Featured Blog: Coffee and Conservation

This Monday, I’d like you to meet Julie Craves. Julie is the supervisor of avian research of the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan-Dearborn (www.rrbo.org). Her research focuses on the ecology of urban birds, and in particular the use of urban habitats by Neotropical migrants. For many years, she’s been a contributing editor to Birder’s World magazine, where she writes a regular column answering reader questions as well as occasional feature articles. Her interests also include entomology, mostly dragonflies and damselflies.

Julie blogs at Coffee and Conservation, which discusses two subjects dear to many birders’ hearts. Among her favorite posts are “What shade coffee looks like” after her last trip to Panama and the top 5 indicators of sustainable coffee – which contains plenty of links to more information!

Why do you blog?

I’ve been a freelance writer for over 20 years. Writers love to write, and Coffee and Conservation (C&C) is one of four blogs I maintain. I’ve only been a coffee drinker for about five years, since my first trips to a coffee-producing nation (Cuba) where I was doing bird survey work. I was familiar with the shade coffee concept, so I started looking around for guidance on how to buy coffee that didn’t damage the environment or negatively impact biodiversity. I couldn’t seem to find a one-stop assemblage of information on the web, so I thought I’d do it myself. Well, I found out why it’s not all in one place! Sustainable coffee issues are very complex.

What’s unique or different about your blog?

There are lots of blogs about coffee, lots about birds and biodiversity, a lot about sustainability and green issues, even quite a few about Fair Trade. But none of them bring it all together. I guess it’s a classic niche blog.

How do you promote your blog and attract readers?

I get a lot of people from search engine traffic, which tells me people are hungry for the information I provide, arcane though it may seem. I leave comments on other web sites and forums. As for social networking, C&C has a Facebook fan page, is a Facebook networked blog, and is featured on my personal Facebook page.

Any comments on being part of the nature blogger community?

The authors and readers of this community are really the people I aimed to reach. It’s turned out the most engaged and committed portion of my readership has been coffee people on the supply side (small roasters and baristas) and fewer on the consumer side. I’ve found birders and the like particularly resistant to changing their coffee-buying habits, which is very disappointing. I hope being part of the Nature Blog Network helps change that — c’mon people, this is serious stuff!

Has blogging changed how you think about nature? or how you write?

The simple act of trying to drink the “right” coffee has introduced me a complex, interwoven of set of issues that deal with habitat, agriculture, conservation, commodities, and economics. Writing C&C has forced me to try to distill these issues into posts that people can understand — and they might be people who know a lot about birds and biodiversity and nothing about coffee agronomics, or the other way around. It wasn’t until I got into this project that I truly appreciated the enormity of coffee growing areas, how critical they are to birds and biodiversity, and how powerful consumer decisions can be.

Any words of wisdom for new nature bloggers?

A lot of people start blogging without a plan. I’m not saying your blogging should lack spontaneity, but blogs are more fun to write and read if the author knows why they’re writing and who they are writing for.

Anything else you’d like me to ask you, or that you’d like to volunteer without being asked?

My message is specific to the subject of C&C. When tell people I write Coffee & Conservation, I often tell them to go to the site and find out how their morning cup can change the world. If you take a long, hard look at coffee and it’s connection to the environment and biodiversity, and the power of millions and millions of consumers, I don’t think this is over-reaching.

Here’s the catch: certified coffee is a very small portion of the market, there is no legal definition of “shade coffee,” and many farmers are too poor to become certified even if they qualify. People have to do their homework and make an effort to learn how to choose sustainably-grown coffee. There’s really no excuse for people who care about birds and nature to buy a product that they use daily that can be so horrendously damaging on so many levels. I’m here to help.

Thank you, Julie. I’ve turned to C&C many times because both coffee and conservation are important to me. I hope this interview will persuade more of our colleagues both to think about this issue and to act on their beliefs. I particularly appreciate your dispelling the myth that you have to give up really good coffee if you care about the environment.

Photos by Julie’s husband, Darrin O’Brien. More of his photos can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/stylurus/

5 Comments

  1. February 3, 2009 at 9:37 AM | Permalink

    Coffee and Conservation is not only a fantastic nature blog, but an important one. Making the connection between an important consumer product and the consequences of uninformed consumption is one of the most practical applications of conservation possible. The process may be slow but it will undoubtedly make a difference. Awesome, Julie!

  2. February 3, 2009 at 4:30 PM | Permalink

    I’m not a coffee fan, or for that matter a birding fan when it involves a lot of travel, but I always like to see a blog that’s about something more than just the pretty pictures.

  3. February 3, 2009 at 7:10 PM | Permalink

    Thanks, all!

  4. February 3, 2009 at 11:15 PM | Permalink

    I was delighted to interview Julie, because I have relied on her blog for years. It’s sometimes frustrating to try to figure out what’s best for the environment but still lets you enjoy good coffee, and Coffee and Conservation has a wealth of information.

  5. July 24, 2010 at 11:01 PM | Permalink

    We’re all for the shade grown coffees. With coffee being one of the biggest crops ever grown, its horticultural impact is epic. Birds are good!