Good Food Awards: Here We Go Again


The second annual Good Food Awards is happening this weekend, a Whole Foods funded celebration of all that is good and true in the consumption of “organic” foodstuffs. Sounds great? Well, if you didn’t follow the events of last year’s GFAs, the whole thing turned out to be a big effing pain in the a. Rules were bent, a shape-shifting notion of organic ruled over all, and a bunch of quality roasters were disqualified. This year’s competition is looking to be just as contentious, as the rules are being changed mid-game again. According to several inside sources, the GFA’s organizers are requiring WAY more documentation than originally indicated in the submission rules. One source speaking to Sprudge on condition of anonymity quipped. “It’s as though they want me to fly the farmer in from Ethiopia so we can all shake hands.”

It should be noted that coffee is the only category in the GFA to require rigid organic certification. Preserves, pickles, beer, cheese, charcuterie and even chocolate (coffee’s low-down kissin’ cousin) do not require organic labels. It’s also worth noting that, unlike all of these other consumables (save for chocolate), coffee is a massively international pursuit – organic certification at origin is not simply a matter of driving down to the dairy farm in Petaluma and making sure the cows look happy. The GFA does not require roaster organic certification, which is necessary for coffee companies to affix an organic label to their products, but DOES require the producer to be “certified”. This distinction is notable as the steps and requirements for a producer to be certified are vastly more troublesome than the steps a roaster stateside must take for a similar certification. Why one and not the other?

According to reliable sources, several prominent roasters simply won’t be participating in this year’s GFAs. These roasters include Stumptown Coffee, Four Barrel and Ritual.



  1. Peter G

    11 October

    Fair question, namesL.

    I can’t say with certainty, since I did not serve on the standards committees for those foods. However, I do know this: Good Food Awards seeks to be inclusive of farmers who “do the right thing” from an agricultural sustainability perspective, but whom are not certified. Also, there is a perception that certain food categories are simply “not there yet” in terms of their ability to source organically grown ingredients. The way the Good Food Awards works is: a group of representatives from each food category meets and decides what the standard is for their own group. Therefore, coffee people decide the coffee standards, chocolate people decide the chocolate standards, etc. There are overarching guidelines from Good Food Awards (“freedom from agrochemicals”, etc.) but the interpretation of those guidelines into specific rules are up to the category committees.

    In our case, we recognized that, essentially, the only farms in coffee who are farming organically have been certified organic. Certified organic has the extra advantage of giving reliable information about farming practices to roasters and consumers, which is always an issue in an industry that is so global in scope.

    That said, given what I know about the chocolate industry, I think they should have required organic certification for them too. Likewise, I think there should have been tighter standards- organic or otherwise- for domestically produced products like fruit, dairy, grains and meat. But that’s just my opinion, I wasn’t there for those discussions. :)

    In other words, it’s not that GFA imposed tighter standards on coffee than anyone else, it’s that coffee imposed tighter standards ON OURSELVES than anyone else. And I’m proud of that- it shows that coffee is leading the way.

    Hope that helped,

    Peter G

  2. namesL

    10 October

    I would like to know why the other categories aren’t asked to be organic certified… I’m not looking to stir the pot, but I’d like to know.

  3. Tony

    10 October

    for the umpteenth time – if you guys ever want the “inside story” on this stuff you have my cell phone number and probably have andrew’s, eileen’s,

    there isn’t a single issue raised by you or anyone in the comments here that hasn’t been wrestled with by the GFA organizers, committees, judges… and a lot of that stuff about criteria and our internal debates and disagreements was hashed out openly in your previous didn’t-actually-bother-to-call-anyone trolling article a few months back.

    I love you guys but knock it off already.

  4. nickcho

    9 October

    Who cares?

    Why are people treating this like a Tea Party rally complaining about government spending? The Good Food Awards is not a public entity, demanding and deserving of our scrutiny.

    It’s my understanding that the rules were put together in this way by the committee in order to find a meaningful compromise between the vision of the main GFA organizers and the realities that exist in the coffee industry, as represented by those coffee professionals involved in the “coffee committee.” I think it’s fair to say that the solution they came up with is imperfect, clearly the product of “group-think,” but not unreasonable, especially when nobody’s being forced to participate in this.

