How Shade Coffee Aids Conservation
February 1, 2024 8:50 PM   Subscribe

How Shade Coffee Aids Conservation. When managed in the right way, the farms that provide our morning brew can be a refuge for plant and animal biodiversity.

"In recent decades, with growing concern about steep declines in biodiversity, there has been renewed interest in the value of coffee grown in the shade. The latitudes where coffee is grown host some of the highest levels of biodiversity on Earth. And in shade production systems, especially those that minimize the use of chemical pesticides, coffee has lots of company: The plants are visited by a multitude of creatures from ants and beetles to birds and bats.

Given this biological richness, it’s no surprise that there’s growing interest in studying coffee as an agroecosystem—a dynamic bridge between natural and agricultural systems. Such farming methods have the potential not only to help sustain our caffeine fix but also to provide a bounty of biological richness."
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (8 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

That's a new word for me. I found this definition from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education to be helpful.
What is agroecology? An agroecosystem is any ecosystem managed primarily for the production of food, fuel or fiber. Agroecology is the study of agricultural ecosystems and the natural resources required to sustain them. Ecological farming requires producers to work within their environmental limitations and use technology to address ecosystem constraints, and gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. Agroecological management enhances the sustainability of agricultural ecosystems by trying to work with the ecological relationships and processes within the broader ecosystem. Agroecology promotes the conservation of soil and organic matter, as well as other resources such as energy and water. Agroecosystems reflect diversity in the landscape, through crop/livestock integration and in marketing. They also seek to strengthen farmers and their communities by developing local agricultural knowledge and building ties among farmers and their consumers.
Any farming practice where you interplant to create a complex mosaic of shade and sunlight, with taller species protecting the shorter, which in turn shelters the soil, all creating mutual benefit, is going to be ecologically better than monocropping. It also really only works at smaller scales though, so you don't get the efficiencies of mass agriculture.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:51 AM on February 2

Oh yay! I was reading a similar piece the other day: "Can scientists save your morning cup of coffee?" (Where I learned that arabica beans are the ones we're worried about, as they're more sensitive to environmental changes--robusta beans are hardier but bitter, used mostly for instant coffee, which explains why I have such a hard time finding a good instant!)
posted by mittens at 4:48 AM on February 2

I examined all of the coffee at my grocery store, and the only one I could find that was shade grown was Ruta Maya. I'm also hoping that because they are in partnership with public universities in the U.S., that they are not engaging in any slavery-like practices. My maybe naive assumption is that the visiting scholars and students would notice if they were.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:15 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]

Ruta Maya also makes a mean Swiss water process decaf available from Costco!
posted by samthemander at 9:35 AM on February 2

One of the tragedies of the CCP's overhaul of agriculture in China was the destruction of a lot of old "wild" (really, feral) puer tea groves in Yunnan, in favor of more productive "terrace" plantings. It was a move made at a time when puer tea had little cultural cachet and the people making these recommendations surely never drank the stuff.

Later, when puer tea was recognized as a treasure, the people who procrastinated cutting down their old growth groves came out looking smart, when it turned out that terrace tea does not usually make very good puer. The remaining old growth trees produce leaf that sells a huge premium over the terrace tea, big enough so that there is way more "old arbor" tea sold annually than is produced, by probably a sizeable multiplier. Because China also is not so great about truth-in-labeling or appellation protection.

Anyway, yes. Luxury agricultural products of the sort that people want not for nutrition but for drug activity or unique flavoring, those tend to not be things that can be made well by monoculture farming. The same kind of reasoning probably goes for chocolate, I'm guessing.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:24 AM on February 2

"Shade" would certainly be a cool brand name for coffee (only if actually shade-grown though).
posted by Foosnark at 11:33 AM on February 2

I honestly expected to read more about shade coffee being good for conversation, and I wondered if it contained some kind of super-chatty caffeine. Clearly I need more coffee.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:41 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]

I remember learning about shade-grown coffee back when I worked for a coffee roaster in 2001-2002. These days I drink it regularly, since Birds and Beans coffee has the Smithsonian's "Bird Friendly" designation. It's really good!
posted by heteronym at 10:53 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]

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