How About A Nice Cup of Joe ?

I come from a long line of coffee drinkers. In my childhood home, the coffee maker was set up before going to bed and on a timer, such that it had brewed itself and was ready, for when the earliest of us awakened. I still love my triple-strength instant coffee in the morning. Brewing coffee is too much work for the little bit that we drink in my home. But if I were into brewing coffee, I think I would want to support “shade-grown coffee”.

A migratory bird perched among the Coffee Beans

A migratory bird perched
among the Coffee Beans

My now deceased mother-in-law had a lifelong interest in birds and did feeder watch counts for Cornell’s Project FeederWatch. Her interest in birds broadened my awareness of the birds that inhabit my Missouri forest. There are wide-ranging benefits for birds that result from shade-grown coffee. According to a comprehensive study by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, shade-grown coffee production is the next best thing to a natural forest. There is a demonstrable increase in the numbers and species of birds within the habitats of shade-grown coffee farms. Migratory birds are integral to tropical and temperate ecosystems alike, providing flower pollination and seed dispersal, among other roles.

Orchid growing  in Tree Canopy

Orchid growing
in Tree Canopy

“From my own research in Nicaragua and other studies throughout the region we also know that there are hundreds of orchids (likely thousands of species of orchids and other [plants that grow on trees]) conserved in the shade trees grown above the coffee and nearly [all] orchids are endangered,” Christopher Bacon, coauthor of a recent study published in Bioscience, said. “The trees, the biomass and all the associated biodiversity directly linked to shade trees are lost with the conversion from shade to sun coffee.”

Varieties of Coffee Forests

Varieties of Coffee Forests

The benefits of this system of coffee growing go beyond its impact on bird populations. There is better soil protection/erosion control, more carbon sequestration, a source of natural pest control (yeah, the birds again !!) and improved pollination. Shade-grown coffee is regarded as a form of permaculture. Unfortunately, shade-grown coffee cultivation has deceased 20% since 1996. Only 24% of the total coffeebean cultivation is under shade practices.

One issue impacting this is the development of coffee varieties that are more tolerant of sun exposure as fungal diseases are problematic in shady areas. Though the commonly held assumption is that sun exposure prevents fungal infections; some studies have suggested that shade coffee is better at fighting disease than is sun-grown coffee, as canopy cover may cause difficulty in fungal spore dispersal.

The incentives (for a shift back towards more sun-grown coffee) “include the availability of longer-term credit, three to five years in some cases, and government and business led programs promoting the intensification of coffee production, technical assistance, and the introduction of newer crop varieties,” Bacon said. “Higher coffee prices since 2005 could also influence this decision.”

Oranges and Coffee Beans growing together

Oranges and Coffee Beans
growing together

Shade-grown coffee farmers do more than harvest coffee beans. Some farms offer eco-tourism opportunities and many recover firewood, other fruits, some building materials and even medicinal plants. Scientific field work has proven that having a mix of trees reaching a specific height and foliage density is a positive land management practice that enhances biodiversity. I would believe that picking coffee beans in the shade would be kinder to the human beings who do that work.

Man picking coffee beans in the shade

Even when buying shade-grown coffee, be sure and watch for “green washing”. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the times that we live in that marketeers will try to over-claim aspects that might give their product a boost. Certified organic coffee produced on farms with a shade cover that provides a substantial and vital habitat for migratory and resident birds in tropical landscapes, offset increasing global deforestation.

Drink Shade Grown for the Birds

~ Information Resources

The Cornell Lab Project FeederWatch –

“The Ecological Benefits of Shade-Grown Coffee – The Case for Going Bird Friendly” by Robert Rice & mauricio Bedoya posted Sept 2010 at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park –

“Shade Grown Coffee Helps Forests and Natives” by Nika Levikov posted July 13, 2014 –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


A Surprising Kind of Sequestration

Trees near Chernobyl image dated  June 28, 2013

Trees near Chernobyl
image dated June 28, 2013

Lately, this blog has been focusing of how trees sequester Carbon but that is not the only element that trees are able to contain within their solid forms. It was surprising for me to discover that trees also have an ability to sequester radiation. The trees in the forests in the the vicinity of Chernobyl died several decades ago with the massive release of radiation that occurred with that accident. However, what is surprising to me to learn is that unlike most trees that die in a forest, these trees are not decomposing or decaying “normally”.

The “dead zone” includes a dearth of microbes and fungi that would normally be doing their work to return the dead solid matter of the trees into soil. Even the leaf litter and dead brush that would normally be decomposed in a matter of a few years are not decomposing but accumulating on the ground.

Well known among the forests in the vicinity of Chernobyl is the Red Forest. This is a Pine forest that turned a reddish color and died quite soon after the accident. The trees were subjected to radiation equivalent to that of 20 times the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, radiation levels in the Red Forest can be as high as one Roentgen per hour, but levels of ten milliröntgens per hour are more common. More than 90% of the radioactivity of the Red Forest is concentrated in the soil. In an average forest, such dead tree matter is no more than sawdust within a decade – about a third of the time that the trees have now been standing since the accident.

