Jody Victor On Shade Grown Coffee

Who would have thought coffee would have an impact on the world, let alone our purchasing decisions.  Here are some interesting facts to go with your morning cup of conscience.

Your morning cup of coffee has a big impact on the environment as well as the health of the people who grow it and drink it. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world and Americans drink more than any other nation (350 million cups a day). The average adult drinks more than 10 pounds per year. Our demand for coffee is altering the way commercial coffee is grown.

Traditionally, coffee was grown in the shade of tropical forest canopies. Shade coffee plantations provided habitat for over 250 species of birds and other wildlife. The upper canopy of shade coffee provided plant matter, fruits, nectar and habitats for insect communities. These in turn provided winter food for migratory birds. The canopy also shielded the ecosystem from sun, wind and rain and enabled diverse life to flourish in the under story.

Over the past 20 years there has been a shift by the major coffee companies to clear the forest and grow coffee in full sun. Four out of ten coffee fields in Mexico, Columbia, Central America, and the Caribbean have been converted to “techno” plantations in the last decade. These sun grown coffee fields have negatively affected the environment and wildlife. Studies found 97 percent fewer bird species in sun grown coffee regions. When the habitats of birds are removed there are more pests, which increases the need for more pesticides. Coffee is now one of the most chemically treated food crops on the planet. It is heavily sprayed with chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and fungicides, which are all known to cause major health problems for the growers and the consumers.

Sun grown coffee is cultivated by clear-cutting valuable forest habitat and can only sustain crops for 10 to 15 years. Shade grown coffee is planted, grown and harvested by removing little or no vegetation and using no pesticides. These farms support insects birds love, are comparable to virgin forests in diversity and can support coffee growth for up to 50 years. So if you care about the world’s disappearing forests there are practical actions you can take to protect them. Look for “Shade Grown” coffee on the label and you will know that significantly fewer chemicals were used and that the shade trees provided natural mulch reducing the need for fertilizers. Choose “Organic” coffee, which is grown using methods that have a low impact on the environment without toxic pesticides and fertilizers and supports the quality of life for families living in coffee-growing communities around the world. Buying shade grown and organic coffee may cost a little more but what you’re paying for will be better tasting and much healthier. Plus, your morning cup of coffee will offer peace of mind with it.