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Thread: Organically vs conventionally grown beans

  1. #1
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    Organically vs conventionally grown beans

    I’ve just done a quick research of green beans available from the few retail sellers I could think of here in Denmark. On average, about a fifth of the green beans offered are organically grown.
    When I search BeanBay, I don’t find any at all. If BeanBay don’t sell organic beans, I guess nobody really does in Australia, except for maybe a few dedicated organic food retailers. I’m curious as to why?

    Is the quality of organic coffee beans considered inferior?
    No market for organic foods?
    A question of availability?
    An ideological stance?
    Is organic food not trusted to really be organic?

    What is the matter with you?

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    The issue is all food is organic is it not?

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    CoffeeSnobs Owner Andy's Avatar
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    Great question

    ### placeholder for a really long answer tonight when I'm off the roaster ###
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    Looking forward to this answer. I had naively assumed that most coffee was reasonably organic mainly because the poor growers were too poor to be the target of companies like Monsanto.
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    CoffeeSnobs Owner Andy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by knastoer View Post
    1: When I search BeanBay, I don’t find any at all.
    2: Is the quality of organic coffee beans considered inferior?
    3: No market for organic foods?
    4: A question of availability?
    5: An ideological stance?
    6: Is organic food not trusted to really be organic?
    7: What is the matter with you?
    1: They are there, just not pimped.
    2: sometimes
    3: Some market.
    4: Plenty available
    5: Somewhat
    6: Sometimes
    7: Plenty!

    Okay, so here we go. I normally save this rant for face to face discussions but seeing as you managed to ask so many questions in a paragraph (a new record I think) maybe I should post my thoughts in public. Might be disjointed and point form to stop people falling asleep in the middle.

    I'll start with:
    Organic is good, chemicals are bad.

    We intentionally only purchase coffee that is grown chemical free whenever we can and for the rest we check to ensure that they use "green" not "red" chemicals. Green chemicals are those that are biodegradable and ecologically safe, red chemicals are the nasty ones that cause fish to grow 3 heads (slight exaggeration but you get my point)

    Of the 29 beans in BeanBay at the moment:
    Organic Certified: 4
    Organic grown but not certified: 10
    Rainforest Alliance: 5
    Known green: 9
    Unknown: 1

    It's my personal choice to source organically grown beans and chemical free whenever I can (both beans and food at home too).
    I love the idea of organic
    I hate the certification process.

    I've seen the damage that organic certification does at origin first-hand which is why we don't market beans as organic but will sometimes mention it in the description.

    Small plot farmers who might grow the best beans in the world, care for their crops and use a 100% organic process (they have way better things to spend their money on than chemicals) but they don't produce enough beans annually to pay the certification bodies USD$10,000 a year in licencing and inspection costs. Yes, that's really what is costs to fly a fat westerner to a poor country to do an annual audit, a farmer I know just did it last week but they are forced into being certified buy their European customers who purchase 90% of their annual crop.

    If you only purchase organic certified you are hurting small farmers.

    Those same small farmers are generally forced into piling their beans into a co-op to get the scale to justify certification. The problem there is everything is just about volume (weight) and nothing about care of process, skill of growing or quality in the cup. All members get the same price per kilo regardless if the coffee is good or bad so there is no financial incentive for the producers of great coffee to work harder.

    I have also seen first hand a farmer walk off his land and bulldoze the natural bush next door as a fast-track to organic certification as the licensing bodies make an existing farm wait 2 years of testing before organic certification exists, dozed bush can be certified straight away.

    Last year I visited an area in Costa Rica and the only farm supply store in the large area it covers refuses to sell "red" chemicals, they will sell green ones but only if the farmer has first been educated on land management and how to deal with insect infestations as part of normal farming maintenance. I was told by a farmer that something as simple as picking-up all the fallen (bad) cherries and removing the last cherries from the trees is enough to have no coffee borer for 11 months of the year and the one month they do get them is pretty much end of season and a small impact.

    The villagers on Kilimanjaro that we have helped with equipment will never have certification as the cost is 10 times their gross income. They are growing coffee in one of the lowest pollution areas of the planet, they use snow and glacial water to grow their trees under a natural shade canopy, cherry pulp is returned to trees as fertilizer and they use ZERO chemicals in production, yet some will snub their noses and say "it is organically certified"?

    By me tagging a coffee as organic certified I'm "feeding" the machine that is punishing the little guys already doing the right thing.

    CoffeeSnobs has no need to use it as a marketing difference, we source great tasting coffees from all over the world, conscious of the personal, economic and environmental impacts in the growing areas and best of all, I can sleep at night!

    Don't get me started on Fairtrade... it's a similar rant. I've never met a farmer on the ground happy with what they do either, which is also why FairCrack exists.
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    Thanks Andy, it's great to get some of the inside info out there around certification.
    I've always thought, but never researched, that coffee is a relatively low chemical input crop, and that residues in the cherry will be even lower. I am lucky enough to be able to get mainly small scale, often organic but not certified, vegetables, fruit and grain and low intensity production meats. I buy these to support these kinds of farmers and the environment and its great to know that the coffee you supply has a similar ethos.
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    Senior Member chokkidog's Avatar
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    Well said Andy! And non disclosure is a great strategy.
    Organic certification is a first world problem and a coffee grower's nightmare. I'm continually asked these (similar) questions, mostly by wealthy people who can afford organic food prices.
    Western privilege sometimes demands that the downtrodden lay down again so we can walk right over them. Sad.
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  8. #8
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    Great insight. Fair to say many like me are oblivious of it. Iím careful about labels like organic etc. and wouldnít say I go out of my to use items like that say organic.

  9. #9
    Senior Member magnafunk's Avatar
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    There's always the option to tick the box
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  10. #10
    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy View Post
    1: They are there, just not pimped.
    2: sometimes
    3: Some market.
    4: Plenty available
    5: Somewhat
    6: Sometimes
    7: Plenty!

    Okay, so here we go. I normally save this rant for face to face discussions but seeing as you managed to ask so many questions in a paragraph (a new record I think) maybe I should post my thoughts in public. Might be disjointed and point form to stop people falling asleep in the middle.

    I'll start with:
    Organic is good, chemicals are bad.

    We intentionally only purchase coffee that is grown chemical free whenever we can and for the rest we check to ensure that they use "green" not "red" chemicals. Green chemicals are those that are biodegradable and ecologically safe, red chemicals are the nasty ones that cause fish to grow 3 heads (slight exaggeration but you get my point)

    Of the 29 beans in BeanBay at the moment:
    Organic Certified: 4
    Organic grown but not certified: 10
    Rainforest Alliance: 5
    Known green: 9
    Unknown: 1

    It's my personal choice to source organically grown beans and chemical free whenever I can (both beans and food at home too).
    I love the idea of organic
    I hate the certification process.

    I've seen the damage that organic certification does at origin first-hand which is why we don't market beans as organic but will sometimes mention it in the description.

    Small plot farmers who might grow the best beans in the world, care for their crops and use a 100% organic process (they have way better things to spend their money on than chemicals) but they don't produce enough beans annually to pay the certification bodies USD$10,000 a year in licencing and inspection costs. Yes, that's really what is costs to fly a fat westerner to a poor country to do an annual audit, a farmer I know just did it last week but they are forced into being certified buy their European customers who purchase 90% of their annual crop.

    If you only purchase organic certified you are hurting small farmers.

    Those same small farmers are generally forced into piling their beans into a co-op to get the scale to justify certification. The problem there is everything is just about volume (weight) and nothing about care of process, skill of growing or quality in the cup. All members get the same price per kilo regardless if the coffee is good or bad so there is no financial incentive for the producers of great coffee to work harder.

    I have also seen first hand a farmer walk off his land and bulldoze the natural bush next door as a fast-track to organic certification as the licensing bodies make an existing farm wait 2 years of testing before organic certification exists, dozed bush can be certified straight away.

    Last year I visited an area in Costa Rica and the only farm supply store in the large area it covers refuses to sell "red" chemicals, they will sell green ones but only if the farmer has first been educated on land management and how to deal with insect infestations as part of normal farming maintenance. I was told by a farmer that something as simple as picking-up all the fallen (bad) cherries and removing the last cherries from the trees is enough to have no coffee borer for 11 months of the year and the one month they do get them is pretty much end of season and a small impact.

