This entry is courtesy of Oatland Island Wildlife Center staff, Michelle Kelly
As you wake up these next few weeks and notice slightly cooler mornings, invoking the spirit of fall; North American summer resident birds will be passing outside your window, making their arduous trip south for the winter in search of food resources. If you are like me and cherish a warm cup of coffee in the morning while watching the morning zugunruhe (restless movement of the birds, prepping for migration) then you must read on. The two are deeply interconnected.
Our choice of coffee that we buy indirectly affects thousands of acres of tropical rainforest each day. Naturally coffee (Coffea arabica) is an understory, shade-tolerant tree native to Ethiopia, and a close relative to Gardenia. Shade tolerant means it will grow under a forested canopy; in forests that will support food webs and habitats for migratory birds such as northern orioles, scarlet tanagers and hermit thrushes. One study showed that a shade grown coffee plantation in Mexico supported 150 species of birds and its sun-grown counterpart supported between 94-97% fewer bird species. It has been documented that many other species of wildlife including endangered species live in these forested coffee plantations. Shade grown coffee farms have been inventoried with findings in excess of 600 species of insects and spiders. How is that for winter food resources? Not only that, traditional shade-grown coffee production results in more flavorful coffee beans due to a slower ripening process. We sacrifice all these benefits because of the great global demand on coffee. We want it fast and cheap. Clearing the land and growing coffee in full sun produces 1/3 more fruit. This increase in crop yield means more profit for the farmer in the short-term; but this monoculture of sun-grown plants requires intensive use of commercial pesticides and chemical fertilizers in order to manage and sustain these depleted forests. A study has shown that in some places farmers use a pound of chemicals for every pound of sun-grown coffee, thereby awarding it the superlative of most chemically intensive crop on the planet!
If we stand in support of the preservation of wildlife and the vitality of the planet then we must give our financial commitment to farmers that grow coffee under a forest canopy. Stand in support of farmers who are not clearing their fields to bump up crop yield, but who are offering our summer bird residents healthy and vital forests to return to in the fall. Shade grown coffee may cost a few more dollars, but isn't it worth the price to relax into the morning with your cup of coffee while hearing the ebullient singing from songbirds outside your window? Wanna wake up and save the songbirds? Look for these logos on coffee packages and make a difference!