Buy Shade Grown Coffee for Birds and Biodiversity

Buy Shade Grown Coffee for Birds and Biodiversity

1/8/2012 note:  Jennifer Yeatts from  Higher Trading Grounds said that organic coffee is almost always shade grown “and shade grown coffee is almost certainly organic. So when you buy organic, you’re supporting biodiversity and birds.”

Yesterday’s LA Times article about China replacing tea plantations with coffee because of the Starbucks and Nestle’s growing need for coffee beans reminded me of the importance of shade-grown coffee. Buying shade-grown coffee is an easy way to support biodiversity.

 We’ve been getting buying ours online for about five years now.


Shade-grown coffee (

First a definition: Unlike conventional coffee which is grown in full sun on cleared areas of land, shade-grown coffee grows under a canopy of multiple tree species, which harbors native birds, insects and other critters. It also provides biological corridors vital to migration.

I was introduced to the concept in the 1990s when I read an article posted  in front of Macy’s, a popular coffee place in Flagstaff. It discussed the environmental damage caused by the increasing coffee consumption in the U.S.. In my travels to Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica, I’ve witnessed the rich animal life amidst shade-grown coffee farms.  In the late 80s I also saw the clear-cut areas of full sun coffee in my travels to Ghana and Togo.

Problems with Industrial ‘Sun’ Coffee

  • Numerous acres of  have been cleared for conventional coffee. The Mexican Highlands, which ranks second in the world in their range of biodiversity and provides habitat to over 180 bird species, according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. In the mid-1900s, 40% of top-level canopy trees were clear-cut for coffee plantations.
  • Traditionally-managed coffee and cacao (chocolate) plantations support a significantly greater number of birds compared to other agricultural lands. In contrast, studies in Colombia and Mexico have identified over 90 percent fewer bird species in sun-grown plantations than in shade coffee.
  • It is true the output of sun coffee is higher than shade-grown. But in addition to the loss in biodiversity there is increased soil erosion and toxic run-off due to the pesticides.

Buying Shade-Grown (or Organic) Coffee 

  • Buy local – is not very expensive: Trader Joe’s carries organic, fair trade Ethiopian shade-grown coffee (13 oz for $9.99) and French ground espresso coffee (14 oz for only $7.99). Whole Foods is another. It never hurts to ask your regular grocery store to consider stocking it. They offer organic coffee as well.
  • There are numerous online sites to get beans or ground coffee. As mentioned we get ours form Higher Grounds Trading – It’s fair trade so the farmers are assured profits and organic, plus we like to get a variety. One pound costs $12 but we buy medium roast  5# bags for $55, and order enough for free shipping so that comes to $11/pound. Grounds for Change is another popular one, at ($12.95 for 1#, $52.75 for 5#)
  • Buy Starbuck’s shade-grown coffee. (They should offer it as a brew option….)
  • If in doubt, look for certifications from the Rainforest Alliance, the Smithsonian’s Bird Friendly logo or USDA Organic.
  • Note: Any other good sources readers have found – please let me know….

Chestnut-mandibled toucan in Costa Rica


Solitary Vireo (Oklahoma City Audubon)

Solitary Vireo (Oklahoma City Audubon)









The birds above are among those suffering lost habitat. Others include redstarts, yellow-throated vireos, parrots, trogons, toucans and woodcreepers.

For more info:

Shade Coffee Benefits More Than Birds – 2008 Science Daily article about genetic diversity and other benefits of shade-grown coffee

NRDC article: Coffee, Conservation and Commerce in the Western Hemisphere

Smithsonian Fact Sheets: Neotropical Migratory Bird Basics and Why Birds are Crazy about Coffee (which reviews the studies on traditional and shade coffee biodiversity)

US Fish & Wildlife Shade-grown coffee and migratory birds  sheet

Certifications – Look for the following certifications – Rainforest Alliance, the Smithsonian’s Bird Friendly logo or USDA Organic.



  1. Linda! I’ve learned so much from you through your posts. Thank you. And now I have the scoop on shade-grown coffee and will certainly buy it. Happy New Year!

  2. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I
    find this topic to be actually something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complex and extremely broad for me.
    I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

    • Yes! It helped when I heard that nearly all organic coffee is shade-grown – but my next post I’ll delve into that more. And try to make it easier to understand. Feel free to send me some qs that would help nail it down better (via comments here or individually to
      Appreciate the comment.

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