Experience a boutique hotel with the highest rating in Costa Rica for sustainable tourism and discover its certified organic shade grown coffee on their own coffee plantation.
The coffee plant evolved in Africa under the canopy of trees and grows best in the shade. A traditional coffee farm can provide habitat to exuberantly varied birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, insects, trees and flowering plants. The amazing thing about coffee farming is that it can be done in harmony with tropical forest conservation - and for many centuries, it was.
Many of our familiar warblers, tanagers, orioles and thrushes benefit from habitat provided by shade-grown coffee plantations, as do rainforest icons including parrots, toucans, motmots, and hummingbirds. These farms also provide habitat for a multitude of organisms, from mammals and amphibians to plants, fungi, and invertebrates.
About 200 different species of birds are known as neo tropical migrants, breeding in the habitat and backyards of North America and migrating south to Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean islands for the winter. There, the multi-layered vegetation of shade-grown coffee plantations provides abundant food and cover. In many areas, coffee farms offer the only good habitat amid deforested pastures and stark monocultures.
The migrants pack into the farms every fall, feasting on insects and fruits and often changing their feeding and flocking behavior considerably from that familiar to birders in the north. Some of them stop and stay put, often on the same farm as the year before; others linger and then move on, farther south. Both songbirds and birds of prey make the twice-yearly migration; some arrive after journeys of thousands of miles and open-ocean flights.
A list of familiar North American birds that are known to over winter or migrate through Latin American shade-grown coffee plantations is available in the "To Learn More" section below.
How can we coffee lovers know if the beans we drink come from farms that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible? How can we reward farmers that are trying to grow a great tasting coffee while protecting wildlife and the environment? The only way to know for sure is to seek out credible labels such as Rainforest Alliance Certified, which guarantees that farms are on the path toward true sustainability, and qualified organic labels, which guarantee that farms are not using harmful pesticides and fertilizers.
An estimated 25 million people grow coffee, most of them on small plots of land. Many, perhaps most, smallholders are organic farmers by tradition, in part because they could never afford to purchase agrochemicals. With the downturn of prices paid to farmers in recent years, pesticides and fertilizers are out of their reach. With organic farming techniques - some learned from their grandparents and some from modern agronomy - coffee producers can maintain production and conserve healthy soils, which are their primary inheritance and asset. A sustainable farm management system is based on a holistic view of agriculture that includes conservation of natural resources, rights and benefits for farm workers, equitable trading, and the farm's relationship with nearby natural and human communities.
Shade-grown and certified sustainable coffee is rapidly gaining popularity, because it is a product that anyone and everyone can support, and because of its excellent quality and taste.
Savoring a cup of certified sustainable coffee can improve livelihoods for farm families and conserve wildlife and tropical ecosystems - a rare "win-win" opportunity. So the next time you see a Baltimore Oriole, Sharp-shinned Hawk or other Neotropic migrant, raise a mug of shade-grown joe and celebrate the at-home contribution you've made to their survival.
- Richard & Sandra Russo