Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri December 30, 2011

Coffee for the Birds

Have you heard about coffee that's for the birds? There definitely is such a thing: shade-grown coffee. Until recently that's how all coffee grew: in the shade on small family farms. Canopy trees above provided shade along with a natural leaf mulch that kept soil moist, prevented soil erosion, and decomposed to provide nutrients. The canopy typically included fruit and nut trees that provided food for the farm family.

Twenty years ago, researchers from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center found that shade-grown coffee farms also provide habitat for birds and other wildlife second only to undisturbed tropical forests. They also found that those forests are being cleared to create large, single-crop coffee plantations. Sun-baked rows of coffee shrubs aggressively pushed for maximum yield.

Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and irrigation are all required when coffee production works against nature, not with. No Baltimore orioles sing from the treetops in sun-grown coffee plantations. There are no treetops!

To support traditional family-run coffee farms, the Smithsonian developed a Bird-Friendly© certification process. Certified Organic and Fair Trade coffees are easily found and it's a very good bet that these coffees are shade grown. As for price, shade-grown fits in the middle of the specialty coffees: not the cheapest; not the most expensive. 

It's a price a growing number of people here in New Hampshire and far beyond are willing to pay—for birds including Baltimore orioles whose numbers are in steady decline; for family farms and a fair wage; and for the health of soil and water.