Remember the earth when you order your coffee

By Jacquee Thomas

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Cup o’ joe, cup o’ java, cup o’ ink, cup o’ mud, cup o’ perk.

Folks use these terms of endearment to express their love affair with coffee. Some like it hot. Some like it on ice. Some like it steaming in fancy little cups.

I like it strong, and earth-friendly. Yeah, earth-friendly.


It came to my attention some years back as I poked around the grocery store coffee section. Labels like "organic" appeared on packages. Then came "shade-grown," and "fair trade." I realized my selection was worth more than a hill of beans.

I had the clout to support coffee farmers who practiced organic and otherwise nature-friendly methods.

I had the muscle to promote better lifestyles for small farmers, and for coffee pickers who harvested the beans that eventually ended up liquid in our cups here in the U.S.

But figuring out how to do that in a "bottomless" fashion was as cloudy as a cup o’ black coffee splashed with cream. I started asking around.

I questioned the coffee buyer at my grocery store, plus a leader of a fair trade organization, and staff at a couple boutique coffee companies.

Here’s the scoop:

  • The coffee-bean-producing world is exclusive to three regions — Central and South America, East Africa and Indonesia.
  • Organic coffee includes coffee grown without use of bug sprays or unnatural fertilizers. Establishing organic certification is an intricate and costly process.
  • "Shade-grown" coffee trees are grown among a diversity of shade trees. This method is friendly to a rainforest habitat. It’s also known as "bird-friendly," as the trees that provide shade also provide a much-needed refuge for songbirds.
  • The "fair trade" movement sanctions sustainable living wages for small farmers in developing countries, and for workers of small or large farms in those countries.

"Farmers work in cooperatives to have their products certified," says Nancy Jones, Organizer of Chicago Fair Trade, a project of Oxfam America. "A share of the co-ops’ profits are reinvested in the community through building schools and clinics."
Most fair-trade farmers use organic methods.

In Rochester, most coffee houses offer some type of coffee that is certified organic, shade-grown or fair trade.


Caribou Coffee, for instance, features a rotating fair trade-certified coffee each day, as well as an essential organic blend. Starbucks offers Cafe Estima, which is fair-trade certified, as well as an organic shade-grown Mexico blend. Bruegger’s Bagels has a daily fair-trade certified coffee, and Dunn Bros. Coffee also has several fair-trade certified and organic selections.

The key is to remember the earth when you order your coffee.

Greenspace is a weekly column on Tuesday’s Lifestyles cover.

What To Read Next
Get Local