Contributed by Tess Bercan
When you indulge in your morning coffee, what comes to mind? Most likely, you enjoy the pep-up factor, warmth, and delicious aroma.
But however wonderful the sensory enjoyment of a cup of joe, the beans you choose can actually have an impact the environment as well.
A Little Bit of History: Coffee’s Move from the Shade to the Sun
Coffee originally and naturally grew in the shade and underbrush of the forest. Essentially, it grew at one with the surrounding foliage. It posed no threat to the lush abundance that surrounded it.
However, the 1970’s brought a time of change to the bean industry. It needed to “modernize” in order to increase yields. So coffee growers stripped and clear-cut the land in order to create large, industrial sun-grown coffee plantations. Farmers also began to apply commercial pesticides and fertilizers. While yields increased and grocery shelves now stock a surplus of caffeinated choices, the switch to sun-grown coffee came at a cost.
According to the Organic Consumer’s Association, industrialized coffee growing has led to environmental problems, such as deforestation and pesticide poisoning of land and air. Industrialization poses a looming threat to songbirds, who rely on the forest as a migratory habitat. In other words, the coffee industry has destroyed the bird’s winter homes and disintegrated water, land, and air quality – all for the sake of increased coffee yields.
What can a consumer do to enjoy a cup of joe, but also support the environment and songbird population? Consider buying beans that are labeled as “Bird Friendly” by The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
In response to the pervasive clear cutting of forests for sun plantations (and loss of bird’s habitats), the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center created the Bird Friendly label. This label ensures some benefits for both the consumer and the environment.
For Bird Friendly Coffee, Avoid Misleading Labels
Coffee originally grew in the shade within (and as part of) the forest. Some coffee carries the label “shade-grown,” and today, many consumers choose it because they feel they’re supporting the environment.
However, All About Birds (a non-profit group linked to Cornell University’s study of bird conservation) points out that the label “shade-grown” does not mean 100% organic. It does not even mean coffee grown in quality shade.
The website notes that many companies jumped on the band wagon and use this label as a marketing ploy.
In essence, the term “shade-grown” became nothing more than a popular buzzword. It does not signify bird friendly coffee
In fact, according to All About Birds, “this type of coffee can be grown among sparse trees on farms that lack diverse forest structure. Some shade-grown coffee is even grown under only the flimsy cover of banana trees fed artificial fertilizers and pesticides.”
The Importance of the Bird Friendly Label
And so we come to the label “Bird Friendly.” The Smithsonian Migratory program requires that the plantation (whose coffee beans receive this stamp) must meet rigorous and strict requirements.
In order to use the label, a plantation must show that many varieties of native shade trees exist within the plantation. They must renew their certification every three years.
Forest diversity (including proper foliage coverage) means that the forest remains intact, so that migratory birds have a suitable habitat.
Diversity of plant life promotes diversity of animals, including birds. Because of these strict guidelines for biodiversity, the “bird friendly” label surpasses the (sometimes flimsy) “shade-grown” label. It ensures consistent quality.
Not only does the Bird Friendly label ensure a higher quality of forest and natural habitat for songbirds, but the label also ensures that you are buying certified organic beans — which has many positive attributes in and of itself.
The certified organic stamp means that soil has to be managed without the use of synthetic pesticides that would normally poison surrounding streams and rivers. As a result, the move to organic methods “helps reduce the billions of pounds of noxious chemicals injected annually into natural ecosystems that support wildlife and communities,” according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird website.
If you would like to find some Bird Friendly labeled coffee, check out online retailers here. Alternatively, according to All About Birds, you can now find Bird Friendly Coffee at Whole Foods in bulk and on the shelf.
Tess Bercan is an educator and avid writer. She continually strives to explore and learn about health, organics and positive living. She received her degrees from the University of Calgary.
Bird Friendly® Coffee / Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
Making Sense Of Coffee Labels: Does Your Coffee Support Wintering Warblers? / Gustave Axelson . All About Birds, October 9, 2012
Choose bird friendly coffee and cocoa / David Suzuki Foundation