Shade Grown Coffee: Why It Matters

shade grown coffee growing

Coffee has received a bad rap recently because of the adverse environmental effects of many modern coffee plantations. For those of us who enjoy sipping our favorite brew, this is disheartening news. Fortunately, more traditional methods of shaded coffee cultivation are beginning to see use again.

Continue reading “Shade Grown Coffee: Why It Matters”

Benefits of Buying Fair Trade Coffee

CC Flickr photo courtesy of nagillum. La Pita coffee plantation in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Ever wonder about fair trade coffee and why it might matter?

Second only to crude oil, coffee is the most traded commodity on earth. Like other booming industries of trade, the potential for abuse is great, and over the years, we have seen a number of unfortunate side effects of the coffee trade. These include a number of environmental effects, human rights violations, risks to consumers, and negative impacts to communities around the world. But we can make a difference by buying fair trade coffee.

What is Fair Trade Coffee?

Fair trade certification promotes healthy work conditions by giving growers an economic incentive for using good practices. For certifications, coffee growers must join a coop, which determines the minimum amount paid to growers and how any excess profits will be spent. These premiums often go back to growers or are spent on education or community development to improve conditions in coffee growing countries.

Fair Trade Benefits Human Rights

When you buy fair trade coffee, you know that you aren’t contributing to human rights violations. Many coffee plantations, which are not fair trade, provide work conditions that aren’t healthy or fair for works. Child labor has been a common problem with coffee plantations. But fair trade agreements allow workers to be paid wages that are appropriate while ensuring that work conditions are reasonable.

Environmental Impact of Fair Trade Coffee

Fair trade agreements foster informed growing practices, which lead to more responsible coffee plantations. Often fair trade coffee is grown on full shade plantations, which have a positive impact on the environment, especially compared to the more common full sun plantations, which lead to deforestation. And deforestation of our tropical regions is a major factor in global warming.

Fair trade coffee is often organic, which reduces environmental issues with the potential misuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This theoretically can result in a healthier coffee for consumers, because it hasn’t been sprayed with anything.

Coffee that is grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, has a more positive effect on the surrounding community and on the plantations workers. (And on the pests and weeds too, ha ha.)  In countries where pesticide and fertilizer usage is hardly regulated, heavy chemical use can potentially lead to chemical poisoning of workers and potential negative health consequences of those living in the surrounding area.

Fair Trade Coffee: More Expensive?

If you pay attention to prices when you shop, then you’ve probably noticed that fair trade coffee seems to cost a little more than “regular” coffee. But the fact is, regular coffee comes with hidden costs to farmers and to whole communities around the world.

What’s your favorite fair trade coffee? Leave a comment!

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!