for Change donates a percentage of sales to the Northwest
Shade Coffee Campaign, a project of the Seattle Audubon Society.
Why Shade Grown Coffee Is Important
Written by Grounds
for Change for ENN.com
A shade grown coffee farmer stands in his
coffee plot laced with orange, avocado, lime and scattered
high-canopy trees. Birdsong rains down from above and the
rustle of animals in the twigs and fallen leaves surrounds
him on all sides. Dappled sunlight filters down and glints
off the glossy green leaves of his mature coffee shrubs.
This vision is in sharp contrast to the
sun-baked, acidified soil and relative silence found on standard
full-sun coffee plantations, which must clear-cut the forest
and use large quantities of toxic fertilizers and pesticides
to keep their full-sun coffee productive.
Coffee is a shade-loving shrub and naturally-occurring
varieties can only be cultivated under a canopy of shade trees.
What we now refer to as "shade grown coffee" was
the only way coffee was cultivated until 25 years ago, when
new full-sun hybrids were developed that produced substantially
higher yields for coffee farmers and allowed the creation
of massive agribusiness-style plantations, which were not
economically viable prior to this time.
The increased yields of full-sun coffee
come at the expense of the environment, the flavor of the
coffee itself and of migratory bird populations, which have
been decimated in the last 25 years.
Clear-cutting the forest for full-sun plantations increases
soil erosion and deadly mudslides and the chemicals used to
support the growth of full-sun hybrids produce toxic run-off
and acidify the soil. Needless to say, biodiversity on these
plantations is negligible. Shade grown coffee shrubs live
twice as long and the shade trees generate natural mulch,
which means less replanting and less need for chemical fertilizers.
Experts agree that the flavor of shade grown coffee is superior
to that of full-sun coffee and that it is significantly less
bitter. Shade grown coffee shrubs mature more slowly and produce
fewer coffee cherries so the flavor is more concentrated and
mellowed in the resulting harvest.
The plight of migratory birds is frequently identified with
shade grown coffee because shade grown coffee farms are small
ecosystems, second only to tropical rainforests in terms of
biodiversity. These farms act as an oasis for over 150 species
of migratory birds whose populations have declined 50% in
just the last 25 years, primarily due to habitat destruction
caused by full-sun coffee plantations, which have 95% fewer
bird species than their shaded counterparts.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The more shade grown coffee is demanded by consumers, the
more economic incentive there is for farmers to replant shade
trees and slow the destruction caused by full-sun coffee.
By purchasing shade grown coffee, you send a message to coffee
farmers that there is economic viability in returning to traditional
methods of coffee cultivation and you also send a message
to coffee retailers that you are willing to pay a little more
for a superior product that is much less damaging to the environment
and migratory birds.