In the post-disaster cleanup operations, a majority of the pine trees were bulldozed and buried in trenches by the “liquidators”. The trenches were then covered with a thick carpet of sand and planted with pine saplings. Many fear that as the trees decay, radiation will leach into the ground water. People have evacuated the contaminated zone around the Red Forest. Of the greatest concern in the Chernobyl forest, that still stands but is dead wood, is the potential for a catastrophic wildfire that would effectively release radiation into the atmosphere along with the smoke and other gases that would be generated.

Chernobyl 1st Yr  radiation impacts

Chernobyl 1st Yr
radiation impacts

A University of Southern California Professor’s analysis in the Fall of 1999, produced the following conclusions – “Pine trees were the first type of trees to die from radiation poisoning from Chernobyl. Birch, oak and other leafy species were reported to have survived the first year of radiation exposure. Rodent populations and sensitive plants were eliminated almost immediately. The fallout of radiation from Chernobyl severely contaminated the environment, affecting the agriculture and food supplies of much of N. Europe and the Nordic countries following the Chernobyl disaster. In 1996 a meeting of international scientists met in Vienna, Austria to report on the Chernobyl incident 10 years after the accident. They concluded that most of the severe environmental impacts were short-term, and that full recovery of the ecosystems would occur given ample time.”

Radiation is a part of our lives that we can not readily avoid and human interactions with the environment are part of the effects. So, beyond the effects of the Chernobyl accident upon the forests in the surrounding areas, are the more recent effects of the Fukushima accident in Japan which was upon the oceanic coast.

Dr. Herbert Abrams, Harvard and Stanford University professor of radiology & principal researcher for the National Research Council’s study ‘Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation’ who testified before Congress about its conclusions said: “… avoid radiation as much as you can … Am I concerned? Yes I am, that’s because I know radiation pretty well … It shakes up the cell and it goes after the genetic material … The bottom line is that (radiation) is a carcinogenic agent … there is increased risk. … Physicists, or at least some of them, are the people in the nuclear industry itself. They play down (the risks) at such low doses, but they never talk about it as being cumulative.”

NOAA map of  Fukushima radiation plume

NOAA map of
Fukushima radiation plume

Henrieta Dulaiova, an assistant professor in the University of Hawaii’s Department of Geology and Geophysics, has been studying the radiation released into the Pacific Ocean since the 2011 disaster in Japan. The ocean samples that Dulaiova has been analyzing are collected at Station Aloha which is 100 miles north of Oahu. Dulaiova also has an ongoing study that involves testing mushrooms in Hawaii that bioaccumulate cesium. The goal is to learn more about the atmospheric fallout from the disaster.

Officials from Hawaii’s health department also said that there is no significant threat to the state right now. Workers continue to monitor the air, rain, drinking water, milk, and tsunami debris for elevated radiation levels. According to state health officials, federal experts do not anticipate contamination of seafood in U.S. waters at this time. “I would say you’ll be safe. Just this is an educated guess depending on how soon the plume gets here and based on the measurements that we have done on the edge of the plume,” Dulaiova said.

Dulaiova said it’s difficult to predict the radiation plume’s location since there are several different ocean models. According to her, the plume is likely to hit the west coast and then possibly reach Hawaii at low levels in 2015.

It looks like this event’s results will be “developing” for some time to come.

~ Information Resources

“Undead Forests Around Chernobyl Won’t Decompose” by Brian Stallard posted July 7, 2014 at Nature World News –

“Red Forest” information found in Wikipedia –

“Environmental Impact of Radiation” from a paper produced in Fall 1999 at the U of So CA, Professor Najmedin Meshkati –

“California Newspaper: Health effects in U.S. from Fukushima radiation” posted July 9, 2014 at –

“Hawaii researchers monitor impacts from Fukushima radiation” by Lisa Kubota, posted Sept 4, 2013 at –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Cradle to Cradle

I’m not really a big fan of “certification”. I understand the reasons for it and I know that many who offer it are morally ethical with only the highest intentions but it is also based on distrust and buying integrity with dollars. Still, I really like the Cradle to Cradle Products Institute video I’ve shared above. Certainly, I do believe that product designers, architects and ordinary consumers should take such considerations into account, when creating a new product, conceptualizing a new structure or purchasing a product. And I believe it is both important for NOW and for our future generations, already alive and growing up on this planet.

The thing is that “certification” has been recognized as a definite revenue generator, so that now there are so many possible systems to validate one’s self with, that it would cost a small fortune to sign on with all of them. This is not an expensive or difficult thing to do, if one is a multi-national, global corporation flush with cash that they have been squirreling away, while keep monies off shore to avoid taxes, sending production into cheaper countries with lax regulations and needing to reassure an awakening populace that they have their best interests at heart, and not the bottom line profit that their stockholders insist upon. And it cuts the small, innovative companies that are often eeking along, cash starved from participation.

