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.

Types of Organic Coffee, An Overview

CC Flickr photo courtesy of grimmnitz.

If you’re worried about pesticides, there are plenty of organic options for the foods we eat. Organic coffee is no exception.  Organic coffee is grown in a healthy manner that is beneficial to consumers and to our precious ecosystem.  Keep reading to learn about the various coffee certifications and what each one means.

Organic Coffee

Organic coffee is coffee that is grown according to modern organic farming standards.  In order to gain organic certification, farmers must ensure that the land they are using has been free of synthetic pesticides and other prohibited chemicals for at least three years.  This ensures that their organic crops will not contain potentially harmful chemicals from past crops, which may have used pesticides.

In addition to being chemical free, growers must have a plan in place for crop rotation.  Crop rotation provides a way to keep the soil from degrading.  It is also a sufficient means for combating pests without the use of synthetic pesticides.

Fair Trade Coffee

Fair trade coffee is a type of coffee that is purchased directly from growers.  Fair trade certification ensures that growers are protected and it gives consumers a way of knowing that they are supporting healthy business relationships.  Coffee that isn’t fair trade could potentially be produced in unethical circumstances, but isn’t necessarily.

For instance, some coffee plantations have used child labor.  Other plantations have paid workers unfair wages or didn’t respect human rights.  Buying coffee that is certified fair trade is a way to ensure that you are supporting positive community development and not encouraging unethical practices.

Shade Grown Coffee

Most of the negative environmental effects of coffee plantations are due to the practice of growing full sun coffee.  In contrast, shade grown coffee can have a positive impact on the environment. Shade grown farms consist of coffee and an assortment of other trees.  These other trees provide a canopy above the coffee plantation.

Shade grown plantations resemble a natural forest, and they may contain as many as 40 species of trees.  The diverse ecosystem of a shade grown plantation helps to maintain soil quality and reduce pest problems.  Shade grown coffee plantations also provide habitat for native species, especially birds, and they increase the production of oxygen and uptake of carbon dioxide, which is especially important given the current state of climate change.

Making a Difference When You Choose Coffee Beans

Over the last several decades, modern farming practices used without regard for the environment or health of consumers has led to disastrous consequences.  Fortunately, as consumers we can make a difference by purchasing products which are produced in an ethical and healthy manner.

Organic, fair trade, and shade grown coffees might cost a little more, but by purchasing them you can help to make a difference and ensure that coffee cultivation is here to stay — and that’s good news for those of us who can’t go without our daily coffee.

I’ll admit that I don’t always stick to organic or shade grown or fair trade coffees. I’ve been using the Aeropress coffee maker at my house lately, and it makes totally amazing coffee. It only makes one cup at a time, but it’s worth it.

What’s your favorite coffee type? Leave a comment!

Coffee and the environment, and what you can do

guy in coffee cup suit

Love drinking coffee but concerned about the environment? Coffee has earned a reputation as a crop which is not particularly eco-friendly. Concerns about soil degradation, deforestation, pesticide use, and water quality have become commonplace. Yet westerners continue to drink one cup of coffee for every two cups of water consumed– and that’s a lot of coffee! Fortunately, we coffee consumers do have environmentally friendly options.

Coffee and the Environment

Coffee wasn’t always harmful to the environment. Once upon a time, coffee was sensitive to the sun and grown under the shade of forest canopies where it required fewer pesticides, less water, and it added to the habitat. However, increased demand for coffee led to more efficient growing methods, which didn’t treat the environment so kindly.

The use of fertilizers increases the yield of coffee, but only when grown in full sun. Soon coffee was adapted to full sun growing, and the natural canopies that once provided shade were altogether removed. This led to the rapid deforestation of coffee growing nations. Unfortunately, much of the world’s coffee is grown in the rainforest regions of the world. Full-sun plantations have a devastating impact on the local ecosystem. Indeed, these plantations support 90% fewer species of birds than shade-grown coffee plantations.

In addition to deforestation, coffee production leads to soil degradation and environmental damages from pesticides and fertilizers. Full sun coffee plantations require enormous amounts of chemicals compared to shade-grown plantations. For instance, Colombia, where most coffee is full-sun, uses roughly 400,000 tons of chemical fertilizers annually. These chemicals can have a negative impact on the farmers that use them too.

One of the least environmentally friendly approaches to coffee cultivation involves razing the landscape of all plants (sometimes using toxic herbicides) and then planting coffee. After the soil is completely degraded, the operation is abandoned and moved to a new location. This process of migratory coffee plantations leaves behind a wake of degraded land, which is unsuitable for wildlife or other crops.

What You Can Do

The negative effect coffee production has on the environment is a result of coffee’s high demand coupled with careless consumer choices. But don’t worry, you don’t need to give up on coffee yet. As coffee consumers, the choices we make when purchasing coffee have an impact on the production methods employed and how coffee cultivation affects the earth.

Not all coffee is bad for the environment. There are organic coffee options, which are free of chemicals. Shade grown coffees are a better alternative to the more common full sun variety. And fair trade coffees guarantee farmers aren’t being taken advantage of. These coffees cost a little more, but that’s because it’s cheaper to destroy forests, plant coffee in the sun, and douse it with chemicals.

We’ll be covering the topic of coffee and the environment more thoroughly in future posts. So stay tuned so you can learn more about coffee production techniques– the good and the bad– and how you can support positive coffee growing practices while still enjoying that fresh-brewed cup of joe.

What is your coffee situation? Do you drink it? And if so, what kind? Fair trade? Organic? Regular? Let us know in the comments!

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