reducing indoor air pollution by replacing firewood, charcoal, propane, and other fuel sources. These solar cookers can save thousands of lives each year, while also reducing deforestation and reducing conflict over limited resources. Since sunlight is free, solar cookers drastically cut the cost of boiling water for sanitation purposes. If you want to take advantage of sunlight without buying a solar panel, here’s a great recipe for Solar Baked Brownies!

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Photo courtesy of AIDG