My coffee is for the birds

I enjoy drinking coffee. For some, that is already an activity that is non-sustainable by definition (we don’t grow it in Cincinnati) and puts me on the wrong side of environmental correctness. However, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could change the way I enjoy coffee and increase the delight I take in my first cup in the morning with the knowledge I was reducing environmental damage and providing better habitat for birds.

The kernel of the idea for this action plan began when I read an article about shade-grown coffee in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology magazine All About Birds. While I was aware that the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center was promoting shade-grown coffee through its bird-friendly certification program, I was not aware of the many ramifications of the transition of most South American coffee producers from shade-grown to sun-grown coffee. There are multiple impacts from this transition on the land, the water, the forest, the migratory birds as well as the people in those communities. Without going into great detail about all of these impacts here, I will simply point you to this brief video: Bird research and shade grown coffee

If you are even more interested, here is a link to the original article I read: Shade-grown coffee sustains birds and people.

I also discovered a wonderful website/blog about coffee and conservation here: Coffee Habitat.

As part of this action plan, I changed the kind of coffee I drink and also the way in which I make it. I left the world of convenient single-cup automatic coffee delivered to my mug whenever I like and adopted a more manual, less wasteful approach. To do this required that I dispose of the coffee maker that produced a pile of discarded plastic each day with a kettle to make hot water, an aero press, a manual coffee grinder and a stainless compost bucket with a charcoal filter for my kitchen. In this way I save energy (and get exercise) hand grinding my coffee beans, hand-pressing the coffee and then placing the grounds directly into the compost bucket (see a photo of these items below). Recently, I’ve been using a pour-over method for making the coffee rather than using the aero press. Using a stainless filter with either method allows me to make coffee without creating any paper or plastic waste while providing plenty of coffee grounds for our garden.


My coffee making gear

While this may seem like a lot of work, it has actually become a rather soothing ritual that I like (and can do at 6:00 a.m. without thinking about it!). One other benefit (beyond those things mentioned in the video) that I did not think about prior to starting this routine is that I am supporting bird habitat both in their winter feeding grounds AND in their summer nesting grounds. I do this by taking the coffee grounds to my compost pile and eventually into my native plant garden that surrounds my house. Since the perennial plants and shrubs in our gardens have been selected to attract pollinators and birds of all kinds throughout the year, this shade-grown coffee once again supports an abundance and richness of bird species in a completely different environment. (Kind of a nice full circle of impact.)

While it was challenging to change my morning routine of coffee making, the good feeling I get from this new habit every morning (and the lack of guilt from not creating another pile of empty plastic containers) made this a rather easy transition — one that I will likely continue for the rest of my life.

This new routine also creates an interesting conversation anytime I have someone for whom I am making coffee in my home. It really is better than non-sustainably grown coffee and that alone makes an impression. The other good benefits that come along with it are a bonus conversation. You have to love creating a new practice that is good and does good at the same time.

Author: Mark Plunkett

I am an Ohio master gardener volunteer living in Cincinnati, OH. My wife, Nan (also a master gardener), and I strive to be faithful stewards of 'our' property and contribute to the biodiversity of our community. We are both members of the local chapter of Wild Ones and volunteer horticulture team members at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden where we work in the native plant program, pollinator gardens and monitoring bird trails. In my spare time, I like to read about the natural world and the history of science

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