    The villagers on Kilimanjaro that we have helped with equipment will never have certification as the cost is 10 times their gross income. They are growing coffee in one of the lowest pollution areas of the planet, they use snow and glacial water to grow their trees under a natural shade canopy, cherry pulp is returned to trees as fertilizer and they use ZERO chemicals in production, yet some will snub their noses and say "it is organically certified"?

    By me tagging a coffee as organic certified I'm "feeding" the machine that is punishing the little guys already doing the right thing.

    CoffeeSnobs has no need to use it as a marketing difference, we source great tasting coffees from all over the world, conscious of the personal, economic and environmental impacts in the growing areas and best of all, I can sleep at night!

    Don't get me started on Fairtrade... it's a similar rant. I've never met a farmer on the ground happy with what they do either, which is also why FairCrack exists.
    All of this. And more. While I donít have the personal experience that Andy does I did a bit of research into the main certification schemes a couple of years ago and itís fair to say I was horrified at what I read and heard. Interestingly Iím not surprised questions like the ones Knastoer asked have come from Scandinavia as most Scandinavian consumers give certifications such as Organic a fair amount of credence. Things are changing (slowly) in coffee thanks to people like Tim Wendelboe, but itís a big hill to climb. Thatís not to say itís all bad in Scandinavia and fine everywhere else, it certainly is not.
    Fairtrade is another certification thatís not worth the paper itís written on in my opinion. There are some great organisations out there doing some excellent work in supply chain improvement such as Trade Aid, Oxfam, Fairtrade USA (they have split from the Fairtrade Labeling Organization) and Technoserve, but the main certification we still see is from the FLO.
    Iíd be interested to know if Knastoer was referring to ALL organic coffee, or just that which has the certification stamped on it.

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    Thanks Andy for that fantastic info. I had a rough idea about the cost of organic certification, but not the other finer details. I wish we could put your post out to the broader public to open their eyes a bit. Wouldn't mind hearing your equivalent info(rant) on fairtrade.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy View Post
    Okay, so here we go.
    Great info, thanks for that. Have you thought about putting that up on a page in BeanBay, linked to from product pages? Might help raise awareness as not everybody frequents forums.

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    Thanks very much, Andy! Very interesting answer. Like others, I think your policy deserves to be mentioned - highlighted even - on BeanBay. Obviously, I don't know how Australians feel about this, but in Denmark it would make a difference to (some) people. Most people, at least those with kids, would like this wonderful machine to keep going for a while yet with us a part of it. I believe more organic food and less meat consumption are some of the nuts and bolts of this machine, and I would like to do the right thing. I also believe that keeping the third world in poverty is deadly to the very existence of all of us. So what to do?

    What better way to ensure that products are grown as environmentally safe as possible than buying certified organic food? There is none. LeroyC mentions other organisations that I'm sure are excellent - but if they're small, they can only handle so much, and if they're big, they are likely to end as money machines just like the one we now hate so much.

    I find it disgusting that small and poor farmers are caught in this. The certification system should be free of economic interest. Maybe some of the aid given to third world countries should be in the form of helping set up trustworthy national - or regional or whatever - certification systems.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeroyC View Post
    Interestingly I’m not surprised questions like the ones Knastoer asked have come from Scandinavia as most Scandinavian consumers give certifications such as Organic a fair amount of credence. Things are changing (slowly) in coffee thanks to people like Tim Wendelboe, but it’s a big hill to climb. That’s not to say it’s all bad in Scandinavia and fine everywhere else, it certainly is not.
    Fairtrade is another certification that’s not worth the paper it’s written on in my opinion. There are some great organisations out there doing some excellent work in supply chain improvement such as Trade Aid, Oxfam, Fairtrade USA (they have split from the Fairtrade Labeling Organization) and Technoserve, but the main certification we still see is from the FLO.
    I’d be interested to know if Knastoer was referring to ALL organic coffee, or just that which has the certification stamped on it.
    In Denmark the certification and control of Danish organic products is handled by the state. That makes it pretty credible, though of course there can always be some cheating going on between controls. The control system throughout the European Union is also pretty safe, I believe, and then there's the rest of the world...
    I had no idea about the downsides Andy mentions, and I've always thought that the best bet would still be the certification, even if it might not be quite water proof. Andy's comments have made me realize that that might not be the way to go. What now remains is: THEN HOW? Giving up on everything is not an option. I want to have my food grown in a way that best helps protect the planet - and that includes not exploiting the third world.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chokkidog View Post
    Well said Andy! And non disclosure is a great strategy.
    Organic certification is a first world problem and a coffee grower's nightmare. I'm continually asked these (similar) questions, mostly by wealthy people who can afford organic food prices.
    Western privilege sometimes demands that the downtrodden lay down again so we can walk right over them. Sad.
    I'm sure you agree that the urge to tread down the weak is no more prominent in those interested in organic foods than it is in general.

