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When it comes to environmental and social standards, there are certain things that have traditionally been problematic in coffee production and we focus especially on those that make the biggest impact. Water waste and the pollution that can result when it is not dealt with properly is is perhaps the number one concern, so we always start there. Reckless degradation of existing ecosystems or habitats so as to create high-density full sun monoculture plantations is another detrimental practice that has arisen in coffee production in the past, and we avoid working with farmers who do not see the problem with this. On the social front, low wages for seasonal pickers doesn’t work either. Not only is it unsustainable from a community perspective, that sort of approach to minimizing production cost is a major obstacle to attaining quality. We monitor these things, and will not choose to work with farmers who cannot understand the need to support the people that make the harvest possible and pay them rates that encourage better quality work.
How do we know that the farmers we work with are adhering to these principles? That’s yet another reason why regular travel and time spent on the farms themselves during harvest season is crucial to the model. There is no substitute for eyes on the ground. We could perhaps hire a local agency or certifier to go to a farm and run through a checklist, but the reality is that I feel much more confident when it is our own staff that makes these assessments. The certification game can be a real racket sometimes. That’s not to say certifications aren’t good or are patently unreliable--they play an important role in the industry. They cover a whole lot of ground and service a very large swath of the industry, providing a degree of assurance for buyers who cannot spend the time themselves or whose volumes make it impossible to monitor things on their own--but are not nearly as relevant when looking at acute situations where there is long-term, active collaboration between roaster and producer. And there can be crossover...many of the farms and farmer organizations we work with are already being certified by other groups--Fair Trade, RFA, Utz Kapeh, Cafe Practices--which is good, but we choose not to advertise that in most cases because it distracts from the message we are trying to send about the value of DT and the role of sensory quality in differentiating coffees. (continued in next post...last one, I promise ;)
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