Archive for October 13th, 2009

Coffee growing under rainforest canopy

Coffee growing under rainforest canopy

The coffee shrub is native to the rainforests of Ethiopia. Introduced to Brazil by the mid-1700s, coffee plantations today cover an estimated 7 million acres in the northern Neotropics from Columbia and Brazil to Mexico. Traditionally, coffee has been grown on the side of mountains, where it thrives in the shade of trees and provides habitat for both native species and wintering migratory birds.

In the 1930s, ornithologist Ludlow Griscom noted that the birds found in shaded coffee plantations varied little from those found in undisturbed forest. Since then, studies have confirmed that not only birds, but also mammals, reptiles, and insects thrive on shade coffee plantations. As rainforest in the Neotropics continues to disappear, shade coffee plantations have become a vital resource for birds and other wildlife.

Sun-grown coffee plantation (Photo credit: wikipedia)

Sun-grown coffee plantation (Photo credit: wikipedia)

But coffee grows slowly. Coffee bushes take 3 to 4 years to mature. Over the last 20 years, coffee growers have been replacing traditional varieties with new, high yielding, sun-tolerant varieties. Full-sun farming requires the removal of the forest and replaces it with a virtual biological desert. Without the forest birds to eat insects, and decaying materials to feed the plants, sun-grown coffee requires the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers. At least half of the coffee grown in the Neotropics has been converted to full sun. You can read more about coffee plantations at Coffee and Conversation.


Buying shade-grown coffee is probably the most important thing you can do to help save the rainforest and protect migratory birds. A number of brands of certified shade-grown coffee are readily available. Many of the grocery stores in southern Ontario carry Kicking Horse coffee in their organic section. When you drink a cup of shade-grown, organic, fair-trade coffee, you are getting your day off to a good start! You can practically feel the glow of a halo as you contribute to these important causes! All by enjoying a great cup of coffee! What could be better?


Fair trade and organic coffees are not necessarily shade-grown. Look for the shade-grown certification to be certain. If you can’t find shade grown coffee in your local supermarket, try specialty stores and organic foodstuff sellers. You can also purchase shade-grown coffee easily online.
Some other brands I found locally include the following:


Foodsmiths coffee is packaged for a local organics store by Creemore Coffee Company. You can buy shade-grown coffee directly from Creemore Coffee at creemorecoffee.com.


You can buy shade-grown coffee from Salt Spring Coffee at saltspringcoffee.com.

Another online source is Birds and Beans Coffee.

Still drinking instant??? Most instant coffee is made from the poorest, sun-grown beans. If you purchase an inexpensive one-cup or small-pot coffeemaker, brewing the real thing is very fast. You can enjoy a better cup of coffee and help the birds with a minimum effort. Wake up and smell the coffee!

The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) is a migratory bird seen around Willow House in the summer that is often found on shade-grown coffee plantations in the winter.

The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) is a bird seen around Willow House in the summer that is often found on shade-grown coffee plantations in the winter.

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