By Dawna Matthews
I wake up every morning and look forward to so many things, one of them being a cup of hot coffee. Coffee is a personal preference and can be tailored to your unique taste. Do you like your coffee straight up black, with cream and/or sugar, espresso drinks, hot, iced, sustainably grown, fair trade, environmentally conscious, or free trade?
Wait! Sustainably grown? Fair trade? What do they have to do with coffee? Well, a lot … We as consumers say so much with our buying power; and if we consciously choose coffee with the highest quality, sustainable methods and coffee farmers in mind, then the higher powers that be will take note, and our eco-conscious selves can rest easy as we feel confident that our decision to support farmers and the earth has been met. And we can do so as we enjoy our delicious coffee ritual.
So, what is Fair Trade Certified?
Fair Trade Certified™ coffee comes from democratically run farmer cooperatives, which are guaranteed a minimum base price for their coffee. This price includes a social premium and an additional premium for certified organic coffee crops. The cooperatives must follow strict principles around labor conditions, transparency and democracy in the management of the co-op, community development projects, and environmentally sustainable growing practices. The Fair Trade Labeling Organizations (FLO), of which Transfair USA is a member, audits and sets the criteria for coffee associations. There are a few coffee companies which pay larger premiums well over the Fair Trade floor price for quality lot selections.
The most important reasons I support fair trade coffee are the connection to the farmers, the relationship that is truly synergistic and the benefits the farmer earns while creating a ripple effect. Behind each of the coffee beans is someone who has put time and energy into picking the ripest coffee cherries, loading them to be processed and dried, sorting them again, and eventually delivering those beautiful beans to the roastery where they are turned into a delicious beverage product.
Traditionally, coffee farmers follow generations of tradition, yet many don’t receive a fair price for their labor. Fair Trade Certified coffee directly supports a better life for farming families in lesser developed countries by insisting they receive a fair wage, thus empowering them to continue using sustainable farming practices. As well, it helps improve their community in massive ways such as supplying medical services or basic quality of life needs goods from stoves to water for bathing.
Other reasons to look for fair trade:
Coffee is a dirty business. What I mean by this is, like any other agriculture crop, potentially it can cause lots of environmental harm on so many different levels, from water pollution to soil erosion and deforestation. Fair Trade coffee requires and gives incentives to environmentally sustainable farming practices which help preserve ecosystems and provide education on these methods from organic farming to shade-grown techniques which work for that specific ecosystem.
Many fair trade certified farmers also use organic farming methods which help in pest and disease control, and help sustain the health of the soils. Instead of using practices that include chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, the fair trade certified practices are adapted to the local ecology and traditional methods. They are continually evolving with progressive innovations to increase the yields and health of the coffee plants.
Shade Grown Coffee is a big topic in the coffee world. When possible and if the environment allows for it, specialty coffee farms will have shade grown coffee. (Due to different climate conditions and altitude, some farms can or cannot have shade.) If the area allows for it, coffee trees are cultivated underneath existing trees in a process that protects the native area. The shady plants provide sanctuary to important migratory birds, many of which are now threatened.
Cup by cup, the choices we make every day can have a global impact. By choosing fair trade, we are supporting specialty coffee as well as supporting people’s livelihoods, sustainability, and quality of the coffee in our cups. Just one simple choice can make a world of difference.
For a deeper look at fair trade and other sustainable coffee farm practices, visit: