Never heard of shade grown coffee before? Don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either until a recent trip to our local zoo. Our usual trips to the zoo are meant to just wear the kids out with a lap around the zoo, saying hi to all of our favorite animal friends. One particular day, however, we got there just in time for their daily “show” to start, so we sat in. It was then that I learned about this type of coffee, also known as bird friendly coffee.
I was so surprised that I had never once heard of this type of coffee before! With all of the animal, specifically bird, books and shows that we consume due my six year old’s obsession, I was surprised it hadn’t come up before. Clearly, there needs to be more awareness of shade grown, bird friendly coffee.
So what is shade grown coffee?
Simply put, shade grown coffee is made from coffee plants grown under a canopy of trees. Sounds pretty simple, right? Simple yet very important. Shade grown is the most traditional type of coffee farming, because it mimics the natural way the coffee plant was meant to grow, under the shade.
Like most things in our world today, there is a push to drive profits higher. Therefore, most coffee farming has turned into sun grown coffee farming. Sun grown coffee produces higher yields as it’s grown in a large field like most other farming crops, and therefore produces a higher profit. According to De La Gente, in Central America, sun cultivation of coffee has led to a 2.5 million acre loss of forest.
But what’s so bad about sun grown coffee?
There are a few main issues with sun grown coffee that should matter to all of us:
- Sun grown coffee farming requires removal of the natural protective barrier of trees. This means a greater number of chemical pesticides must be used to prevent pests and disease.
- Coffee crops that are sun grown are planted at a much higher density. This practice further stresses the surrounding ecosystem. It also increases and incentivizes deforestation.
- Sun grown coffee not only removes the natural habitats of many species of animals, but it also makes it harder and sometimes impossible for birds to travel. Many species of birds can only fly for short distances before they must rest. When large areas of their natural habitat are plowed down to create sun grown coffee fields, it creates an environment they cannot travel through, much less live.
And what’s so good about shade grown, bird-friendly, coffee?
There are many factors that make this traditionally grown coffee the best choice:
- Shade grown coffee farming utilizes several different types and heights of trees. This creates an environment that is ecologically diverse, negating the need for those chemicals to be used.
- By using several different types of trees and plants around the coffee plants, this better way of coffee farming creates an environment that contributes to the ecosystem in a positive way. As a result, it also discourages deforestation.
- The environment that this type of coffee farming produces allows many different varieties of birds, plants, and insects to thrive in its lush growth.
Bird friendly coffee has benefits to the coffee itself, too.
According to a study in Jamaica, researchers found a 70% increase in the infestation of coffee fruits by the Coffee Berry Borer (a small beetle that’s bad for the plants) when birds were excluded from the environment. A study conducted in Mexico showed a 30-64% increase in chewing insects like caterpillars on coffee plants when sun grown.
So there you have it. Not only does shade grown coffee provide a habitat for many bird species, but they also return the favor by protecting the precious plants. Like most other things, the traditional, natural way is best.
What can you do to support bird-friendly coffee?
Simply put, buy it! Every time you purchase coffee make sure it is shade grown. By increasing the demand for this better coffee, and decreasing the demand for sun grown, you will be supporting traditional coffee farming in the best possible way.
How do you make sure your coffee is shade grown?
If you prefer to shop online, you can simply do quick Amazon search, which we have done for you here. If you are shopping in a store, look at your labels. Look for “Shade Grown”, “Bird Friendly Coffee”, or Rainforest Alliance Certified.