Cradle to Cradle concepts

The cradle to cradle concept requires a shift of perspective, when thinking about how a product is designed, what it will contain, how it is to be made, and where it will go after it is no longer wanted. Some important considerations are whether the materials are safe for human beings and the environment, whether the product ingredients can be reused safely by nature or another industry, will they be assembled and/or manufactured using a renewable, non-polluting energy source, are water supplies protected or even enriched by the processes and does the existence and production of the product contribute to social and/or environmental justice.

Cradle to Cradle bookcover

The concept of such a considered product design approach was promoted in a 2002 book by the German chemist, Michael Braungart, and the U.S. architect, William McDonough, in their book – Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. The book discourages downcycling (a cradle-to-grave strategy), but rather encourages the manufacture of products with the goal of upcycling in mind. This vision of upcycling is based on a system of “lifecycle development” initiated by Braungart and colleagues at the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency in the 1990s: after products have reached the end of their useful life, they become either “biological nutrients” or “technical nutrients”. Biological nutrients are materials that can re-enter the environment. Technical nutrients are materials that remain within closed-loop industrial cycles.

Caring human beings worry that our consumption driven world is out-stripping the natural resources of the planet and at the same time leaving too much toxicity in its wake. Yet, most of us are dependent on a growth model of economics for a good quality of life. William McDonough in a blog at McDonough Innovation’s website envisions this – “Imagine a world in which all the things we make, use, and consume provide nutrition for nature and industry—a world in which growth is good and human activity generates a delightful, restorative ecological footprint.” Few of us would find fault with such a reality.

Mr McDonough believes that “the destructive qualities of today’s cradle-to-grave industrial system can be seen as the result of a fundamental design problem, not the inevitable outcome of consumption and economic activity. Indeed, good design—principled design based on the laws of nature—can transform the making and consumption of things into a regenerative force.” There is something in my own nature-loving, environmentalist’s heart that says “Right On !” to such thinking.

McDonough describes Cradle-to-Cradle as offering “a framework in which the effective, regenerative cycles of nature provide models for wholly positive human designs. Within this framework we can create economies that purify air, land, and water, that rely on current solar income and generate no toxic waste, that use safe, healthful materials that replenish the earth or can be perpetually recycled, and that yield benefits that enhance all life.” He goes on further to say – “Just as in the natural world, in which one organism’s ‘waste’ cycles through an ecosystem to provide nourishment for other living things, cradle-to-cradle materials circulate in closed-loop cycles, providing nutrients for nature or industry. This model recognizes two metabolisms within which materials flow as healthy nutrients.”

In a cradle-to-cradle system even “valuable, high-tech synthetics and mineral resources—technical nutrients—circulate in a perpetual cycle of production, recovery, and remanufacture.” And of course, “all the human systems that make up the technical metabolism are powered by the renewable energy of the sun.”

Shaw EcoWorx Carpet cycle

Shaw EcoWorx Carpet cycle

An example of a common, everyday product that most people could identify with, is provided by McDonough – “In the commercial carpet industry, material recovery systems are providing a model for the development of technical metabolisms. Shaw Industries, for example, has developed a technical nutrient carpet tile for its commercial customers. The company guarantees that all of its nylon 6 carpet fiber will be taken back and returned to nylon 6 carpet fiber, and its safe polyolefin backing returned to safe polyolefin backing. Raw material to raw material. A cradle-to-cradle cycle. Shaw’s technical nutrient carpet tile is conceived to be a product of service, a key element of the cradle-to-cradle strategy. Products of service are durable goods, such as carpets and washing machines, designed by their manufacturer to be taken back and used again. The product provides a service to the customer while the manufacturer maintains ownership of the product’s material assets.”

McDonough even applies his thinking both our cities and the rural countryside, as well as to the economic necessities that support us all. “In a cradle-to-cradle economy, cities are the principal home and source of technical nutrition—the place where metals are forged, polymers synthesized, and tractors, computers, and windmills designed and manufactured. Cities send these materials forth into the world and receive them back as they move through closed-loop cycles. The countryside, meanwhile, can be seen as the home of the biological metabolism. Materials generated there—food, wood, fibers—are created through interactions of solar energy, soil, and water and are the source of biological nutrition for rural communities and nearby cities. One of the city’s fundamental roles in this metabolism is to return biological nutrition in a safe, healthy form, say as clean fertilizer, back to the rural soil. These flows of nutrients and energy are the twin metabolisms of the living city, the engines of the vibrant economies of the future.”

Below is a chart illustrating Cradle to Cradle for Forest Wood Products (courtesy of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation) –

Forest Wood Cradle to Cradle

Coming FULL CYCLE back to where I started, I do note that on William McDonough’s Innovation website, he does list the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute as a nonprofit steward of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Program. That is a highly trusted recommendation in my opinion.

~ Information Resources

Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute –

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart and William McDonough –

The Cradle-to-Cradle Alternative –

The Circular Economy –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer