Normally, coffee is produced like most other cash crops – as a monoculture – in long rows with direct sunlight and no other plants. Since coffee plants require a ton of nutrients in order to grow and produce, this usually means that a given piece of land can only be used for a few years before it is incapable of supporting more crops, and in most coffee producing countries, that means deforestation. Large areas are clear cut to provide farm land, used for a couple of years, and then another area must be clear cut to provide new fertile soil for coffee plants.
Rainforest Alliance, Pura Vida, and other brands of “shade grown” coffee products however, take a different approach to farming by creating a farm based on a permaculture (or multiple plant) system, which works in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems. This usually means that the coffee plants are quite literally grown in the shade of larger plants and trees, with these plants feeding complimentary nutrients back into the soil to prevent the soil from burning out, and actually increasing the yield form each coffee plant, and making chemical fertilizers unnecessary! Since these plants are grown in diverse ecosystems they are also more shielded from insects, and require little to no pesticides in order to grow, making these practices very common for organic coffee growers. The multiple species of trees and plants in the area also provide homes for animals and wildlife, allowing us to get a high yield out of our crops without creating a break in the forest itself.
Shade grown coffee is available at Pura Vida (all their coffee and espresso is shade grown), Connections, and Hillside on the River Campus, and at Finger Lakes Coffee spots in the Medical Center. Always make sure to ask if you can have a shade grown blend, since most coffee places will sell some shade grown blends, but not all of their coffee will be.