The Joys of Sustainable Coffee

Mmmm...nothing like a warm cup of coffee to get you going in the morning. But does your coffee come at an enormous cost? We're not just talking pocketbook here, we're talking environment.

The beginnings of coffee-growing were quaint and quite non-destructive. For over 150 years, coffee was grown under the shade of canopy trees in the rainforest. In the 1970's a new, high-output method of growing coffee was introduced, in which the shade trees and everything else around was cut and cleared so that coffee plants could be planted densely and doused with pesticides and other agrochemicals. This produced more product for the growers, but has sacrificed generations of wildlife that have suffered at the hands of habitat-loss.

Sustainable methods of coffee-growing, in which canopy trees and original forest is kept intact and coffee is planted in their midst, is actually beneficial to the environment and to wildlife. Biodiversity is maintained and therefore so is the wildlife that is contained within it. Many types of coffee grow better when shaded. Typical jungle wildlife, such as birds, ocelots, frogs, butterflies and monkeys (to name a few) can live among these coffee forests without problems.

Among many other problems with the high-output coffee growing methods of today is the critical endangerment of hundreds of species of migratory songbirds, such as orioles, warblers and thrushes. These birds migrate across the continent to the tropics to spend the winter there, but are finding less and less suitable habitat in which to land. Their numbers are declining rapidly, and growing coffee is one of the major reasons. The sustainable coffee-growing methods eradicate this problem, as sustainable, green coffee farms provide shelter for wintering songbirds.

So how can you help? Simple. Buy coffee that is not only fair trade, but certified with the seal of the Rainforest Alliance. The Rainforest Alliance sets guidelines that coffee-growers must follow to maintain sustainable coffee farms, so you can be sure that the product you are getting is organic, fairly-traded, and safe for wildlife. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird center has also set guidelines for growers, in order that they preserve migratory bird habitat by maintaining biodiversity.

It's worth the extra pennies to help save our planet.

*Statement from the Rainforest Alliance about their seal of approval*
"Rainforest Alliance Certified seal is a guarantee that coffee is grown on farms where forests are protected, rivers, soils and wildlife conserved; workers are treated with respect, paid decent wages, properly equipped and given access to education and medical care. These farms are on a path toward true sustainability. Forested coffee farms are critically important to serve as migration stopovers for birds traveling from as far away as Canada and Alaska. In areas where deforestation is rampant, these coffee farms may be the only habitat available to provide shelter and food for wary birds."

Rainforest Alliance coffee is now being sold everywhere, and has teamed up with Lavazza, McDonald's Australia and UK, many UN offices in New York, American Airlines, and many other places to provide healthy coffee for the planet.

To hear a great story about migratory bird habitat and sustainable coffee growing, visit to listen to PRI's broadcast of The World from November 10, 2010.


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