Shade Grown Coffee: Why It Matters

CC Flickr photo courtesy of Trees for the Future, a terrific organization.

Coffee has received a bad rap recently because of the adverse environmental effects of many modern coffee plantations. For those of us who enjoy sipping our favorite brew, this is disheartening news. Fortunately, more traditional methods of shaded coffee cultivation are beginning to see use again.

What’s Shade Grown Coffee?

Shade grown coffee is coffee that is grown in the shade of a canopy of trees. This was the traditional method of coffee cultivation in which farmers would plant coffee trees right under the rainforest canopy. In this method, coffee trees add to the ecosystem instead of replacing it.

Modern shade grown coffee can be integrated into forests, but it can also be planted on treeless land. In this case, a variety of trees are planted along with the coffee.

Often as many as 40 species of trees are planted. In addition, the coffee plantation contains numerous species of bushes and plants. In effect, a shade grown coffee plantation provides a whole ecosystem which can create habitat for numerous species.

Benefits of Shade Grown Coffee

The benefits of shade grown coffee are manifold. Since it incorporates a wide array of plants in addition to coffee, a more natural ecology is maintained. This reduces soil degradation and soil runoff, which are common problems with full sun coffee plantations. Another benefit of this natural ecology, is a reduced need for pesticides and fertilizers, which are used in large quantities on full sun coffee crops.

Unlike the more common full sun coffee plantations, shaded coffee provides habitat for many species. In fact, shaded coffee plantations are home to 90% more species of birds than full sun operations. And some of these birds might be the very same you and I see on hot summer days, because they migrate from North America down to prime coffee growing regions.

Shade grown coffee offers more potential for farmers because it can be grown side by side with fruit and nut trees. This provides growers with additional crops to sell, which can be important when coffee prices fluctuate. So although shade grown coffee crops are smaller than full sun crops, they have the added benefit of offering more farming opportunities.

Perhaps one of the most notable advantages of shade grown coffee relates to our current climate crisis. In contrast to most coffee plantations, which result in the deforestation of tropical regions, shade grown plantations increase the number of oxygen producing trees. These plantations help to offset our carbon emissions, and they go along way toward reversing global warming.

So the next time you go grocery shopping, look for shade grown coffee. You’ll be supporting an environmentally friendly growing approach, and you’ll be helping in the fight against global warming. The more of us who make the switch to shade grown coffee, the more farmers will adopt this sustainable, environmentally friendly farming practice.

Eco Travel Idea: Rent an Earthship

CC Flickr photo courtesy of marvins_dad

Experience the ultimate in eco friendly winter vacations and enjoy a stay at an Earthship in Taos, New Mexico. An Earthship is above and beyond the typical environmentally sustainable built home and the ultimate in energy-efficient and eco-friendly design.

These 100 percent sustainably built structures include off-grid power, geothermal heating and cooling, rainwater collection systems and on-site natural waste water treatment facilities, creating the ultimate eco-friendly winter home vacation.

Originally designed in 1972 by architect Mike Reynolds, the Earthship Biotecture design incorporates six basic elements that sets the Earthship apart from any conventionally built “green” home on the market today. Because Earthships use naturally occurring resources like sunlight and geothermal mass, they make the perfect getaway for wintertime fun without using any fossil fuels to heat the structure during winter.

Renting an Earthship for your perfect winter vacation is as easy as making an online reservation.

One of three rentals at Earthship Biotecture, the “Phoenix” Earthship is a three bedroom, two bathroom gorgeous Earthship rental, complete with an indoor waterfall and jungle that is simply breathtaking.

But don’t bother looking for a thermostat to adjust the heat—there isn’t one! This Earthship is naturally heated and cooled with geothermal energy, so you’ll be snug and toasty without burning any polluting fossil fuels to heat the home. Rental fees for this eco-vacation home start at $120 a night.

The Corner Cottage is another Earthship that rents for $160 a night and includes a two bedroom, one bath design with a huge double atrium overlooking the scenic Taos Valley This gorgeous rental provides stunning examples of the recycled materials used to create the Earthship. Colored wine bottles and old appliance metal create a clever and attractive way to recycle waste materials into building materials.

A smaller but more eclectic and colorful Earthship—aptly named the “Studio”—rents for $135 a night and is the perfect place for a couple to get away from it all. Or not. All three Earthships for rent are located in the Taos Ski Valley, home to some of the best skiing resorts in the nation.

After staying in an Earthship, you may find your interests exceed the vacation and you find you’re in the market to buy an eco-friendly home. Buying an Earthship isn’t difficult; in fact many different models are for sale around the United States.

