This Earth Day, meet some of the people working to make coffee sustainable

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, take a virtual field trip to Costa Rica to meet some of the agronomists and farmers working to address the effects of climate change, disease and diminishing natural resources on coffee farming. They want to ensure your coffee cup – all of our cups – stays full well into the future.

Most coffee drinkers will tell you that coffee, especially in uncertain times, is more than a beverage.

A cup of coffee can represent comfort, stability, a respite – a taste of normality, especially in a world that currently feels anything but. It represents much the same to the people who grow coffee.

“I have coffee for breakfast, at noon, at 2 p.m., and at night I have another cup. It’s like one of my daily meals,” said Ana Mendez, laughing. She and her husband farm coffee on several small plots in Costa Rica.

She said she often thinks of the people around the world drinking the coffee they grow.

“I would want to tell them behind every cup of coffee there is sacrifice, there is work, there is hope, and there is love,” Mendez said. “There is so much love.”

Yet coffee is at a bit of a crossroads. There are more coffee drinkers in the world than ever before, but each year, climate change, disease and diminishing natural resources can make the business of coffee farming more and more difficult. In 2013, Starbucks purchased a coffee farm in Costa Rica called Hacienda Alsacia to better understand these challenges, and to look for solutions. Since then, the farm has become a global hub of research and discovery – discoveries the team there hopes will help coffee farmers all over the planet and the ongoing challenges they face.

In celebration of an unusual Earth Day this year, but one on which the world is uncommonly united in purpose, join us on a virtual field trip to Costa Rica, where you can meet some of the agronomists and farmers working hard to make sure your coffee cup – all of our cups – stays full well into the future.

Video by Joshua Trujillo and Jennifer Warnick

“The most complicated problems we have now are (coffee leaf) rust and climate change. It’s affected us a lot,” said Raul Blanco, a 22-year-old farmer in Costa Rica who sells coffee to Starbucks.

A seventh-generation coffee farmer, Blanco said he was born into coffee, and remains dedicated to the future of the crop and his family’s land. He also loves imagining his family’s coffee making its way into the cups of coffee drinkers all over the world.

“I've never in my life thought about giving up coffee farming,” Blanco said. “Instead, I've always tried to look for ways to subsist as a coffee farmer, to improve it, day by day, to making (the farm) more profitable, more economical, and always taking care of the environment. Every coffee bean, every bushel of coffee, every truck full you take out every day is for someone somewhere in the world to enjoy it – for someone who is having a cup of coffee to delight in it.”

Starbucks purchases three percent of the world’s coffee, which is grown by more than 400,000 farmers much like Blanco. Here are six things Starbucks and coffee farmers around the world are doing to help ensure the future of coffee is sustainable and strong:

  1. Sustainable sourcing and growing. Starbucks coffee is 99 percent ethically sourced, and the company is on a mission to make coffee the world’s first sustainably sourced agricultural product. Starbucks purchases coffee verified by C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity) Practices. Developed with Conservation International, these guidelines provide comprehensive social, environmental, and economic criteria to help sustain and strengthen coffee communities.
  2. Open-source agronomy. Starbucks Farmer Support Centers at Hacienda Alsacia in Costa Rica and in eight other coffee-growing countries around the world bring agronomists, researchers and farmers together to share the latest research, information, advice and tools to grow coffee more sustainably and profitably.
  3. Sharing climate-resilient coffee trees. Starbucks has donated more than 31 million climate resilient coffee trees like the hybrids created at Hacienda Alsacia. Farmers, whether they grow coffee for Starbucks or not, can use these trees to replace those declining in productivity from age or disease. Starbucks has a goal of providing 100 million trees to farmers by 2025.
  4. Loans for farmers. The Starbucks Global Farmer Fund has invested $49 million in coffee-producing countries around the world, funds farmers can use to renovate and strengthen their farms and farming practices to be even more productive and sustainable.
  5. Support in difficult times. Starbucks will use its Farmer Support Centers to share information and supplies during the global COVID-19 response. In addition, the Starbucks Foundation provided $1 million to Mercy Corps to help support education, communication, supplies and materials to assist in the prevention of COVID-19 in those coffee, tea and cocoa farming communities.
  6. Investing in diverse and high-quality coffee. Starbucks is committed to a diversified buying approach to ensure demand for high-quality coffee grown by women, smaller coffee growers and from a wide variety of places around the world. 

There’s a sign in the Hacienda Alsacia visitors’ center that reads, “Our mission is to ensure the future of coffee for everyone.” This means Hacienda Alsacia sharing its agronomy research, sustainable farming practices and disease-resistant coffee trees with farmers all over the world so their farms can be more productive and sustainable, which means they can grow even more sustainable, high-quality coffee for Starbucks to buy (and for people to drink), which means coffee farmers have more money to support their families and communities.

“A future without coffee would be almost like a future without rain – on an economic level, for Costa Rica, for families, and also on a personal level for coffee drinkers,” Mendez said. “I feel optimistic about coffee. We always plant more trees because we have to teach to the children, and we must protect nature and the environment.”