In 1986, Allegro Coffee became one of the first roasteries to offer Certified Organic coffee. Now, 60-70% of the coffee we roast is organic. With each new year, we source more organic coffee, deepening our support of producers who share our commitment to protect our planet while creating long-lasting partnerships. Certifications are not simple, and not always an option for every farmer. This is why we treat each relationship as uniquely as the coffee, to ensure our sourcing practices continue to be the best for everyone involved. Here, we will breakdown what it means to be Certified Organic, and all the questions that come along with it.
How Organic Coffee Is Grown
Organic coffee is grown without the use of chemical additives, pesticides, or herbicides. While some coffee farmers grow organic coffee by default (they don’t have access to these additives anyway) others opt into organic farming for a variety of reasons. Growing organic can have positive impacts on the land where coffee is grown, as well as give farmers an opportunity to earn more money for their coffee with the Organic Certification – we pay a premium to our farmers with this certification. Farmers who work with organic fertilizers use ingredients like cattle and chicken manure, compost, and coffee pulp to nourish the soil. This practice puts nutrients back into the soil, creating a healthy ecosystem for the next season of coffee plants.
The Process For An Organic Certification And Who Certifies It
To become USDA Certified Organic, there cannot be any trace of pesticides and herbicides for three years prior to receiving the certification. We partner with Quality Assurance International (QAI), an industry leader in certifications to perform organic audits. Through their 5-step program, they work with farmers who want to sell organic coffee and issue the certification.
First, farmers must submit an application with supporting documents for QAI to determine the farm’s organic practices. Next, the initial inspection is conducted and reviewed. If there are any inconsistencies or non-compliances, the farm is notified and has the opportunity to resolve any issues. Once the inspection process is successfully completed, the farm receives its certification and documents allowing the producer to use the Certified Organic mark. These inspections are performed on an annual basis to ensure organic practices are maintained.
Why All Coffee Farmers Don’t Grow Organic Coffee
There are several reasons farmers are hesitant to go through the process of becoming Certified Organic. As mentioned, it takes three years of using organic practices before a farm can receive the certification. During those first three years needed to transition from a conventional growing model to a Certified Organic farm, producers are left with smaller yields and no premium to help offset the loss. Margins are very tight to begin with, so sometimes this risk is not an option for many farmers, which is why they stick to conventional farming.
We find that when organic is not an option, a different certification might be better for a farm to differentiate or market their coffee. Certainly, high quality coffee is the best way for a farmer to earn high prices for their coffee and building a reputation for high cupping scores is the best way to ensure consistent prices for the long-term. However, programs such as Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade Certified, Smithsonian Bird Friendly, and featuring unique farm based attributes such as women produced coffee or unique processing methods are other options farmers use that can result in additional premiums.
How We Are Supporting Our Farmers
Fifteen years ago, we began buying coffee from a farm in Guatemala called Finca La Bolsa. The quality of the coffee and commitment to good farming practices has become an important part in our long-term relationship. Last year, during our yearly visit to the farms, owner Renardo Ovalle was excited to share that they have started focusing on organic as a way to differentiate their coffees. He said that because we have been a partner for so long, they know they can count on us to buy coffee each year, and they don’t have to worry about having a buyer while they are working through the organic certification. These are the kinds of stories we love to hear, and remind us that it can take years for producers and farmers to work towards certifications. By continuing to stand by our long-term partnerships, we can make a huge impact and help our partners grow and find new paths towards success.
Forty Years Later…
Allegro opened its doors in 1977 with a commitment to high quality coffee, transparency, and supporting our coffee community. Forty years later… a lot has changed, but our guiding principles are still going strong. We’ve always believed that where your coffee comes from matters. The people who grow coffee are just as important as the people drinking it. Without one, the other cannot exist. Which is why when we source our coffee, we want to make sure we are doing the right thing for each producer we buy from while being able to make a product that’s right for each person who drinks it. Certifications are a great representation of this practice, it takes a lot of work to make sure we are doing what’s right for everyone, and the organic certification is no exception. No matter what your morning cup is, you’re helping to support farmers across the world, knowing that each cup is sourced specifically to help each producer on an individual basis.
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