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Not All Shade-Grown Coffee is Created Equal

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Many of the stunning songbirds that grace our yards and natural areas in the spring and summer do not stay here over the winter, preferring to vacation in the tropics of Central and South America. Unfortunately, some of these birds return to their wintering grounds only to find that it has been clearcut to make way for coffee plantations. Environmentalists identified the concern and a new wave of shade-grown coffee has hit the market, advertising that their coffee is grown in the midst of large trees that provide a more eco-friendly environment for birds and other wildlife. While this is a fantastic change for the better, there is still a caveat.

Many conscientious coffee consumers are unaware that some farmers opted to plant non-native trees like eucalyptus to meet the shade-grown criteria. To be fair, this is still better than the clear-cutting alternative, but provides little food and shelter for our migratory birds. As is the case in the vast majority of ecological dilemmas, native species are always better.  Native trees on shade-grown coffee plantations provide a sustainable model of agriculture that benefits cornerstone species like Cerulean and Canada Warblers, all while producing delicious coffee beans. Researchers and conservationists are promoting the switch to native shade trees by targeting both clear-cut and shade-grown plantations. In the clear-cut traditional plantations, many owners are easily convinced to change to shade-grown practices in part due to the growing demand for it. When these farmers start planting trees, scientists guide them towards beneficial native trees that host more insects and birds than the non-native counterparts. For existing shade-grown operations, the calculated process of slowly replacing trees with desirable species is more difficult but also in the works.

Overall, coffee growers are keen to promote ecologically sustainable practices, thanks to a growing group of educated coffee consumers who research and support them. Green Dragon Roasters works diligently to provide the best coffee from sustainable plantations who use the latest research to ensure birds like the Cerulean Warbler are here for generations to come.

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