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Shade Grown Coffee

Photo Group
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Photo by: 
Mary Nemecek

This month’s conservation corner is dedicated to a product rather than a group. During my tenure as Director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Scott Robinson. Scott is one of the most respected ornithologists in the world and his specialty is forest fragmentation and its effect on migratory bird populations. At a seminar he was presenting, he was asked “what is something we as citizens can do to help migratory birds?” Without a hesitation, his response was: “drink shade grown coffee”.

Wow! That was not the answer I’d expected. He explained that during his years of conducting research in Central and South America, the number of birds he had documented using shade grown coffee plantations was phenomenal. Traditional coffee plantation involve clear cutting of huge amounts of timber thus rendering them virtually void of bird life. He noted that many of the birds that utilize the shade plantation were winter birds from North America (Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and many species of warblers).

So why doesn’t everyone drink shade grown coffee? There are a couple of factors. Because the beans are grown in limited sunlight they take longer to grow thus making it less friendly for mass production. Does it cost more? Yes, but there is a tradeoff here. Because the beans stay on the bush so much longer, they are stronger, more concentrated. In fact, most people say that they use half as many beans of the shade grown coffee to get the same “taste” they desire.

Where can you get shade grown coffee? I am now carrying it here at the store, but you can also ask for it wherever you buy coffee. The coffee that I am carrying is, in part, an initiative of the American Birding Association.

Don’t forget to ask for it the next time you are at a specialty coffee shop or grocery store. The more that people ask for it, hopefully the more stores will carry it. The more demand for the product the more rain forest we save.

By Mark McKellar