Eco Friendly 101
Equator coffees are comprised of sustainably grown Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and Signature Estate coffees.
Sustainable refers to a way of doing business, or producing, that values preservation of resources--natural and human.
Organic (certified) coffees are grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides and/or fungicides. A third-party agency verifies these conditions.
Fair Trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Its purpose is to create opportunities for producers who have been economically disadvantaged or marginalized by the conventional trading system. Those who typically profit the most from coffee are the speculators, middlemen, brokers, roasters, and retailers. The independent small growers (approximately 1/2 million strong) rarely profit and barely subsist. Fair Trade ensures that the farmer is guaranteed a minimum "floor" price for his (her) coffee, enabling the farmer to cover the cost of production. Fair Trade connects farmers to cooperatives that are part of the Fair Trade program, thereby eliminating the “coyotes” (middlemen) that offer 40 cents on the dollar. The small grower does not have the resources for on-site coffee processing, therefore a cooperative assures survival by providing access to credit, processing facilities and a "fair" price for the harvest.
Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal verifies that farmers follow sound agricultural practices that protect forests, rivers, soils and wildlife, while being good community neighbors. Rainforest Alliance certification also guarantees that workers have just wages, dignified living conditions and access to education and healthcare.
Rare means many wonderful things: small production, limited availability, high mountain, hand-picked.
Estate coffees are entirely processed, from tree to final bagged green beans, on a single-owned plot of land and reflect the unique characteristics of their soil, microclimate and “signature” processing methods.
Cooperative Coffees are produced by a group of independent local farmers who bring their best coffee to a shared milling (processing) facility where it is blended together, milled and sold. The best cooperative coffees are exceptionally well-integrated, reflecting the primacy of good production values. Most organic and all Fair Trade coffees are from cooperatives.
Shade-Grown coffee is traditionally cultivated under a canopy of sun-filtering shade trees. The original varieties of coffee (typica and bourbon) brought over to the New World centuries ago, are intolerant of direct sunlight. These ancient varieties yield a superior cup, but require ample space, and are only moderate bean producers. New sun-tolerant hybrid varieties of coffee have been developed that do not need shade cover, allowing for a much greater plant population per acre.
So why would a farmer choose to stay with the traditional shade-grown varieties?
The biodiversity of shade farms promotes "sustainable" agriculture: the shade trees provide a sun screen for the coffee plants; their fallen leaves add a nitrogen-rich mulch to the soil; the ground cover of mulch retains soil moisture, suppresses weed growth and prevents soil runoff during the rainy season. The result is a lessened need for chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
The shade trees also act as an economic buffer for the coffee farmer. There are varying layers and types of shade trees. Frequently the lowest layer will be citrus, avocado, banana trees, which provides food for the family and allows for excess to be sold at local produce markets.
As rainforests disappear, the shade farm becomes a tropical sanctuary for migratory birds and animal life. A diverse bird population, up to 150 species, can be found on a shaded coffee farm. The birds also happen to be an excellent source of insect and pest control. This biodiverse sanctuary results in a lower risk of infestation, plague and disease.
Despite these benefits, farmers continue to elect to remove shade trees and plant new sun-tolerant varieties in hopes of higher production. The result is economic gain with a high ecological price tag--increased dependence on herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, as well as increased soil erosion and water runoff.
You can read more about our eco-friendly efforts and our farmers in our Travel Blog.