Last updated: 8/16/15; 19:00:21

pedantic nuthatch

coffee map A few years ago, I became interested in the cause of promoting shade-grown coffee because of its benefits to wildlife. Much of the coffee we drink in the States comes from Central America, where coffee shrubs were traditionally planted under the shady canopy of an existing forest, and thus their impact on the environment was minimized. But a trend began in the 1970's to convert coffee farms to a full-sun, chemical-dependent monoculture. This move destroyed habitat not only for year-round resident birds and other wildlife, but also for many of the colorful migrant songbirds that summer in North America.

Researchers and activists are working to reverse this trend toward "technified" coffee and to encourage farmers to return to a more sustainable way of growing it. Environmentally-aware consumers in the U.S. are shopping for shade-grown product; specialty roasters are getting on the bus; various organizations are struggling with the means of certifying and labeling biodiversity-friendly coffee so that coffee drinkers can choose it. For the American Birding Association, I wrote (with the assistance of Paul Baicich and Jennifer McLean) a glossary of coffee terms for the bewildered shopper; I'm also part of the team that runs Coffee Contact, an independent forum for coffee agriculture issues.
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