Drink More Coffee

Drink More Coffee

Lynne Peeples
Published: 12/11/2009

Gunjan Karun via Flickr

While we often hear conflicting reports about whether or not a cup of joe is good for us (the latest news says it's good for men's prostates), there's no doubt that—if grown right—coffee is good for birds.

This benefit, of course, is indirect: birds are jittery enough without the bonus buzz. Rather, migratory orioles, warblers, thrushes, redstarts and vireos, among others, all thrive in the protection of traditional shade-grown coffee plantations. Here, they find an abundant array of tasty snacks—insects, flowers and fruit—as well as trees to call home. If coffee is cultivated in the open, on the other hand, the diversity of bird species drops substantially, as does the quality of the land since it must be subjected to more intensive management with chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Given economic pressures, and the lure of immediate increases in crop efficiency, many coffee farmers in both North and Latin America have made the switch from shade to sun over the last couple decades.

But both farmers and birds got some good news this week. Sales of organic, shade-grown coffee that meets the "Bird Friendly" standards of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC)—the most stringent for shade-grown production—increased to almost $3.5 million in 2008. That's an increase of more than a hundred-fold since 2000.

While such environmentally friendly coffees usually carry a higher price tag, more people seem to be willing to pay the difference. This, in turn, makes it more economically feasible for farmers to stay in the shade.

"Consumers increasingly want to know that the food they eat and coffee they drink are grown and processed in ways that are healthy for farmers and the environment," Rice, who coordinates the Bird Friendly certification program at the SMBC, said in a statement. “By choosing to drink Bird Friendly coffee to kick-start their morning, consumers can help protect quality habitat for birds and other wildlife.”

Still haven't finished your Christmas shopping? Consider a gift of shade-grown coffee for the coffee-lover in your life. Just remember that not all conservation labels benefit birds equally. In fact, the vast array of seals and certifications, including those touting organic and human rights, can make choosing coffee confusing.

Here are a couple safe shade-grown bets: Birds and Beans and Audubon Coffee. While the later is certified organic and meets the Rainforest Alliance shade-grown criteria, Birds and Beans may be the closest to the holy coffee bean. Bags filled with these beans are covered in seals, including the Bird Friendly, Fair Trade and USDA Organic stamps.