    Are the rules a little goofy? Maybe. Who the fuck cares? If the organizers demanded natural-processed coffees only, or only smaller than 15-screen, or only farmers named “Juan,” who cares? It’s their competition!

    Let’s be completely frank: What makes people wanna hate on stuff like the Good Food Awards is that it’s EASY to. There are things that are truly offensive going on within the industry, but to call them out would be too confrontational within our too-small community for our collective and individual comfort. So instead, we love to pick shit apart that happens out there that involves coffee but doesn’t involve calling-out anyone within our community directly. The GFA is a nameless outsider, so it’s apparently fair game, and dares to be anything less than perfect, with “perfect” being defined by “What I imagine that I would do if I were in charge.” Operative word there is “imagine.”

    Full disclosure: My company did not submit a coffee to the GFA this year. Why? Because we didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t great timing for us, and we didn’t have a coffee that would qualify right now. No hard feelings, no hating on the criteria, and we’ll hopefully be able to submit next year.

  5. Tim Dominick

    9 October

    I do see a problem when a product needs to come from a certified organic source but does not need to be processed in a certified organic facility. If we are talking about standards and getting technical with definitions, a coffee submitted by a non-certified organic roaster who does not have an organic system plan in place cannot be marketed or represented as organic. As I see it, and according to NOP regulations, a certified organic coffee sold by a certified organic importer/producer/exporter ceases to be certified organic when it becomes the property of a non-certified roaster.

    Organic integrity requires a chain of custody where every link in the chain has an annual third-party review of their system plan and records. If GFA is bringing organic agriculture into the equation as a standard it is only reasonable to expect they would extend their requirement for certification to every link in the chain.

    Any coffee submitted to the GFA that is represented or presented as certified organic or organic coffee must come from a certified organic processing facility. If a non-certified roaster enters a coffee and makes any claims about it being organic (even on an entry form) they are, in fact, in violation of 205.102 of the USDA NOP. If the GFA uses the term “organic” or “certified organic” in their press releases or marketing materials they are doing non-certified roasters a huge disservice and putting them at risk of breaking federal laws.

    Philosophy and spirit aside, the GFA needs to realize the potentially serious implications of their request while also recognizing the disconnect they have created by asking one element of the supply chain to certify but stopping short of requiring complete system integrity.

  6. namenameKevin Knox

    9 October

    Hi Peter,

    As is your wont, you’re sidestepping the main issues in both your initial response to the article and your comments on my post.

    It’s quite true that in a more profound sense the phrase “sustainable agriculture” is an oxymoron. Clearly the closest we can come are truly holistic approaches like biodynamics that include production of enough manure to at least approach the level of topsoil renewal necessary.

    Regarding your second paragraph, what you’re avoiding dealing with is the simple fact that the Good Food awards chose to require organic certification (of producers only – not roasters) for coffee and only coffee. That’s not a “simple, earnest pursuit;” it’s singling out one product for special (mis-) treatment.

    Since the requirement is for CERTIFIED organic coffee your cute comment about de facto or default organic growing being the way it was in coffee has no bearing. Traditional organics like Yemens or Ethiopians as you well know can’t legally be sold as organic. As I clearly stated, it is not organic growing but CERTIFICATION that is an imperialistic, first-world imposition on third-world farmers.

    Avoiding the real issues and mischaracterizing my views is not the way forward.

  7. namePeter G

    8 October


    Your arguments against organic agriculture are indeed arguments against all agriculture. Essentially all agriculture as practiced today is non-native and monocropped. It’s true that coffee is non-nutritive, just as your precious wine is, which you say we should use as an example. And the fuel used in transporting coffee (and all food) is dwarfed in scale by the fuel used to make the fertilizer for non-organic farms.

    The truth is, coffee can be one of the most sustainable crops in the world, when it is organically and responsibly farmed. Agricultural and sustainability experts agree on this point. And, best of all, many of these sustainably-farmed coffees are sublimely delicious. Good Food awards seeks solely to recognize these sustainably farmed, delicious coffees. Why does this simple, earnest pursuit earn your scorn?

