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As we discuss the challenge that coffee-growing communities have all over the world this week, let's take a look back at a previous post on how to choose a coffee with a conscience. 

Originally posted October 25, 2011

The next time you buy coffee, make sure you are environmentally aware about where you coffee comes from. The words Fair Trade, Shade-Grown, and Organic are just a couple of buzzwords that are now being used to describe your cup-of-joe.

Haven’t heard of these words? Here is what they mean:

What’s shade-grown coffee?

  • “Shade-grown” generally describes coffee grown under a canopy of diverse species of shade trees, often on small farms using traditional techniques.
  • Shade-grown coffee, in contrast to sun-grown or “technified” coffee, provides food and shelter for songbirds, as well as other animals and plants.
  • Shade trees also provide natural mulch, which reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. Up to 40 species of trees can be found on traditionally managed shade coffee plantations; these trees protect the coffee plants that grow beneath them from rain and sun, help maintain soil quality, reduce the need for weeding and aid in pest control. Organic matter from the shade trees reduces erosion, contributes nutrients to the soil, and prevents metal toxicities.
  • As rainforests disappear, shade coffee farms offer one of the last places for birds to feed and rest in many tropical regions. In addition to birds, shade coffee plantations provide habitat for orchids, insects, mammals (such as bats), reptiles, and amphibians.

What’s organic coffee?

  • Organic coffee growing strives for a balance with nature, using methods and materials which are of low impact to the environment.
  • Organic farming replenishes and maintains soil fertility, eliminates the use of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and builds a biologically diverse agriculture. In a natural ecosystem, nature constantly works to correct imbalances. Organic farmers do the same by selecting the most environmentally friendly solutions to the pest and disease problems that affect their crops.
  • When a grower or processor is certified organic, a public or private organization verifies that it meets or exceeds standards defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

What is fair trade coffee?

  • Certified Fair Trade coffee has been traded and sold according to international fair trade criteria, which includes:
    • Farmers are guaranteed a minimum price for their coffee. If world price rises above this floor price, farmers will be paid a small premium above market price.
    • Coffee importers provide credit to farmers against future sales.
    • Importers and roasters agree to develop direct, long-term trade relationships with producer groups, cutting out middlemen (or “coyotes”) and bringing greater commercial stability to an extremely unstable market.
  • The fair trade movement is based on the idea that producers in developing countries are capable of achieving economic success provided they receive fair prices in international markets for what they produce.
Learn more about organic, shade-grown and/or Fair Trade coffee at


Maegan Clark

Maegan Clark loves social media even more than Southern sweet tea. She is the Social Media Manager at Heifer International where she uses her skills digital marketing to improve the lives of those in need around the globe. Since working at Heifer, she has deepened her appreciation for the urgency with which we must end global hunger and poverty.