The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 28, 2001


Coffee is the leading foreign exchange item in Latin America, the second most heavily traded commodity in the world, and the third most common import in the US after oil and steel. Coffee drinking started in the fifteenth century in Arabia, spread to Europe in the seventeenth century, and is now consumed by one-third of the world's population. Today's large coffee brands (Maxwell House, Folger's) are no longer grown in the environmentally and socially responsible manner that we would hope. Increasingly since the 1970s, coffee is grown on huge plantations in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia that have been clear-cut of native trees, reducing biodiversity and wildlife. This destruction of the tropical rainforest has contributed to a reduction in the number of migratory birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico by half over the last 20 years.

A more ecologically sound alternative is organic "shade-tree" coffee grown in the traditional way on small farms with natural tree canopies that shade an understory of coffee bushes. Another important advantage of these smaller coffee companies is that they are more socially responsible, giving a greater percentage of their revenues directly to the local farmers, who live in some of the poorest countries in the world. These "Fair Trade" companies buy directly from democratically run farmer cooperatives and sell directly to the consumer, cutting out middlemen such as processors, exporters, broker/traders, distributors, and retailers. The farmers are guaranteed a minimum price for their beans regardless of the wild fluctuations in coffee commodity prices.

As with any organic product, the retail price is due to careful sustainable growing practices, smaller crop yields, and reduced economies of scale. Three well-known Fair Trade coffees are Equal Exchange (available locally at Donelan's and Crosby's markets), Allegro (available at Bread & Circus), and Green Mountain. Some of these coffees are also sold in bulk by mail order or over the web. Contact Equal Exchange at 1-781-830-0303 (, or Green Mountain at 1-888-223-6768 ( for more information.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito