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What You Don’t Know About Organic Coffee Could Cost You

When you see the word organic, what comes to mind? Organic is good for you, right? It’s healthy and better for the environment, too. That’s what most of us are used to hearing. But is it true?

In the coffee industry, there’s a lot of hype around organic coffee being the best. Better for you, for the producers, and for the planet. That’s why many of us are willing to pay more for products labeled as organic. But it turns out things are a bit more complicated than you might think. Let’s investigate, shall we?

What Does Certified Organic Mean?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the focus of certified organic products is on environmental and soil preservation. USDA Certification requirements include no use of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering. Additional criteria include keeping the organic crop separate from non-organically grown products and crop rotation. Because all of these requirements must be met for a minimum of three years prior to certification, the process is also a time-consuming one.

If a producer meets all of these requirements, they can then pay for the certification. This includes funding travel expenses and room and board for a third-party certifying agent at least twice a year to assess that the criteria are being maintained. These costs can quickly become prohibitively expensive for many smaller farmers. Many of these farmers are already struggling to make ends meet – the average income of a Colombian worker, for example, is as low as $200 a month. For these producers, there is simply too much risk involved with the certification process. The truth is, most of these USDA certifications are only acquired by big brands with large plantation farms.

How It Impacts Farmers

Even if farmers are able to meet all of the USDA requirements, these certified organic batches tend to yield smaller quantities. Yes, they can sell the coffee at a higher price, but given the high cost of producing certified organic coffee combined with the low yield, they end up spending more money for less coffee.

Does this mean that smaller, independent coffee farmers don’t produce organic products? Not necessarily. They may not be able to pay for certification, but this usually means they also can’t afford the kinds of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that would disqualify them for organic status. Naturally grown, organic coffee is not only less expensive for the small farm, but it’s also better for the health of the farmers and the community. This way, farmers aren’t exposed to high amounts of harsh chemicals, and there’s no risk of these contaminants getting into the local water sources.

This means that non-certified organic coffee can still be organically-grown, good for the environment, and benefit the small, independent farmer. It also means that buying USDA organic coffee doesn’t guarantee you’ll be supporting small farms and sustainable products. In fact, it often means the opposite.

Single-Origin Vs. Certified Organic

Even if a farmer is able to meet the USDA criteria and afford to pay for certification, the path to calling a product USDA-certified organic doesn’t end there. Just because the coffee beans themselves are certified organic, doesn’t mean the roaster can label them as such unless they, too, are certified. And this is yet another extensive and time-consuming process for the roaster.

So, what’s the solution? If you’re looking to support sustainable, environmentally conscious, independent farmers and roasters, it’s better to look for coffee labeled single-origin than it is to focus on USDA organic certification. Single-origin coffee is from a specific country, region, or farm. If you’re curious to know more about single-origin coffee, check out our blog post on the subject.

Now you know that certified organic may not be as great as it sounds. When it comes to buying coffee, you don’t have to pay more for USDA organic coffee to get a superior product. Instead, if you’re looking to help make a positive impact on coffee communities, pay attention to the companies that focus on transparency about where their beans come from and how they partner with coffee producers.

Nomi’s mission is to create sustainable and profitable partnerships with farmers. Our goal is to help elevate the lives and communities we source from, creating economic value and a higher quality of life. That’s why we choose to work with smaller farms focusing on single-origin coffee. If that sounds good to you, check out Nomi’s selection of single-origin coffee here and start supporting small farmers today!

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