June 14, 2009–Today’s Way: As you enjoyed your cup of coffee this morning, did you pause to wonder where it came from?  Well, don’t feel badly…few of us do.  Yet that ordinary little cup of coffee that ordinary Americans consume every ordinary day represents an extraordinarily high environmental cost.  Am I asking you to stop drinking your coffee?  Egads, no!  I’m sipping a nice cup of joe as I write this, but I am suggesting you may want to reconsider your coffee buying habits.

Conventional coffee farming has an enormous impact on the environment because of the way in which it is grown.  Far away, large tracts of virgin rain forests are cleared and replaced with coffee plantations, which are heavily doused in pesticides and chemical fertilizers, putting a strain on water resources and surrounding wildlife.  Indigenous people are often exploited to work on the coffee plantations for pennies a day, and bear the brunt of exposure to the chemicals used to grow the coffee, which is then usually shipped halfway across the planet to a roaster and then in turn shipped to a distributor somewhere else, where it eventually winds up shipped to the States and brewed and poured into a polystyrene or paper cup with a designer name and sold to you for the bargain price of $4.00 or more.

Luckily, you can still enjoy that cup of coffee (preferably in a reusable cup), but you’ll probably enjoy it more if you make your next informed purchasing choice on a Shade-Grown, Fair-Trade, Certified Organic bag of beans.  This means that the coffee berries were grown without forest removal; instead, they are carefully tended to in the shade from old growth trees, thereby leaving that valuable carbon-eating tree cover intact.  And the animals and bugs will really appreciate that.  Also, if your coffee is Fair Trade Certified, it means that your grower was paid fairly for the time and effort they put into growing those delicious coffee beans, and that they are able to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads and maybe even send their kids to school.  Lastly, if your new favorite coffee brand bears Organic Certification, it means that those beans were grown using sustainable farming methods without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.  And thanks to growing awareness about these issues, there are now more and more sustainable growers, artisan roasters and local gourmet cafes who are elevating the coffee experience to new grounds (sorry…couldn’t help it).  In fact, one of my favorites is Higher Grounds.

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