Shade-grown coffee

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Thu Dec 17 02:14:51 EST 1998

The following article appeared in The Oregonian on Dec. 16, 1998, p E1, and is
posted as a courtesy.

Groups push shade-grown coffee

Conservation groups are putting their stamp on coffee, hoping it will save
trees where birds seek refuge

By SARA SILVER, The Associated Press

	NEW YORK -- Bird lovers and scientists have brewed up a new strategy
to save the habitat of flocks that fly south for the winter: they're selling
coffee.       The National Audubon Society, the Smithsonian Institution and
other conservation groups are putting their stamp on shade-grown coffee such
as Cafe Audubon. The groups hope it will save the tall trees in Latin America
where U.S. and Canadian migratory birds seek refuge from the colds.   
"Consumers want companies to be responsible to the environment and their
communities," said Sarah Comis, Audubon vice president for licensing. "This
isn't just for the birds. It's for everybody."	   Advocates are hawking
"bird-friendly" coffees at street fairs in Seattle, brew tastings in Atlanta
and socials in Canadian churches. They even lobbied at the Baltimore Orioles'
stadium, handing out mock baseball cards encouraging the 45,000 fans to help
save the team's mascot.   Their pitch has moved coffee drinkers who notice
fewer orioles, warblers and other beloved songbirds in their back yards. The
number of Baltimore orioles, for example, has dropped 20 percent in the past
decade.      "We were surprised at the number of baseball fans who said they
remembered seeing the orioles whern they were kids, but felt that they'd
disappeared since then," said organizer Peter Stangle, director of bird
conservation at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.     Scientists are
not sure why certain species are dwindling, but they know the decline
parallels the felling over the past 20 years of the canopies protecting
coffee plantations from the equatorial sun. Birds seek refuge there because
so much of the rain forest has been lost in wintering grounds that stretch
from Mexico to Columbia.    Until 1996, agriculture experts encouraged large
coffee plantations to cut down trees shielding the sun-shy plants and grow
high-yield, sun-tolerant hybrids that need high doses of pesticides and
chemical fertilizers.	    "What in essence served as a habitat became a
factory," said Robert A. Rice, policy director at the Smithsonian Migratory
Bird Center in Washington. "There pruned, managed farms look like English
hedgerows, but they are dependent on chemicals to stay alive."	    The
Smithsonian center sparked the shade-coffee movement in 1996. The center
gathered 270 environmentalists, farmers and gourmet companies interested in
shade-grown coffee as a strategy to save Latin American trees where 150
species of birds nest.	       Since then, U.S. companies have developed at
least five coffee brands that are certified as shade-grown by independent
monitors such as the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. The companies expect
to sell 1 million pounds of the coffee this year.   Within the $3 billion
market for gourmet beans, sales of shade-grown coffee represent about 1
percent, or $30 million, said Ted Lingle, director of the Specialty Coffee
Association of America.        In Portland, the Kobos Co., which runs six
specialty shops and a wholesale coffee operation, said consumers are just
beginning to show awareness of the shade-grown coffee issue.	   "It's
starting to happen," said Brian Dibble, wholesale operations manager and
coffee buyer. He said that 2 percent to 3 percent of the coffee Kobos sells
is organically grown. "If it's organically grown, it's not necessarily shade
grown, but the trend is in that direction," he said.	Seattle Coffee Co.,
operator of the Seattle's Best Coffee outlets, is a strong believer in
shade-grown coffee, said President Jim Clarke.	     "We are very into it,"
he said. "We believe it's a superior product and better for the environment.
Most of the coffee we buy is shade grown."  "We're starting to find some
(public) awareness," Clarke said concerning consumer interest in shade-grown
coffee. "I wouldn't say it's broad-based at this point, but I think you're
going to see it better understood in the future."

Company open-minded

	He described his company as "open minded" about participating in a
certification program for shade-grown beans. But he said any such program
would have to be administrered uniformly, fairly and efficently to prevent
misrepresentation.	Underlying the success of gourmet coffee is a soaring
demand for specialty brews by drinkers who define themselves as espresso
heads and latte lappers, who want double decafs with low-fat soy for all the
pleasure without the guilt.	    Global awareness has long been a
marketing tool of the latest gourmet boom. That's indicated by the unbleached
napkins made from recycled paper and the unrefined sugar that cafes offer
amid piped-in Latin music from so-called coffee lands.	       Of the 6
million acres of coffee lands, 60 percent have been stripped since the 1970s,
said Russell Greenberg, a zoologist who directs the Smithsonian center.

Small Farms preserve

	Only small, low-tech farms -- isolated in mountains or by civil war,
too poor to afford chemicals and extensive pruning -- preserved their shade. 
     Although they are not true forests, these 700,000 farms produce what
many consider some fo the finest coffee, where the red fruit, known as
cherries, ripen slowly, sheltered from the sun, untouched by chemicals.    
"It's like wine," said David Griswold, president of Sustainable Harvest of
Emeryville, Calif., whose imports are sold by a variety of roasters. "The
cherries mature more slowly, the natural sugars increase, and it's a better
tasting coffee."       However, some of the finest coffees outside the
region, for example, Kenyan and other African blends, are naturally grown in
full sun.  Shade roasts retail for $8 to $12 per pound -- on the high end for
gourmet blends. But Greenberg says shade isn't so expensive in the long run. 
       "The whole world pays the farmer a little more for it now," he said.
But when coffee is produced in a way that's not sustainable, it pollutes
streams, it gets rid of forest cover, it increases erosion and reduces the
amount of carbon dioxide the plants take out of the air," a process believed
to combat global warming.

Lower costs

	To get their message across, shade-coffee companies have relied on
lower cost methods, such as the Internet, to advertise their feel-good
blends. But perhaps the most effective marketing is grass-roots lobbying by
groups such as Seattle's Northwest Shade Campaign, which has gotten more than
100 area stores to carry the product.	    Shade-grown brews are available
in more than 1,000 venues, to writers seeking inspiration at cafes, to
lingering restaurant diners, and to pet store shoppers attracted to displays
featuring Song Bird "Coffee for the Birds," which gives a portion of the
profits to the American Birding Association.	   The United States buys
one-third of the world's coffee -- but large companies aren't yet jumping
into the shade.        That includes Starbucks. The company said that much of
the coffee it buys is grown in shade and that it's unfair to ask impoverished
farmers to pay extra to have their trees certified as bird-friendly. It also
said supply is too limited to consistently offer a single brew.       "Given
the volume of coffee we buy, it's hard for us to say whether the coffee is
shade-grown or not," said Scott McMartin, coffee buyer for the Seattle-based
Starbucks chain. The company this year pledged to investigate working
conditions on one-quarter of the farms it buys from.	   Promoters of
shade-grown coffee said it's a matter of getting consumers to ask for it -
like turning Baltimore Orioles fans into Baltimore orioles' advocates.	"They
were intrigued to learn that by choosing shade coffee that they could help
the species while it was 1,500 miles away," Stangle said.

Posted as a courtesy by:
Daniel B. Wheeler

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