Coffee Ecology
Coffee and our Planet  

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HOW IS COFFEE GROWN? Usually, coffee tree seedlings are nurtured in a nusery for a year before planting. After 3 to 7 years of cultivating, maintaining and protecting the plants, the farmer will begin to harvest the bean and prepare it for sale.

The coffee bean is actually the pit of a cherry-like fruit of the coffee tree. Each cherry contains two beans surrounded by a protective pulp. The beans are actually the seeds of the tree. Farmers will hand pick the fruit and use a mechanical "depulper" to seperate the outer pulp from the beans. The beans are then fermented by soaking in water for 12 to 36 hours. After that, they are washed and laid out on terraces to dry for several days.

Now, the beans are called parchment or pergamino beans named after the parchment like layer that covers the pair of beans. The beans are stored in this form until traded. Storing raw coffee with its parchment skin retains its moisture and freshness and keeps the beans in optimal condition. Before exporting, they are milled to remove the parchment, leaving a greenish colored bean, known, not surprisingly, as green beans. This is the coffee we receive at Rappahannock Coffee for roasting.

ORGANIC COFFEE: Organic means no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers are used during growing. Organic coffee has been around as long as coffee has been cultivated because many of the poor farmers growing coffee can�t afford these materials.

Certified organic coffee means that a certifying agency inspected the path of the coffee from the nursery to the mountainside to the mill and insure that it is organic in every step.

SHADE GROWN: Traditionally, the best arabica coffee has been grown high in the mountains on small farms under the shade of taller trees. These taller trees hold the soil on the sides of the mountains, their roots hold water and they protect the coffee trees from intense sun and high winds. The farmers use crops from these trees (bananas, coconuts) as sources of extra income and the wood from these trees as firewood. Several billion song birds migrate from the USA to Central America and spend every winter in the jungle canopy in the trees of traditional coffee farms.

SUN-GROWN: Ten or 15 years ago, the United States pushed the cultivation of new hybrids of sun-grown coffee, particularly in Colombia. This coffee was grown in full sun and it yielded twice as much coffee beans per crop. More coffee means more money for poor farmers so it seemed like a great idea. So either the taller trees were cut down to grow this sun-grown coffee or else it was just grown in the sun. Unfortunately, this sun coffee needed pesticides and herbicides and fertilizer to grow well. So it destroyed the soil over time.

BIRD FRIENDLY: Shade-grown coffee is grown under diversified shade cover--in and around the existing forest that is the natural habitat of hundreds of species of migratory song birds. These same birds, in turn, act as a natural defense against the bugs and pests that can ruin a coffee crop. Shade-grown coffee protects the great forests and the creatures that need the rain forests to survive...including people like us.

FAIR TRADE: Lets face it: coffee is big business and one of the most heavily traded commodities in the world. For the majority of small coffee farmers living in rural communities in some of the poorest countries in the world, the benefits are small. The trail of middlemen that leads from the farm to your coffee cup is long and expensive: processors, creditors, exporters, brokers - all known to Latin American farmers as �coyotes�. With world coffee prices constantly changing and �coyotes� paying the lowest price possible, coffee farmers never know how much they�ll get for their crops. Isolated from markets, they struggle to make a simple living. The producers of a rich crop are often trapped in poverty. But there is an alternative. Using internationally recognized fair trade standards, Equal Exchange seeks to balance the inequities found in the conventional coffee trade. Coffee is a leading source of income for the Developing World. Through fair trade, it can be a delicious and powerful tool to bring about positive change for small farmers and their families.

...more to come

Next:WhyWe Roast