Help the Rainforests with Your Next Latte

This week, October 12-18, is World Rainforest Week. Recently, I learned about an organization that has practical solutions to helping the rainforests: the New York-based Rainforest Alliance, which helps to conserve rainforest biodiversity and the livelihoods of people who make their living from the rainforests by transforming land use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior.

So what does this mean for you? You can help the rainforests by being a savvy consumer and by “voting with your dollars” in the kitchen (buying agricultural products from Rainforest Alliance Certified Farms), your living room (buying furniture from Forest Stewardship Council Certified Forests), and by choosing eco-friendly travel options.

Here’s one example: Like most Americans (and people everywhere, for that matter), Susan and I drink A LOT of coffee, but we’re beginning to learn about the devastating toll that modern coffee-growing practices take on the environment.

According to the Rainforest Alliance:

For more than 150 years, coffee was widely grown under the leafy canopy of native rainforest trees. Agronomists in the 1970s began promoting a new farm system where the sheltering forest is cleared, and coffee bushes are packed in dense hedgerows and doused with agrochemicals. These monoculture farms produce more beans, but at a tremendous environmental cost. The traditional, agroforestry system is good wildlife habitat. The new monocultures have little habitat, accelerate soil erosion, and pollute streams.

Coffee Beans

Certified, forested coffee farms, on the other hand, can be bio-rich buffer zones for parks, protect watersheds, and serve as wildlife corridors. These “coffee forests” are also important sources of firewood, construction materials, medicinal plants, fruits, flowers, honey, and other goods. Many farms in the certification program protect native forest reserves and community water supplies.

This week, consider buying coffee with a Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on it. As reported in the Brisbane (Australia) Times, companies are now “keen to kiss the green frog.”


Won’t it be nice to know when you drink your cuppa Joe in the morning that the coffee was grown on farms “where forests are protected, rivers, soils and wildlife conserved; workers are treated with respect, paid decent wages, properly equipped, and given access to education and medical care,” and from a farm that provides shelter and food for FROGS, birds, and other animals.

I went to the supermarket today and instead of buying my usual brand, I bought a brand called Caribou Coffee, which had the Rainforest Alliance seal. I noticed another brand, too, with the seal. Newman’s Own coffee is Fair-Trade Certified, and certain types of Starbucks coffee are shade-grown (for example, Organic Shade Grown Mexican). It is more expensive, but it still costs less than the price of two lattes at Starbucks. Also, my rainforest-friendly coffee tastes better than my regular brand. I’ll drink to that!

Photographers also take note. The Rainforest Alliance is having a photo contest–the deadline is November 1, 2009. Categories are nature and landscapes, wildlife, conservation in action, and sustainable tourism. The first prize is an eco-trip for two to Costa Rica. Check it out!

Teachers: Here’s the education page with fun stuff for kids and lesson plans for teachers.

Coffee photo courtesy Rainforest Alliance website


Announcing the FROGS ARE GREEN photo contest

We are happy to announce the FROGS ARE GREEN photo contest. The winner will receive a free “Prince of Amphibians” t-shirt and we’ll feature the photo in the gallery on our blog. See the information on the left side of the blog. (Note: your photo can be of any amphibian, including salamanders).

For those of you who have never photographed an amphibian, here are some tips from the book Frogs: A Chorus of Colors by John and Deborah Behler, which has a chapter on photographing these elusive and well-camouflaged creatures:

  • Try to learn about the animal first. What is its habitat? When are they active?
  • Walk slowly and stop frequently (it helps to have someone with you who is less than 3 feet tall and has sharp eyes). Frogs and toads blend in so well that they are hard to find. Be alert for subtle movements.
  • In summer, you might find the sit-and-wait frog predators hanging out on the edges of ponds and lakes.
  • Be aware of the position of the sun. Avoid taking pictures at midday on bright sunny days. In the morning, face east and it will keep sunlight from coming into your lens and washing out your photos.
  • Don’t necessarily put the subject in the middle of the photo. Keep the whole animal in the photo, but compose the picture so the background tells a story.
  • Bracket your photos, i.e., take the same shot with different settings. Also, try taking a flash photo. Without a flash, animals in photos may look lifeless and poorly lighted.
  • Try to be on the same level as your subject.

Have fun!

My husband John and son Jeremy looking at a toad

My husband John and son Jeremy looking at a toad