Friday, June 25, 2010

Shade Grown Coffee

Would you like to enjoy your morning coffee and protect songbirds? Did you know that wildlife habitat is replaced by coffee plantations and that songbird populations across South & North America are declining?

In the past all coffee was grown in the shade because it was naturally intolerant of direct sunlight. Coffee plants needed the rainforest canopy to provide them with sun-filtered light. When the leaves fall from these trees they gave the plants beneficial nutrients and mulched the soil to retain moisture. The shade trees also provided habitat for songbirds. This was a sustainable method of growing coffee that didn’t require chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.

A new hybrid coffee plant was introduced in 1972 which could produce higher yields, smaller beans which were easier to harvest and could be grown in direct sunlight. The consequences of the introduction of this new hybrid is that 60% of the 6 million acres of coffee lands have been stripped of shade trees. These new hybrids are also dependent on large doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Water runoff, soil depletion and erosion caused many producers to clear large tracts of rainforest so they could have new soil to grow coffee.

The loss of all these shade trees has caused an estimated 20% decline in migratory bird populations in the last 10 years because of habitat loss. This loss can be felt as far as 1500 miles away from the coffee plantations.

Sales of eco-friendly organically grown shade coffee only represents $30 million or 1% of the market here in the United States.

What are the benefits for buying shade grown coffee?

-Provides bird habitat and greater biodiversity--150 species of birds have been identified on shade grown coffee farms.

-Healthier--Along with tobacco, coffee is sprayed with more chemicals than any other product consumed by humans.

-Taste--Coffee beans mature at a slower rate in the shade which causes natural sugars to increase which enhances the flavor of the coffee.

-Promotes Healthy Environment--Coffee that is grown in the shade requires little or no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. The trees filter carbon dioxide from out atmosphere and aids in soil moisture retention which helps cut down erosion.

-Helps Sustain Rainforests--Rainforests are being destroyed to provide fresh ground to grow coffee plants.

How to buy shade grown coffee:

Look for the wording “shade grown” on the coffee package. The country of origin can also be an indicator as to whether the coffee is shade grown. Coffees which are produced in El Salvador, Peru, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, southern Mexico, Sumatra, Timor, New Guinea and Ethiopia are primarily shade grown. Coffees from Brazil, Costa Rica and Columbia are usually sun coffees but there are a few shade grown farms in these areas.

Look for certification seals on the coffee which indicates it has been inspected and grown as shade coffee. Rainforest Alliance & Bird Friendly (see pictures) ensures you that the coffee has been produced in a diverse forest-like environment. The Bird Friendly certification also requires the coffee has to be organic.

Shade grown coffee is more expensive....$8-12 per pound, but they are far less costly to our environment.

Another benefit of shade grown coffee is they are usually fair-trade products. Fair trade is a social movement and market based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries obtain better trading conditions and promote sustainability. It advocates the payment of a higher price to producers along with social and environmental standards.

Where to buy shade grown coffee:

These coffees can be purchased online and more stores (Whole Foods, Target) are selling them too.

Audubon Premium Shade Grown Coffee: This coffee is bought directly from farmers at above market prices on long-term contracts. They also spend money on nutrition, health and educational programs. They also build medical clinics and schools in the communities where their partner farmers live. If you join their coffee club they will plant a native tree on their organic coffee farm.

Starbucks Organic Shade Grown Mexico: The only shade grown coffee I could find in Starbucks huge line of coffees...I find that disappointing.

Cafe Mam 100% Organic & Fair Trade Coffee: This coffee is grown by fair trade cooperatives of native Mayan farmers living in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala.

Birds & Beans- 5% of sales are donated to leading bird conservations groups.

Caribou Coffee-Currently 80% of their coffee is Rainforest Alliance Certified. By the end of 2011 all of their coffee will be 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Peace Coffee-They have a green headquarters in Minneapolis, MN. They pride themselves on evolving how they do business while staying true to their passion for good coffee and thriving local communities everywhere they do business. I have bought this coffee for my friend Gwen and she loves it.

Equal Exchange: Fairly Traded Coffee, Tea & Chocolate: They partner with co-operatives of farmers who provide high quality organic teas, coffee, chocolates from all over the world and the United States. I have tried their chocolate bars and they are excellent!

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