Fair Trade, Shade Grown and Organic–Make the Commitment

Posted on Thursday, March 17th, 2005 at 4:43 pm by MSK

Jack’s Stir-Brew Coffee, a coffee shop in New York City that sells 100 percent organic, fair trade, and shade-grown coffee, has been voted “the best cup of coffee in New York” by New York magazine. We need more coffee houses like Jack’s—not only would we get a better cup of coffee, we would also get a healthier plant.

Jack Mazzola was inspired to go all organic, fair trade, and shade grown by Julia Alvarez’s ecofable, A Cafectio Story, published by Chelsea Green. This little book is a fictionalized account of how Julia and her husband Bill Eichner started Alta Gracia, an organic, fair trade, shade-grown, coffee farm in her home country of the Dominican Republic. The farm is situated on the slopes Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean.

Jack acted on his new-found knowledge and went to visit Paul Ralston at Vermont Coffee Company. “He was inspired by the book to be 100 percent fair trade and certified organic, and we are the only coffee roaster in Vermont that is 100 percent,” Ralston explained. We worked with him over several months to create a special blend for his shop.”

Most of us drink at least a cup of coffee a day. If we each, were to make a commitment to buy shade-grown, organic, fair trade coffee at least 75 percent of the time, this world would start to look and sound a little different.

Why Shade Grown and Organic?

From Café Alta Gracia’s web site

We want our community to be thriving in a healthier condition with more abundant resources than the impoverished condition in which we found it. We envision the return of a forest ecosystem to replace the deforested hills. Rushing streams with fish, where now arroyos are dry most of the year. Deep-rooted plants to hold rich soil on steep hillsides where now the gullies deepen with every rain and houses wash down the mountains during hurricanes.

Before we plant the coffee itself, we begin with shade and fruit trees that will protect and enrich the soil, bring songbirds and insects, hold the precious rainfall in their roots, and shelter the coffee plants. Shade trees are a natural match with the organic farming we are modeling. Coffee tastes better when birds sing over it.

Fair Trade
As Equal Exchange explains on its web site:

Coffee is big business — it’s one of the most heavily traded commodities in the world. But for the majority of small coffee farmers, who live in rural communities in some of the poorest countries in the world, the benefits are small. The chain of events that leads from the farm to your cup is long and expensive: Processors, creditors, exporters, brokers, and a cast of middlemen — known to Latin American farmers as “coyotes” — can all come between you and the farmers before you get to sip your morning brew. With world coffee prices constantly changing and “coyotes’ paying the lowest price possible, coffee farmers never know how much they’ll get for their crops. Isolated from markets, they struggle to make a simple living. The producers of a rich crop are often trapped in poverty.

But there is an alternative. Using internationally recognized fair trade standards, Equal Exchange seeks to balance the inequities found in the conventional coffee trade. Coffee is a leading source of income for the Developing World. Through fair trade, it can be a delicious and powerful tool to bring about positive change for small farmers and their families.

Find a coffee shop in your area that sells organic, fair trade, shade-grown coffee and make the extra effort to pass the Starbucks and patronize the little guy who is committed to people and the environment.

Congratulations Jack! I’ll stop by the next time I’m in New York.

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