Our Position Paper on Organic Agriculture
Why Organic?Counter Culture Coffee is committed to supporting and promoting environmentally sustainable coffee. Fortunately, quality and environmental sustainability often go hand in hand in coffee farming: producers who see their farms as complete ecosystems tend to also exercise care in picking the ripest coffee cherries, investigate the benefits of different tree species, and work to develop nutrient-rich soil for their plants.
The most recognized measure of a coffee’s environmental friendliness is organic certification. All of Counter Culture Coffee’s organic coffees have been certified—from seed to cup—by third-party certifiers to comply with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program. Most of us recognize and trust the USDA organic seal as an indication that no chemical fertilizers or pesticides were used in the production of a particular product. In general, we also expect certified organic products to cost a little bit more than conventional products, and we logically believe that they are probably better for the environment and for our health. What we seldom realize is that renouncing chemicals is only the first step in the process of obtaining organic certification.
Organic Coffee Certification: It's a Complex Process!For coffee farms to begin the certification process, farmers must commit to applying no chemical fertilizers or pesticides to their coffee crops for three full years before labeling and selling the coffee as organic. These farmers—both certified organic and those in transition to organic—must adhere to strict standards and active management of their land, including any land that is not certified organic. Our producer partners receive regular inspections of their farms by independent certifying organizations and they keep records dating back five years that include soil inputs such as fertilizers and compost, as well as soil and water testing reports.
All inputs on a certified organic farm must also be certified organic, and these organic composts and fertilizers are usually more expensive than their conventional counterparts. This is generally not an insurmountable obstacle, but it can be a challenge for small-scale producers, especially coffee producers in remote areas, to obtain the necessary inputs for high-quality coffee and good soil. It’s also worth noting that organic coffee farms face lower yields than conventional coffee farms, because organic coffee plants are not stressed into high production by chemical fertilizers. For many farmers, the biggest obstacle to organic certification is not the required abstinence from using pesticides and weed killers, but rather giving up the fertilizers that would increase yields. A producer's commitment to organic certification is a major investment and we, as roasters and consumers, pay premiums to make the higher costs and lower yields of organic production worthwhile.
Beyond Organic: Diversity in Sustainable FarmingCounter Culture Coffee was the first certified organic coffee roaster in North Carolina and we are proud that more than 75 percent of the coffee we purchase is certified organic. Of the other 25 percent, some coffee farms are in the three-year transition toward organic certification. Like all farmers, coffee producers in different countries, regions and farms face different sets of challenges: pests, disease and access to soil inputs all affect a producer’s ability to certify. Some producers cannot commit to growing certified organic coffee, and farmers who choose not to certify may still care for their land and practice sustainable agriculture. Our relationships at origin help us gauge the needs and abilities of individual farms. We are proud of all of our partners and support them in their quest to take care of their land and grow environmentally sustainable coffee.
Click here for a downloadable PDF of this position paper.