Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Earth Day Every Day

Palm Warbler

Earth Day was just a few weeks ago, and Westmoreland staff were requested to conduct quite a few programs with the Earth Day theme.  Most of these programs revolved around recycling or endangered species.  Let’s face it, while all of us are required to recycle these days, how many of us actually recycle everything we can?  With the new additions to what is recyclable in New York going into effect on June 1st, recycling is easier than ever.  It is one of the most important things we can do and one that is easy for kids to do, too. 
When it comes to endangered species however we don’t really have a high profile one in our immediate area.  Students hear all about elephants, whales and rhinos, but know little about the plight of  New York's Bog Turtles, Piping Plovers and the Karner Blue Butterfly.  All endangered species in New York are federally protected, but most don’t have the “wow” factor needed for the majority of people to turn them into poster animals for the cause.  A sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. 
So, I started to think about what I can do different this year to really make a positive impact.   All the dazzling migratory birds stopping at Westmoreland also made me think of where a lot of them were coming from.  The Yucatan Peninsula and other Central American spots where I don’t think they are required to recycle!  The easiest way to help these birds and other non-migratory birds is to buy shade grown coffee. 
Intern Candace Nicoletti about to release a Blue-winged Warbler

Coffee is actually a shade growing plant.  For farmers, the problem with  shade grown coffee plants is that is grows slower and therefore does not turn as quick a profit.  Coffee plants grown in the sun grow faster and yield a quicker profit, but it has some serious drawbacks.  It depletes the soil of nutrients very quickly and requires major pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.  The worst problem with sun grown coffee is you have to cut down the forest habitat.   A forest habitat that, once gone, is almost impossible to regain. The result is there are 94-97% fewer birds in sun grown plantations!   Oh, did I forget to mention that sun grown coffee doesn’t taste as good as shade grown?
Nashville Warbler

Shade grown coffee does cost more than sun grown, but of course that is because it takes longer to grow.  In the long run, shade grown is cheaper because you don’t have to cut down more forest and spend more on pesticides and herbicides.  As usual, the problem comes down to quick profit vs. long term sustainable profit. 
So to celebrate Earth Day every day, and invest in the survival of these really spectacular birds breeding and passing through Westmoreland, I am going to have another cup of shade grown coffee.  Who knew saving the earth could taste so good?

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