Why drink organic?
When someone mentions consuming organic products, we tend to think about the fruits and vegetables in the produce section of the grocery store. Why is that? In general, we consumers are increasingly concerned with the negative impacts - both human and environmental - of large-scale conventional food production. However, what’s often overlooked is that, just like the organic produce we buy, coffee is a fruit.
Like many fruits, coffee grows on trees, which have delicate root systems that rely on the protection and nutrients of the surrounding ecosystem. Modern conventional coffee production, which favors heavy use of chemicals to prioritize profits and efficiency, builds up harmful levels of these unnatural compounds in the habitat. The results? Negative health outcomes for the farmers handling the crops, the native plant and animal species, the people in surrounding communities exposed to polluted air and water, and the consumers exposed to residual chemicals.
We drink an estimated 2.25 billion cups of coffee per day, so it’s important for us to consider where our coffee comes from, how it was grown, and how it impacts the people and planet who make the coffee experiences we love possible.
Photo: Cafe Imports
Conventional, non-organic coffee is one of the most heavily chemically treated plants in the world. In order to meet the high global demand for coffee, farming methods have been developed over time to maximize production at the expense of human and environmental health. Synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides are all commonly used to boost yields. Exposure to high levels of chemicals from spraying and harvesting crops has been shown to cause cancer, respiratory issues, birth defects, and other chronic, life-threatening illnesses.
"I’ve seen first-hand water supplies considered not only undrinkable, but unusable for washing. But the people living on those lands have no choice. They are forced to drink and wash in that toxic water." - James Chapman, Black Coffee Roasting
Unfortunately, chemicals are not the only problem with large scale, conventional coffee production. Coffee naturally prefers shade. However, crops growing under the forest canopy cannot be planted as densely and are more difficult to tend and harvest than those in open fields. As a result, hybrid coffee plants have been developed to grow in the open sun, and large swaths of forests have been cleared to make room for mass monoculture fields of this sun-loving coffee variety. This creates a tradeoff where production wins in the short-term, but the environment, and ultimately our health, loses long-term. The loss of shade and tree root systems leads to greater water runoff and soil erosion, and the habitat for wild flora and fauna is demolished. The absence of natural pest-deterrents, like birds, leads to an overpopulation of invasive insects that require more and more pesticide use to combat, while the lack of natural fertilizer leads to increased use of chemical fertilizer. As rainwater washes away soil and its vital nutrients, it carries chemicals with it that end up in local water supplies.
Photo: James Chapman, Black Coffee Roasting
What does certified organic mean?
Certified organic refers to the farming and processing of goods without the use of synthetic chemicals or fertilizers. These methods rely on organic matter to fertilize plants and repel harmful insects. While organic matter is only a small part of the soil - usually between 2 - 8% - it’s an essential ingredient for organic farming. It includes tiny microbes, plant roots, and human and animal waste, which contain vital nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus that provide the perfect soil conditions for sustainable growing cycles. These practices also discourage deforestation and promote plant diversification, resulting in the conservation of wildlife and vegetation. This helps sustain soil fertility, prevent soil erosion and keeps unique regional ecosystems intact.
Beyond the positive environmental impacts, certified organic means no harmful toxins make it to your cup. Choosing to consume plants that are not soaked in harmful chemicals is a choice to protect your personal health, and choosing organic coffee is no different. After all, researchers are just now starting to realize the negative health impact that decades-long chemical use is having on our bodies. Choosing certified organic is a vote for transparency up and down the supply chain, as well as environmental and personal health.
"The chemicals being used in modern agriculture aren't affecting only us; they're affecting the health of our soil. If you don't have healthy soil, you can't have nutritious food. Human health starts in the dirt." - Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, Fiber Fueled
There are challenges associated with organic coffee production. Obtaining organic certification can be a lengthy and expensive process for farmers. As a result, there are some excellent specialty coffees grown and farmed in sustainable, environmentally friendly ways that can’t claim “certified organic”. The problem for consumers is that we do not have the luxury of talking to and visiting these farms to gain comfort in the process and methods used, like we may be able to do with produce from our local farmer’s market. The organic certification provides us with reassurance that the coffee we buy is upheld to the highest standards.
What can you do?
We all have the ability to affect positive change through our spending and consumption habits, and supporting organically grown coffee is one step we can take to support a healthier global environment. In choosing organic, you are supporting healthy ecosystems, healthier communities, and a healthier you. By connecting you to a better coffee experience, we’re proud to be part of the change.