Whether you occupy and Earthship one night or every night, it helps all of us on this fragile planet conserve the resources we have now and ones for future generations to come.

Ever stayed in an Earthship or lived in one? Leave a comment and tell us what you thought!

Eric Brennan is a second generation master carpenter with over 20 years of construction industry experience. Since 2005, Eric has also been a hard at work honing his skills as a home improvement writer. In 2009, he was given the Associated Content award for best home improvement writer. Eric is currently a featured green and home improvement writer for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and editor of Construct101. He has produced thousands of articles on everything construction, remodeling, interior decorating, green building, and many other home improvement related fields for countless websites and blogs including the DIY network, P&G Tide, DeWalt.com, AT&T, Huffington Post, and Yahoo! News.

Earthship Videos: A Roundup of the Best

Earthships are the ultimate in sustainably built homes that consume zero-energy and zero resources. They can be built in any climate, in any area of the world and all using sustainable building methods that cost as much as a conventionally built home. Besides saving money with utility-free living, they also save the planet from the unsustainably built, energy hogging homes of most average Americans live in. If you’re interested in changing the way you live, then take a look at these six life changing videos about Earthships.

The Green Home Source Visits Earthship Biotecture

If you’re unfamiliar with what Earthship constructions all about, then this video will bring you up to speed. The walk through of an Earthship built by the architect Mike Reynolds, who coined the term “Earthship”, was done by the Green Home Source at Taos, New Mexico in a beautifully built Earthship. The host explains the four pillars of a green building program and how an Earthship is better by being “Deep Green”.

Texas Earthship Tour: Finishing Touches

This Earthship video gets into more detail about the finishing stages of assembly and the engineering solutions that make an Earthship so energy efficient. Several workers explain how the roof assembly functions triple duty as a water barrier, a water collector and as a geothermal ventilation opening. The tour continues on as busy workers install flagstones, build wine bottle walls and assemble greywater equipment, showing you the finer details that go into building an Earthship.

Fishing in the Phoenix Earthship

Another cool video that shows you how an Earthship goes further than any eco-friendly home in the world with its unique water treatment facility. This Earthship actually feeds you as the young man in the video demonstrates. Upon catching a fish from the indoor water reclamation pond, they clean it and cook it along with a handful of edible herbs and fruits from the indoor garden.

Earthship Biotecture: The Hut

A great in depth explanation by architect Mike Reynolds that sets the tone when he utters the phrase “A beaver and wasp can build their own homes, but we can’t and there is something wrong with that”. As Reynolds goes into the true meaning about his Earthship vision, a couple builds the smallest of Earthships, the basic hut. Complete instructions are given during this extra long 20+ minute video.

Our Mini Earthship

Skip across the pond to jolly England when this young crew builds a mini Earthship. Building this smaller version of an Earthship would be a great way to get acquainted with Earthship construction before building the real deal. This crew quickly builds a small Earthship, showing you how easy it is to build your own Earthship, anywhere in the world.

“Earthships New Solutions” Official Trailer

This video is the official trailer for the movie “Earthships New Solutions” and shows a glimpse of what it takes for the crew from Earthship Biotecture to complete one of the most eco-friendly structures on the planet. This documentary is bound to inspire change in the building industry about the construction of Earthships.

These are our favorites. Did we miss any good videos? Leave a comment and let us know.

Eric Brennan is a second generation master carpenter with over 20 years of construction industry experience. Since 2005, Eric has also been a hard at work honing his skills as a home improvement writer. In 2009, he was given the Associated Content award for best home improvement writer. Eric is currently a featured green and home improvement writer for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and editor of Construct101. He has produced thousands of articles on everything construction, remodeling, interior decorating, green building, and many other home improvement related fields for countless websites and blogs including the DIY network, P&G Tide, DeWalt.com, AT&T, Huffington Post, and Yahoo! News.

Review Roundup: 2011 Audi A3 Clean Diesel TDI

2011 Audi A3 TDI clean diesel car

The USA is a big country: there’s 9,826,000 square miles, and 307 million people. By comparison, Europe covers just 3,930,000 miles, yet there’s 852 million people there. Cram that many more people into an area that’s a third the size of the U.S., and you could see where size would become an issue – especially when it comes to parking a car.

That’s one reason why small hatchbacks are so popular over there. They’re easy to park, they have lots of room, and they get great gas mileage. Which is important too, because gas can cost up to $8 per gallon in some parts of Europe.

So, if you lived over there, the most logical car to buy would be a diesel hatchback. But that sounds even more boring to take on the road than a base-model Prius – or does it?

