Our Sustainability Projects
Paying a fair price to farmers is only the first step in creating an environment of holistic sustainability in coffee communities. As our organization grows, we are striving to promote economic, social, and environmental sustainability via the following projects.
Reforestation of Shade Trees
The approximate cost of reforestation:
1 sapling planted $12
1 year maintenance $10
Arabica coffee is historically grown exclusively under shade cover. In the last 40 years, shade trees have been systematic (and sometimes politically) eliminated in many coffee-growing areas such as in Colombia where the majority of our members are located. The pressence of native hardwood trees is extremely important in a coffee plot for so many reasons:
1. Their deep roots hold soil firmly in place, prevent erosion and landslides in the steep mountains where coffee generally grows and prevents topsoil and fertilizer from being washed away in heavy rains.
2. Their roots also retain water, mitigating the effects of dry periods.
3. The shade they produce help to create natual mulch, controling the propogation of grasses and other weeds, eliminating the need for toxic herbicide.
4. The organic material they drop provides micro and macro nutrients that help the coffee trees produce more and a more complex cup, as well as reducing or eliminating the fertilizer expense.
5. The canopy trees create over the coffee helps stabilize the temperature and reduce average temperature, mimicking the conditions of higher elevation, improving cup quality in many cases.
6. They mitigate agriculture's disruption of native bird and animal scpecies' habitat.
7. Biodiversity of flora, fauna, and the microorganisms that accompany them mitigate the spread of invasive plagues like broca beatles and coffee rust (roya).
For these reasons and others, we insist on working exclusively with farms implementing shaded cultivation or that are committed to recuperating it. Many farmers are unaware that coffee can be grown under shade, so we have taken on the task of re-educating them of it's benefits and the necessity of recuperating it. We are planting native shade trees and certain short-term nitrogen-fixers that we know behave well with coffee, including Carbonero/Piñón, Guamo, Nogal Cafetero (walnut relative), and Tephrosia.
A coffee farm is a business, though most farmers see it as a job and do not consider costs, competitive strategy, marketing channels, market segmentation, etc. In order for farming to be an economically sustainable vocation, farmers must learn the basics of costing and understand the business and economy of which they are a part. In collaboration with No Free Refills (book) we have begun developing materials to help farmers understand their costs, margins, and calculate the financial impact of the decisions the have to make. We require extensive support to implement these measures on a 1-to-1 basis.
ongoing support for farmers
Tools for Cup Quiality
Basic tools and simple infrastructure improvements can go a long way to improving quality, consistency, and therefore, the farming family's economic stability and sustainability
Here are some pain points and their solutions:
- Inconsistent fermentation :: pH meter or fermaestro so they can measure actual fermentation and not just guess based on time, as conditions are never consistent
- Too hot drying that can cause premature stale/baggy flavors :: Thermometer-Hygrometer to monitor temperature and relative humidity in the drying area. Most people think heat dries coffee. Not true. Real hot and humid is the WORST for coffee and drying. If established parameters are respected, ideal drying can be achieved without extending it's duration and without risking microbial activity
- Inconsistent drying :: Many drying beds are made of flat concrete, or worse yet, wood. These surfaces do not allow moisture to escape and it can collect beneath the bottom layer of beans. Spreading a plastic mesh over the drying surface prevents beans from direct contact with it and allows moisture to escape from below.
- Incorrect moisture content :: When a farmer brings parchment from their farm to the town where it is sold, very often the moisture content is not between 10.5-12.5% (we require 10.5-11.5%). If it is too high, it can't be taken back to the farm because of cost, and any measures to reduce it in town can easily destroy it's quality. If it's too low, nothing can be done. We can't get a $300 moisture meter for each farm, but a simple digital scale and a cup calculated density can get them a precise enough moisture reading.
Farms produce all kinds of materials that can be used for other stuff. Sadly, many farmers don't know that and buy that same stuff from salesmen that aren't eager to tell them they could get it for free! For example, fertilizers containing many of the necessary nutrients can be made from farm and family waste and other ingredients that are way cheaper than the store-bought version. Intercropping can provide nutrients for the soil, diversify income sources, and provide food for the family, eliminating an expense. Farming families are purchasing more food than ever, increasing their dependence on currency generated by inconsistent coffee sales. Most incredibly for farmers and everyone, is the incredible about of natual gas (methane) that is generated and lost, then purchased in tanks or pumped in. A simple biodigestor can harvest methane from coffee cherry decomposition, eliminating the cooking gas expense, preventing the felling of trees for cooking fuel, and turning methane into CO2, a much less potent greenhouse gas.
Self-sustaining zero-waste farms
Education, infrastructure, and a little hand-holding
How You can Help
All of these projects cost money for supplies, labor, travel, research, etc. As we try to maximize the % of the price/lb of green coffee the farmer recieves, at the same time offering competitive prices to roasters, there isn't much left to dedicate to sustainability projects.
However, if you feel any or all of these projects are worth supporting, we welcome your financial support. This can take the form of a few extra cents per pound for green coffee that we dedicate directly to sustainability projects. That way, you can advertize this to your customers, or even offer them the option of buying from you for a few cents more in order to support these initiatives. We have plenty of promotional materials for those who elect to support/sponsor our efforts on the ground.
Come lend a hand
In certain cases, know-how and elbow grease are what we really need to push our projects forward. In these cases, we gratefully welcome visits from our clients, their employees and patrons, or anyone in the coffee community willing to lend a hand! We don't always have projects going on that can put foreign talent to use, so prior planning is essential. There are also remote opportunities to help out from time to time.
Spread the word
While actions generally speak louder than words, the words are pretty important too! As we tend to dedicate our time and resources to acting, rather than self-promoting, most of our efforts go unnoticed by the outside world. Recruiting more support for these projects from others is a weakness of ours. Therefore, your help getting the word out, be it a tweet, IG post, blog, or conversation with another coffee professional, helps us immensely to gather more resources and support to have a greater positive impact in coffee-growing communities.