It turns out that coffee grows happiest when it is tucked under layers of foliage and has mixed patches of sunlight and shadow overhead.
This production method was the traditional way coffee was grown until around the 1970s. After the ’70s, intensive methods of sun farming (cut down all the trees, pack the coffee plants in tightly, use fertilizers and pesticides) came into use in order to bump up yields, improve profits and provide consumers with a cheap product.
So, why support the original shade-growing method?
It’s bird- and pollinator-friendly
Shade-grown coffee farms provide a habitat and food for birds, bees and bats. That not only helps the coffee growers but all the crop-growers in a region. The proliferation of birds has a nice side effect too—the flocks chomp on insects, so farms can reduce the use of pesticides.
It encourages better soil, water, and air
Intensive methods of sun farming deplete the soil, and in many cases, growers have to move their fields (cutting down more trees in the process) after around 20 years in order to reach more fertile soil.
Trees to the rescue! Trees store carbon, return nutrients to the soil, and mulch with their leaves. This extends the long-term sustainability of the farm, in some cases for centuries.
Trees are great filters of water and purifiers of air. So, the shade method of coffee-growing leads to healthier watersheds and cleaner air. Landslides are less frequent with shade management because the tree roots hold the soil in place. Since many of the coffee-growing fields are in mountainous areas with exposure to hurricanes, this is an especially important service provided by shade-managed coffee farms.
How to Get More Producers on Board with Shade-Grown Coffee Production Methods
According to Kimberly Atkins-Texas, in an article on Futurity.org, there are a couple of things that need to happen to increase the number of farms using this eco-forward production method.
Advocate for financial incentives
The first is to convince conservation groups and governments to provide incentives for growing coffee in the shade. Secondly, you can push to develop programs that assist farmers with setup costs and certifications to sell specialty coffees.
Tell your friends
The second thing — and this is where we come in — is to get coffee drinkers to purchase shade-grown coffee. The production follows demand, so the more shade-grown coffee we drink, the more likely it becomes that farmers will return to this traditional, planet-friendly method of production.
Fortunately, the taste of shade-grown coffee helps this cause tremendously. Because coffee grown in this manner matures more slowly, natural sugars increase. Therefore, the attributes valued by coffee connoisseurs (complexity, more mellowness) are able to develop.
On our website, you’ll see we have several “made-in-the-shade” coffee varieties for you to choose from.
Sip on our freshly roasted brews for the birds, the planet, and your taste buds!