The 2011 Audi A3 TDI is a luxury version of the popular Euro diesel hatchback and, named the 2010 Green Car of the Year, has become a strong seller in the U.S. It has standard leather, the S Line exterior pack with spoilers, badges and 17-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, and of course, an economical 2.0 TDI engine.

But the diesel found in this Audi is a far cry from the noisy, stinky clatter-box that most Americans used to assume they would be getting. This 2.0 liter, direct-injected (called Common Rail in diesel-speak) oil burner is both responsive, and earth-friendly. Also found in the Volkswagen Jetta/Golf TDI, this engine uses a vapor trap to capture NOx emissions, then it routes them back to the engine to be re-burned during combustion. As a result, the Audi A3 TDI emits just 0.07 grams of NOx per mile, which is quite impressive for a diesel.

Besides the cleanliness and the fuel economy (30/42 MPG), this TDI produces enough torque to provide satisfying acceleration. Rated at 140-hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, this engine can propel the A3 TDI from 0-60 in just 8.9 seconds – that’s not bad for what’s basically an economy car. You can have a green, economical car that’s not terrible to drive.

And what’s more, since Audi is a luxury brand, you can outfit your A3 TDI with all sorts of goodies. There’s a Sport Package with 18-inch wheels and a stiffer suspension, a Convenience Package with upgraded BOSE audio, automatic lights, wipers and (dimming) mirrors, and parking sensors (in case you can’t drive), a Cold Weather Pack with heated seats, mirrors and washer nozzles, a Bluetooth Pack, a twin-pane sunroof, Navigation, rear-side airbags, and a broad assortment of interior and exterior trim packages.

By the time you add on all of the options, the 2011 Audi A3 TDI can get pretty expensive, especially when you consider that it has the same chassis and engine as the VW Golf/Jetta TDI. Some consumers writing on Edmunds.com feel that, for the price, Audi scrimped on some basic features and risks missing their target market. (The fact that the A3 TDI does not come with standard transmission or the fabled Audi Quattro AWD turns off some potential buyers from the get-go.)

Others say that doesn’t detract from its overall smooth handling and responsiveness, and that the Audi A3 TDI is a real step up from their other economy cars. And, besides, studies show that diesel cars easily recoup their initially high price tag – they have a lower “total cost of ownership” thanks to better fuel economy and resale value.

Do you own an Audi A3 clean diesel?

If so, leave a comment and tell us what you think about it, and what kind of gas mileage you’re getting in the real world.

Teddy Field got his start in the auto industry at the age of 17. He is a recognized car dealer sales & management consultant, an automotive journalist, and a regular contributor to http://www.bestcardealsnewyork.com.

Best Gas Mileage 2011 Diesel Pickups and SUVs

Looking for a list of the most fuel efficient diesel pickup and SUV models in the US market that get the best gas mileage? You’ve come to the right place.

Americans love their SUVs.

They’re tall, so mom has a commanding view of the road, and they’re big enough to haul a team of soccer players, complete with their gear. (If you’re single, they’re big enough for your dogs/mountain bikes/entire Star Wars collection). Plus, some of them can even go off road (handy if the soccer field gets wet).

Pickup trucks are equally popular with Americans, but usually for more practical reasons. They can go from the jobsite to the football field and still look good. You can go through all sorts of terrain, while carrying massive amounts of…whatever. In fact, those Super-Duper Duty ones can even tow trains and jumbo jets.

But the one thing that neither of these kinds of vehicles are good at is getting good fuel mileage – just look at some scary MPG stats from dedicated truck owners. Until now, that is.

More and more consumers are demanding an alternative to expensive, gas burning engines, which is one reason that hybrids have become so popular. However, some schools of thought suggest that mining for the raw materials used in a hybrid battery can cause even more environmental damage than the emissions from a diesel.

With an eye on US environmental regulations, many European car makers are designing diesel engines that will comply with our strict emission rules.

American automakers are getting on the diesel bandwagon too, by offering more powerful and efficient diesel engines in their most popular trucks.

But sadly, there isn’t much of a selection yet.

For diesel powered SUVs, there’s the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI, the 2011 BMW X5 xDrive35d, the 2011 Audi Q7 TDI and the Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC.

Although these are expensive, they are luxury SUVs. Don’t forget, “what you see on today’s luxury car, will be standard on tomorrow’s base model”. So, think of these as a sign of things to come.

2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Sport

Base price: $47,950

Engine: 3.0 liter V6 TDI – 225-hp – 406 lb-ft torque – AWD

Fuel Economy: 19/28

Fuel Tank Capacity: 26.4 gallons

Greenhouse Gasses Emitted per Year: 7.66 (tons)

Highlights: Standard navigation, leather, xeon headlights, rear-view camera, Bluetooth/iPod, 18-inch wheels.

