On Labor Day, consider how coffee drinkers can help coffee growers thrive (Guest Opinion by Peter Klepeis)

Peter Klepeis is a professor of geography at Hamilton’s Colgate University.

Labor Day has arrived, along with the picket lines.

On the holiday, pilots plan to picket airports across the nation. They advocate for improved workplace conditions. However, you shouldn’t be surprised if protesting pilots are the only ones you encounter while traveling.

Despite strong opposition from the company, thousands of Starbucks employees have voted to unionize and have engaged in frequent strikes in recent years. And it’s not just employees who are participating. This summer, the mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu, joined striking Starbucks employees on the picket line. A few weeks later, the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, tweeted his support for striking café workers in his state.

Advocating for the rights of workers is commendable. However, being a responsible coffee consumer involves more than simply supporting baristas. There is a need for “relationship coffee.”

I have searched for a long time for ways that people can enjoy the good life, including sipping cappuccino, without negatively impacting others or the environment. The author of “Braiding Sweetgrass” refers to this as mutual flourishing.

Therefore, responsible coffee consumption entails that the entire production chain, from tropical highland farms to your mug, is thriving. You might consider this a utopian fantasy. Perhaps it is. I and seventeen other college students pondered possibilities last year.

Initially, the bad news. Mutual flourishing is not occurring. The origins of coffee are rooted in slavery and other forms of labor exploitation. Even today, child labor is prevalent on coffee farms. The economics of coffee are difficult as well. Most farms are small (less than 12 acres), leaving farmers with limited options when rust (a type of fungus) strikes or when prices fluctuate.

To make matters worse, coffee is frequently grown in monocultures that are environmentally unsustainable, with no shade and extensive use of agrochemicals. This causes forest and soil degradation, water pollution, and habitat loss for numerous species, including birds. Climate change imperils livelihoods and food supplies. There are also baristas and other workers who desire fair wages and safe working conditions.

Read more • syracuse.com

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