| By Laurie Britton |
When I started Café Virtuoso, from day one, people began asking me, “what’s the big deal? why organic?” My answer was, and still is, if I am going to have my own business then I need to have it mean something and to make some kind of a difference. After considerable research into the major contrasts between conventional and organic coffee farming and the actual environmental effects of each method, going through all the extra trouble to be a 100 percent certified organic coffee roaster was the only choice for me to run the business ethically and responsibly. Not just because I’m a “major tree hugger” as some of my family members have accused me of being, which by the way, I’m totally okay with, but because it’s just logical.
If you can accomplish the same goal—which in this case is growing quality coffee—without causing pollution, significant destruction to the environment and poisoning all the people involved in the process, then wouldn’t you choose the method that causes less harm? Sure, it’s more difficult and takes significantly more effort, but so does anything else in life in which you want to do well at and feel good about doing at the same time.
Organic farming is not some newfangled idea or radical concept. It’s essentially going back to basics to before there were poisonous chemicals and synthetic fertilizers used in farming practices that may make farming more convenient, but end up completely disrupting our ecosystems and jeopardizing our overall health.
Maintaining a certified organic business is not easy and there are certainly no shortcuts, but again, I do this because it’s worth it to me to make even just a little bit of a difference. Various sources including the following excerpt from Tea and Coffee Magazine outlines Organic coffee production as having “a strict set of government standards unlike any other certification standard. In the US, these are established by the National Organic Program (NOP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as it relates to agricultural crop production and must be able to verify that organic integrity is maintained throughout the process. This results in strong, traceable production and processing practices, providing consumers with the assurance that the organic coffee they are drinking is produced in a manner they can trust.”
For the organic farmers themselves, they also must be extremely skilled by understanding the intricate scientific relationship between microorganisms, soil, water, plants, sunlight and so on in order to be successful. The practices are much more difficult and time consuming and they also produce lower yields than if you were to use chemicals. However, highly-skilled farmers who really know what they are doing can also produce much better quality coffee than other farmers using chemicals could. One such farm is our newest direct-trade relationship with the biodynamic coffee farm, La Chacra D’Dago in Peru.
I like to joke by calling biodynamic, “organic on steroids,” because it takes organic farming to a whole new level of thought and practice. Essentially for those not familiar with it, it’s integrating common organic methods of farming while also viewing all parts of the farm as being interconnected into a living, spiritual organism. Thus, the health of the farm/organism is based on the health and integration of all the parts.
While organic is extremely important to me, my ultimate business goal is to make amazing coffee that people thoroughly enjoy. Despite my beliefs, I’m not here to beat people over the head with my ideals even though I am passionate about making a difference. It doesn’t matter to me as much if people are buying my coffee solely because it’s organic, but more because they love it and appreciate the quality and the taste, which keeps me doing what I do.
People may buy a product once just because it’s for a good cause, but they won’t come back for that reason again if the product isn’t special. People do, however, come back for quality. Always. When was the last time you heard someone say, “oh quality just isn’t that important to me”?
If a product is made with love by cultivating a healthy ecosystem and results in developing into a quality product, while also taking the overall health of all involved into account, isn’t that the ultimate win-win situation for everyone?
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Certified organic from day one, Laurie founded Cafe Virtuoso in 2008 with the vision of bringing a level of quality to coffee and tea previously unavailable in San Diego. Her passion and dedication ensures each business decision is based on being socially and ethically responsible and is acutely involved in every aspect of what it means to be truly sustainable.