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    Quote Originally Posted by magnafunk View Post
    There's always the option to tick the box
    Nice one!

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by knastoer View Post
    In Denmark the certification and control of Danish organic products is handled by the state. That makes it pretty credible, though of course there can always be some cheating going on between controls. The control system throughout the European Union is also pretty safe, I believe, and then there's the rest of the world...
    I had no idea about the downsides Andy mentions, and I've always thought that the best bet would still be the certification, even if it might not be quite water proof. Andy's comments have made me realize that that might not be the way to go. What now remains is: THEN HOW? Giving up on everything is not an option. I want to have my food grown in a way that best helps protect the planet - and that includes not exploiting the third world.
    The problem is that what might work for raw foods and food crops doesnít work for coffee because of the very nature of the way it is produced. There are very few other crops that rely almost solely on poor third world or developing countries for their production (cocoa and palm oil are about the only other ones I can think of). The coffee industry was set up by Western European powers in their third world colonies for the purpose of supplying the homeland and for making money. Itís colonial wealth extraction at its ultimate and apart from the very small specialty industry where some of the better direct trade models are doing some good this system still remains. The FLO is a prime example of an organisation that provides a marketing tool and there are costs associated with it, some of which are passed onto the consumer, the rest are passed back up the line. While I totally agree that people have good intentions when they buy Fairtrade or Organic certified products they do so fairly blindly putting their trust in a little stamp on a packet of food or coffee. Itís actually great that these issues have been brought to light here as it will hopefully encourage more people to educate themselves regarding this sort of stuff.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LeroyC View Post
    The coffee industry was set up by Western European powers in their third world colonies for the purpose of supplying the homeland and for making money. It’s colonial wealth extraction at its ultimate and apart from the very small specialty industry where some of the better direct trade models are doing some good this system still remains.
    But that applies whether the coffee is organic or not. The exploitation is the same, with or without stamp.

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    Quote Originally Posted by knastoer View Post
    But that applies whether the coffee is organic or not. The exploitation is the same, with or without stamp.
    Knastoer, I might be comprehending the comments here a little differently to you, I get the gist that the exploitation is higher with the stamp as the costs for the stamp come out of the growers share. Andy has mention US$10k in costs, if you look at some of the projects Faircrack has funded - FairCrack Projects - you can see that amount of money is huge and goes a very, very long way in these countries. He mentions a grower who has to spend it because 90% of his crop is going to Europe and his clients demand it.
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  20. #20
    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by knastoer View Post
    But that applies whether the coffee is organic or not. The exploitation is the same, with or without stamp.
    Yes, the exploitation exists with or without the stamp. So you could say thatís proof that none of these systems really work. At best theyíve made a very small difference in very small areas. But itís actually incredibly complex and really itís difficult to do any justice to this topic in a few forum posts when it needs pages and pages. Rather than me go on about it I do urge people to educate themselves. All the information is out there already and I highly recommend reading and listening to as much as you can. As a minimum Iíd recommend these resources:
    - World Coffee Research website
    - Catholic Relief Services Coffeelands website
    - Coffee Awesome podcast
    - Some of the Tamper Tantrum panel discussions (podcast and YouTube)
    - Java Mountain Coffee website
    - Technoserve website
    - A good introductory book about coffee such as The World Atlas of Coffee by J Hoffmann

    If thatís not your thing then I think itís probably better to put your trust in your supplier than in a certification. Coffee Snobs is a perfect example - at a glance it appears that thereís not much in the way of Fairtrade and/or Organic coffee on offer, but when Andy explains it as he has you realise thatís not really a true indication of what he sells. (Like others I reckon Andy could probably have a little Ďsustainability statementí page that is a bit more broad than the Faircrack info for people to refer to).

    Knastoer I donít know much about the Scandinavian coffee industry, but I do know Iíd buy from Tim Wendelboe in a heartbeat. Also Collective are trying to make some improvements when it comes to transparency as well and theyíre a bit closer to home for you. Not sure if either of them sell green coffee if thatís what youíre after, but they could probably point you in the right direction.
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    Thanks so much, LeroyC! I'll look into your recommendations and try to educate myself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 338 View Post
    Knastoer, I might be comprehending the comments here a little differently to you, I get the gist that the exploitation is higher with the stamp as the costs for the stamp come out of the growers share. Andy has mention US$10k in costs, if you look at some of the projects Faircrack has funded - FairCrack Projects - you can see that amount of money is huge and goes a very, very long way in these countries. He mentions a grower who has to spend it because 90% of his crop is going to Europe and his clients demand it.
    And you are right. What I was trying to say is that the coffee industry will always take home as much profit as possible - at the expense of the farmers. I would - and I believe most people would - gladly pay an extra dollar per kilo if that dollar went straight to the farmer.

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    Absolutely right Knastoer. I must say I do feel good (through no decision making, forethought or good intentions by me unfortunately - all of this is Andy's initiative ) that 50 cents out of kilo of green beans goes towards Faircrack.



    PS Knastoer, thanks for bringing this subject up, I have learned a lot and you have raised awareness as how discriminatory 'organic' labeling can be for small producers.
    Last edited by 338; 2 Weeks Ago at 09:09 AM. Reason: to add thanks
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    That's capitalism... (which I am all for). Everyone wants to take home as much of the pie as possible. However I do believe that the faircrack fund is doing a great job to help farmers produce better coffee and while it costs more to produce, they get more revenue than at co-ops or pooling coffee into generic commodity markets. It's just a shame when Governments or other bodies step in to stop farmers selling niche products and force them into co-ops or Government sanctioned distribution warehouses which often go against their bottom line. Just look at the Canadian Maple Syrup Cartel as a good example!

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    I guess capitalism among equals is fine, but when someone's more or less defenseless it can turn very ugly if there's no regulation other than the market.

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    Quote Originally Posted by knastoer View Post
    I guess capitalism among equals is fine, but when someone's more or less defenseless it can turn very ugly if there's no regulation other than the market.
    Capitalism relies on inequality for its success.

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    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 338 View Post
    Knastoer, I might be comprehending the comments here a little differently to you, I get the gist that the exploitation is higher with the stamp as the costs for the stamp come out of the growers share. Andy has mention US$10k in costs, if you look at some of the projects Faircrack has funded - FairCrack Projects - you can see that amount of money is huge and goes a very, very long way in these countries. He mentions a grower who has to spend it because 90% of his crop is going to Europe and his clients demand it.
    It probably depends on whether you are just talking about specialty grade coffee or all coffee. If youíre talking about all coffee Iíd have to say that the exploitation is far worse at the commodity level. When youíve got just two (maybe 3) big players that own most of the commercial coffee brands in the world and buy the greater majority of the commodity grade coffee from third world and developing nations youíve got a huge power imbalance. Until recently thereís been no incentive for these big players to change the way they operate either. Climate change is forcing them to rethink things a bit so there could be some changes in the future, but itís not happening very quickly.

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    Behmor Brazen - $249 - Free Freight
    Quote Originally Posted by LeroyC View Post
    Capitalism relies on inequality for its success.
    Exactly, and that was kind of my point. But other ideologies have failed, and capitalism seems to be successful (with plenty of inequality to keep it going), though some would argue that we are moving towards the ultimate failure with eyes fully open but no way to reverse the course.

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