Sustainability is Good For Coffee
Among the newer trends in the specialty coffee industry, few are as promising as the movement toward sustainability. Sustainable practices like shade growing not only produce a generally better tasting coffee, but they are also easier on the land and insure rich harvests for years to come. Although shade growth has received a great deal of attention recently, it is actually the traditional method of growing high quality coffee. Specialty coffee is distinguished by quality rather than volume. Therefore, higher grades of coffee have typically been grown on smaller farms using more natural methods of cultivation. Of course, working in the specialty coffee industry doesn’t necessitate green practices, but it is certainly a small and easy step to take.
Coffee, a shade tree by nature, flourishes in indirect or filtered sunlight. In the shade, coffee develops more evenly and generally produces a richer tasting cup. Shade growing also provides habitats for migrating song birds. This added benefit is not only good for the birds, but for the coffee and the farm workers as well. Shade farms establish a well balanced ecosystem in which the birds find and in return eat the insects that pose a threat to the plants. The birds’ waste also provides a natural fertilizer for the coffee. By shade growing, a coffee farm can greatly reduce or even eliminate its need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Shade growth is not synonymous with organic farming, but the practice makes it easy to graduate up to full organic.
Unfortunately, coffee growers must occasionally choose between the quality of their crop and the quality of their land. Shade growing and careful pruning can often eliminate blight on the crop, but not always. In these instances, a farmer may use a small amount of pesticide to protect the coffee from insects the birds may have missed. This is why there is an important distinction between shade grown and organic coffees. Shade grown coffees are often organic but not always. At Rarecoffee.com we carry both shade grown and organic coffees because we believe that both are an expression of a commitment to sustainability. Specialty coffee is a way of life for the farmers that produce it. Plantations are generally family or co-op owned and have existed for generations. The livelihood of any small farm depends on next year. Even those farms that employ some chemical aids, do so sparingly. Sustainable practices like shade growing and organic farming will offer all of us better coffee now and in the future.