Standing in line at the local coffee shop, many of us can now talk about coffee blends like wine tasters discuss vintages. But did you know one of the most important issues about coffee is unknown even by many coffee enthusiasts? It affects the flavor of the beans, songbirds, coffee growers, and the lives of children. Best of all, we can make the difference simply by what we choose to pour in our morning cup.
The Secret of Clear-Cut Coffee
It started decades ago. Before the 1960s, most coffee grew slowly on shaded hillsides. But when industry focus switched from quality to low cost, many canned brands began blending in cheaper, bitterer beans. To compete, many high quality coffee bean growers responded by clear-cutting the trees on their shaded farms to grow beans faster in full sun. The result was a sacrifice in flavor – but that was just the start.
Those trees provided homes for migratory birds. As avid birders and official reports can tell you, U.S. bird populations are in decline. Research shows a component of that loss is clear-cut coffee farms that give homes to 94 percent fewer bird species compared to traditional shade farms .
And it’s not just birds getting the short end of the branch. Birds and other wildlife on traditional shade farms ate crop pests. Fallen leaves from the trees provided natural mulch and fertilizer. Trees also gave farmers additional crops and a fuel source from annual pruning. Without these benefits, farmers had to buy pesticide and fertilizer. Children picking coffee with their shorter arms complained of the chemicals burning their faces.
Sipping the Solution
Here’s the good news. As Americans, we drink about a third of the world’s coffee. Armed with this knowledge, our purchasing choices can help reverse the trend begun decades ago and shift how coffee is grown in a positive way.
To maximize the benefits of your morning cup, look for shade-grown (or bird-friendly) coffee – even better if you can team that up with fair trade and organic certifications. Shade returns the trees. Organic keeps plants chemical free which is good for the children in the fields and for us. And fair trade certifications mean farmers were paid an honest wage giving young children a better chance to be in school and not picking our coffee.
And that change is already happening across the country because of consumer demand. Both in stores and online, shade-grown coffee is much easier to find now than years ago when we first started serving shade-grown coffee at Naples Zoo as well as telling the story through educational graphics, conservation brochures, and our website. Beyond birds, those shade trees provide homes and wildlife corridors between forests for animals like those seen in the Zoo’s new South American area including giant anteaters, two-toed sloths, and the critically endangered cotton-top tamarins.
And when you come to see these wildlife wonders at the Zoo, you’re doing even more to reforest our planet. As a nonprofit Naples Zoo is not operated by city, county, or state taxes, we rely on visitors, members, and donors to support our conservation and education mission, which includes planting over 100,000 trees each year in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
So try some shade-grown coffee and feel great about waking up to a world that’s better for farmers, children, wildlife – and your taste buds. To learn more about coffee and birds, visit www. napleszoo.org/coffee and join our conservation partners and us at the Zoo for International Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 3.