    You seem to be fighting some different kind of battle. You’ve missed out on a lot- including and especially coffee producers talking more about flavor than certifications. That battle is over, and certifications have moved on from being a marketing category to a standard. You mock the other GFA categories for having no standard, yet you scorn the coffee category for establishing and sticking to one. This is schizophrenic and wrong.

    And it is doubly wrong to characterize organic agriculture as an import from the developed world to the developing one. Indeed, all agriculture in these countries was organic before our country began selling fertilizer and agrochemicals to them. Why do you hold contempt for those who try to change this tide?

    In a previous conversation (on this same topic- yawn) you agreed with me that organic is the gold standard for agriculture. Why not stick with that idea, and celebrate these delicious, artisan, organically produced coffees along with us?

    Peter G

  8. nameKevin Knox

    8 October

    After carefully reading through the sponsor list and product criteria on the GFA award site my take is that the Sprudge coverage is pretty right-on overall.

    WF and Gilt Taste are the only “Presenting” sponsors, and it seems only fair to surmise that WF given its size and resources (and marketing interests) is the more major of the two.

    More important, coffee is indeed the only product for which organic certification is required, and the “criteria” for other key products – including chocolate, which clearly is the fairest comparison with coffee – are more wishful thinking and “please play nice” than actual standards.

    There’s an explicit assertion that coffees certified organic at origin are more “sustainable” than others, which is simply not the case. It would take a 5000 word essay rather than a blog comment to go into all the layers of questions that need to be thought through here, but for starters just how sustainable can a non-native (except in Ethiopia) mono-crop with essentially no nutritional value shipped vast distances from producing to consuming country really be? Organic certification historically and currently is a first-world imposition on third world farmers – as is coffee production altogether (again, Ethiopia and maybe Yemen excepted). Maybe the farmers should have the opportunity to tell us (including the concerned organic coffee consumers driving to Whole Foods in their SUVs) what “sustainable” looks like from where they are (and I don’t mean poster child farmers flown in specially for their compliance with first-world guilt-derived ideals).

    How cool would it have been if the GFA’s were about flavor, excellence and human-scale artisanal production – period. For starters GFA could learn a lot from the wine industry, where even the many not just organic but biodynamic producers (e.g. Beaucastel, Chapoutier, Leroy/Romanee-Conti) talk about the flavor and quality of what’s in the bottle – the “what” rather than the “how.” What a sharp contrast to the natural foods industry, where certification rather than excellence is what gets you on the shelf.

  9. Peter G

    8 October

    Jeez, Sprudge!

    A little harsh. And also kinda wrong. Lemme correct the record on some things, from my perspective as a participant in the Good Food Awards:

    1. “Whole Foods Funded”- Although Whole Foods is indeed a sponsor, they are not the only one. Gilt Taste, Foodzie, Bi-Rite, Ritual and Sightglass are also sponsors. Why single out Whole Foods? That’s weird.

    2. “ the rules are being changed mid-game again. According to several inside sources, the GFA’s organizers are requiring WAY more documentation than originally indicated in the submission rules.”- This is simply not true. I sat on a task force with a number of other coffee people, we established the rules for this year, the GFA coffee committee approved these rules, and the GFA has executed them EXACTLY as they were originally drafted. I don’t know who your anonymous “insider sources” are, but they have it wrong, and therefore you have it wrong. I’d be happy to detail those rules and the process for you, and I’m sure the others who drafted the rules would too, so you wouldn’t have to cite anonymous, incorrect sources anymore. Plus I’m sure there are lots of people willing to go on the record.

    The rest of your editorial doesn’t make sense. It’s true that coffee is international, and it is difficult to visit farms and evaluate things like agrochemical use. That’s exactly why organic certification is useful, to roasters and consumers alike. Last year, some roasters wound up- either accidentally or otherwise- submitting coffees which had agrochemicals after they had signed an affidavit that the coffe had none. This year’s rules, and the fact that coffee producers are co-applicants to the award, will prevent that from happening. That’s a good thing! What, exactly, is the problem?

    Lastly, I’m not sure what your anonymous quipper has against roasters and Ethiopian farmers shaking hands. I think that’s a good thing too, and I’m glad the Good Food Awards is encouraging that sort of behavior among coffee roasters.

    Peter G

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