2011 Mercedes Benz ML350 BlueTEC

Base price: $50,490

Engine: 3.0 liter V6 TDI – 210-hp – 400 lb-ft torque – AWD

Fuel Economy: 18/25

Fuel Tank Capacity: 25.1 gallons

Greenhouse Gasses Emitted per Year: 8.02 (tons)

Highlights: The Mercedes doesn’t offer much in the way of standard equipment. So, if you want one that has leather and navigation, you’re going to have to order the Leather Package for $1,780, & the Premium 1 package for $4,000. Otherwise, you’re going to get vinyl seats and a steering wheel…for Fifty-Grand.

2011 Audi Q7 TDI Premium

Base price: $51,450

Engine: 3.0 liter V6 TDI – 225-hp – 406 lb-ft torque – AWD

Fuel Economy: 17/25

Fuel Tank Capacity: 26.4 gallons

Greenhouse Gasses Emitted per Year: 8.42 (tons)

Highlights: Standard leather, LED tail lights, parking sensors, heated seats, power tailgate, Bluetooth/iPod, 19-inch wheels & 7-passenger seating.

2011 BMW X5 xDrive35d

Base price: $51,800

Engine: 3.0 liter inline-6 TDI – 265-hp – 425 lb-ft torque – AWD

Fuel Economy: 19/26

Fuel Tank Capacity: 22.5 gallons

Greenhouse Gasses Emitted per Year: 7.66 (tons)

Highlights: Standard navigation, leather, rear-seat TV system, satellite radio, head-up display, parking sensors.

 

Diesel trucks

Diesel powered pickups are limited to the Ford SuperDuty, the Chevrolet HD, and the Dodge 2500/3500. However, these are ¾ ton – 1 ton trucks.

None of the popular ½ ton models are available with a diesel engine. And, none of the ¾ ton (and up) trucks are required to have their fuel mileage certified by the EPA.

This is because they’re considered to be commercial vehicles. Plus, there’s a mind-boggling array of mechanical options (like axle ratios, transmissions, etc.) which can effect the fuel mileage.

Since there are no official MPG numbers for these trucks, the fuel mileages listed below are based on owner accounts, and can vary based on the model, and chosen equipment.

The base prices listed are for a ¾ ton, regular cab, 2WD with an automatic transmission, diesel engine, and standard equipment. Once you start adding on the options, these diesel pickups can eclipse $40,000 real quick.

2011 Ram 2500/3500

Base price: $27,450

Engine: 6.7 liter inline-6 TDI – 350-hp – 650 lb-ft torque – RWD

Fuel Economy: 13-15 mpg (est)

Fuel Tank Capacity: 34 gallons

NOx Gas Emitted per Mile: 0.2 grams

Highlights: The Cummins diesel in these Ram trucks uses special chambers to collect polluting gasses, then the system heats up, burning off the pollutants. Here, some tips for drivers tailored to the Dodge owner.

2011 Ford F250 / F350 / F450 / F550 SuperDuty

Base price: $36,340

Engine: 6.7 liter V8 TDI – 400-hp – 800 lb-ft torque – RWD

Fuel Economy: 15/22 (est)

Fuel Tank Capacity: 37.5 gallons

NOx Gas Emitted per Mile: 0.2 grams

Highlights: Ford’s Power Stroke diesel uses an injector to spray urea into the exhaust. The heat from the exhaust turns the urea to ammonia, which then turns the NOx gasses into nitrogen gas, and water inside of a specially designed catalytic convertor. Drivers are already reporting first-hand on higher MPG here and here.

 

2011 Chevrolet 2500HD / 3500HD

Base price: $37,355

Engine: 6.6 liter V8 TDI – 397-hp – 765 lb-ft torque – RWD

Fuel Economy: 13/19 (est)

Fuel Tank Capacity: 36 gallons

NOx Gas Emitted per Mile: 0.2 grams

Highlights: Chevrolet’s Duramax diesel uses a similar urea injection system as Ford’s Power Stroke diesel.

But regardless of how you look at the high initial cost, you still wind up with a vehicle that gets good fuel mileage for its class, and that’s a real boon with predicted gas hikes what they are. Plus, the long-term reliability of diesel engines is better established and proven than the more complicated hybrid.

Teddy Field got his start in the auto industry at the age of 17. He is a recognized car dealer sales & management consultant, an automotive journalist, and a regular contributor to http://www.bestcardealsnewyork.com.