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. You can roast shade grown coffee as a light, medium or dark roast just like traditional coffee.
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.