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Understanding the Organic Coffee Label
Understanding the Organic Coffee Label

Understanding the Organic Coffee Label

Are you trying to live a healthier lifestyle that includes regular fitness and better eating habits?

Have you given much thought to the idea of consciously choosing certain products over others for reasons of sustainability. In other words, do you care about the spirit of fairness, transparency and environmental stewardship when you make a purchase?

Coffee is one of a growing number of products that people are asking these questions of. This brief article is an overview of organic coffee, why it’s important and how do you know that what you’re buying is the real stuff?

To be certified as organic, coffee must be grown chemical free, in other words, without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers for 3 consecutive years. In many instances, farmers are taught how to practice sustainable agriculture which may include managing proper crop rotation, natural pest control, minimizing soil erosion and so on. Upwards of 90% of organic coffee is shade-grown which means the coffee is grown under the protection of the rain forest rather than being grown in full sun. While shade-grown coffee preserves the homes of many species of migratory insects and birds in the treetop canopies, keep in mind that both cloud cover and climate can render shade unnecessary.

How it works: certification programs define standards and set definitions and are administered by a third party. There are many certifiers of organic coffee: the OCIA or Organic Crop Improvement Association represents probably the largest certification in North America and started as a farmer-based, grass roots inspection organization.

The OCIA label:

i) promotes environmentally, socially and economically sound production

ii) ensures a system of checks and balances that audit the production from field to farmer to consumer

iii) monitors and educates farmers how to manage their land responsibly and provides technical assistance to improve crop production

Interestingly, organic coffee represents less than 1% of coffee grown worldwide but take heart, that’s still around 700,000 sixty-kilo sacks! The cost of organic certification is prohibitive to many small farmers whose land holdings often total between 3.5 and 5 acres. Many of the coffees we see from Ethiopia, Yemen and Indonesia are truly organic but as such they remain uncertified.

Organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, along with grower direct cooperatives, are also leaders in developing stronger educational platforms for farmers. Over time, it has been shown that fostering education programs techniques leads to higher yields, better quality coffees and best of all, higher prices for the farmer.

Each time a delivery arrives, I marvel at the jute sack full of green beans.

Insignias are stamped all over it – country of origin, lot number, processing facility, and I check to verify the region, if it’s Fairtrade, shade-grown, bird-friendly, organic. You can read the name of the 3rd party certifying body, the crop year and weight, all clues that guarantee the contents within. Each delivery is accompanied by a verification sheet that details more information as to exactly who, what, where and when. Then, it’s all there waiting for the roastmaster to crack the sack open and coax the flavor out.

When you buy a pound of coffee, it’s a seemingly inconsequential purchase but your everyday habits can reap larger benefits that will result in significant positive change. Better for you and better for the earth.

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