Mr. Green Beans: He’s All Abuzz About Socially Responsible Coffee

Mr. Green Beans: He’s All Abuzz About
Socially Responsible Coffee

Unlike most college students, Eli Wolcott is not a big fan of
coffee. But for a non-coffee drinker, he is awfully obsessed with
the stuff. Through an innovative project in the jungle highlands of
southern Mexico, this twenty year-old environmental studies student
from Colorado is working to make the coffee business more ethically
and environmentally sound.

In a profile of Wolcott in the environmental webzine Grist
Lisa Jones writes, ‘To hear Eli tell it, the
status quo in coffee production is an environmental and economic
nightmare. Coffee has become second only to oil as the most
commonly traded commodity on the planet.’ As a result, coffee
traders are getting rich, while clearing large areas of tropical
forests for pesticide-intensive coffee plantations, which poison
workers and destroy habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Meanwhile, workers are poorly paid, undernourished and have few
rights. Furthermore, after the coffee fruit has been picked, the
process of removing the bean leaves behind huge amounts of plant
waste, which is dumped into streams, causing fish-killing algae

Last fall, Wolcott and noted permaculture expert Bill Mollison
discovered that coffee waste makes an excellent growth medium
mushrooms, including such nutritious delicacies as the Pluerotus,
or oyster mushroom. The mushrooms break down the rotting plant
waste and provide much-needed food to the poor coffee pickers, as
well as a valuable crop they can market to restaurants in the

In February, Wolcott set up an experimental plot of oyster
mushrooms in the tiny coffee-growing village of Guzmantla in the
Mexican state of Vera Cruz. Pleased with the initial results, he
hopes to create a model for other villages to follow. — Leif

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