This thread is a few months old now, but I feel compelled to add a few words. Here they are.
1. Geoff mentions this, but it bears repeating: there is zero evidence that drinking organic coffees is healthier than non-organic coffees. In fact, there doesn't appear to be any evidence that eating organic ANYTHING is healthier than its non-organic counterpart. Personal health is not a very good reason to choose organic.
2. There is significant evidence that organic agriculture is healthier for ecosystems and farming families than conventional agriculture. This IS a very good reason to choose organic.
3. Certification exists so that farmers who are performing certain practices- like organic farming- can be recognized for it and the market can reward them with higher prices. The only way I know of that a consumer who cares about environmentally-positive farming techniques can communicate their desire through the system is to buy certified coffees.
4. Coffee buyers who make claims about the environmental sustainability of the farms they buy from are treading on very thin ice. Coffee buyers are simply not trained to assess the environmental impact of a farm. Inspectors- like those who work for organic certification agencies- are. This is a real value of certification: an actual expert- and a third party one at that- has assessed the environmental impact of the farm and has certified it to be authentic. I know of only one coffee buyer who has ever gone through serious agricultural assessment training, and she works as an organic inspector on the side and buys only organic certified coffee.
5. There is a myth going around that there are many farms practicing organic techniques but are not certified because of cost. I have visited hundreds of farms in my life and I have never seen even one that fits this description. I have challenged my coffee buying colleagues to show me one and so far I have had no takers.
There are a lot of sensible ideas in Geoff's piece referenced above, but many oft-repeated errors as well. Most of these are addressed in Kim Elena Ionescu's excellent FAQ she created for Counter Culture's "Save Our Soils" campaign, which advocates for organic agriculture:https://counterculturecoffee.com/docs/SaveOurSoil_FAQ_2012.pdf
I'm really concerned about the cynicism about organic agriculture that I've experienced in our community. I even worked alongside a barista recently at a public event who gleefully lied to consumers, telling them the coffee was "grown without chemicals", later admitting laughingly that she actually had no idea.