Those of us who are are serious about our coffee are usually VERY serious about it. We want it brewed a certain way. We want to drink it by a particular hour of the day. Many of us feel strongly about whether it should be enjoyed with milk and sugar or not.
But there’s a deeper reason to be selective about our coffee — and it has little to do with that perfect froth on your morning latte.
I recently had a chance to chat with Monika Firl of Cooperative Coffees, a pioneering green cooperative coffee importer that’s setting the standard for climate-conscious coffee production and consumption. Much like wine, coffee is a complex product affected by almost everything that touches it along the way, from the location and climate and the soil in which the coffee plant grew, to the variety of the plant, and finally to the way the coffee was stored, roasted, blended — and brewed!
Cooperative Coffees works with small-scale farmers who are organized as cooperatives, helping them have access to fairer markets. They import coffee from farmer cooperatives in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia to North America and distribute it to their roaster-partners in the US and Canada.
“My reason for being in coffee is farmers,” says Monika. Indeed, Coop Coffee’s commitment to the coffee farmer partners is clear from the project work they do on-the-ground among producer communities, organizing farmer trainings and exchanges and supporting regenerative land management projects, such as reforestation, on the coffee farms.
Coop Coffee is now wrapping up the first year of its Carbon, Climate & Coffee Initiative. In this initiative, the roaster-partners in North America pay a small “carbon tax” on the green coffee beans they purchase from Coop Coffee, and these funds are then used to continually replenish Coop Coffee’s project fund.
If coffee is discussed at all in connection to climate change in mainstream media, it’s because of growing concerns that climate change will critically affect the world’s major coffee growing areas. It’s been estimated that 50% of coffee production regions will be unsuited for coffee cultivation by 2050. The farmers Coop Coffees works with are already seeing the adverse affects of extreme weather events, and diseases such as leaf-rust, on their fields and crops.
But Coop Coffees and the farmers they work with are offering a more positive lens to look at the coffee-climate connection: if grown regeneratively, coffee farming could in fact help to mitigate climate change. This happens because regenerative farming practices help to build the organic matter content and microbiology in the soil, which then boosts the soil’s capacity to pull down carbon from the atmosphere.
Monika describes one eye-opening farm visit to Honduras in 2013 at the peak of the leaf-rust crisis, when most farmers were witnessing total devastation in their fields. But one of them, Oscar Omar Alonzo Aguilar, still had lush and healthy-looking fields, and was getting a high-quality coffee crop from them. What had he had differently? He had simply focused on improving soil organic matter and microbiology: “Increasing the quantities of organic matter, strengthening the quality of his compost with locally produced, beneficial bacteria and fungi […], spraying compost teas to cover vulnerable leaf surfaces, and mulching with water-logged coconut husks to support soil life with stable humidity,” Monika lists Oscar’s ecologically beneficial practices. That was enough to make the coffee plants resilient enough to resist the disease.
Together with its partners such as Grow Ahead and Taking Root, Coop Coffees is expanding their capacity to organize farmer-to-farmer trainings, tours, and exchanges to help train more and more farmers in such regenerative techniques.
So, dear coffee drinker, you may be asking what you can do to ensure that your daily cuppa has a beneficial impact on ecology, farmer livelihoods, and climate? Apart from looking for the “fair trade” label, just buying shade-grown coffee makes a big difference, Monika says. (Coffee is naturally shade-loving — it’s a shrub and thrives as the understory of taller-canopy agroforestry systems.)
Ideally, the coffee would also be grown regeneratively. For finding such coffee, the roaster-members of Coop Coffee are an excellent bet. But in addition, soon the subscribers to our monthly Grounded Goods boxes will get to enjoy regeneratively grown and sourced coffee delivered to their doorsteps — a collaboration with Coop Coffees and its roasters that we’re really excited about.
Now THAT’s going to be a cup worth savoring.