About 15 years ago, we established Birds and Beans on the shores of Lake Ontario in Mimico. Although at that time Mimico was rather down on its luck, battered by the loss of its industrial base and suffering from the lure of malls and big box stores, we fell in love with soul of Mimico.
We saw a diverse neighbourhood full of hard working, long term residents who shared a connection with the lake, a pride in what had come before, and vision of the future.
So we set down our roots and began working towards that future. And then around us, slowly at first, then more and more, Mimico began to thrive!
The neighbourhood feels energized by life in the new condominums, and the residents are enjoying the ever improving Mimico waterfront, new storefronts, and Mimico’s evolving character.
We are expressing our love of Mimico by introducing a coffee blended and named for our ‘hood! Perhaps the first coffee to celebrate its home neighbourhood, Mimico Joe is approachable, unpretentious, authentic, solid, and full of interest… just like Mimico.
We also offer Mimico Joe t-shirts for those of us who are proud Mimico Joes.
More than 10 years ago, we set out to create a different kind of company – one that would give consumers a way to use their purchasing power to make the world better rather than worse. We wanted to provide a product that was green at its core – not something that just looked green or came out of a “green” facility with a super duper recycling program. We wanted to create a true “triple bottom line” company that produced tangible environmental and social benefits.
Coffee was the perfect product for our experiment – for one thing, we love really good coffee and had a hard time finding a consistent source. And, most importantly, traditionally cultivated coffee is grown in a way that preserves habitat for wildlife – including Migratory Songbirds. Coffee is increasingly being grown in partial shade or full sun, transforming what was once a thriving forest ecosystem into “Eco Deserts” capable of supporting little life: Where there was once a thriving forest ecosystem, the only living thing is the crop being cultivated.
A few years before we started Birds and Beans, The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center had developed the Bird Friendly Coffee Certification. Its aim is to identify and certify farms that provided good habitat for migratory songbirds – or more accurately are functioning ecosystems.
So, having identified the problem and the solution, Birds and Beans was born. We bought a small Commercial Roaster, some green Bird Friendly coffee and started developing our roast profiles. After about a year of development, we were ready to launch.
We sold our first coffee at the Guelph Organic Show in January 2003. Now we are a Certified Organic Roaster and have 2 much larger roasters and a full line of Certified Organic, Certified Bird Friendly, Fair Trade and Direct Trade coffees. We offer the World’s first and only Triple Certified Espresso – Commit, an espresso blend.
A decade later, we can declare our experiment a success. Birds and Beans is a going concern where every pound of coffee sold is helping to protect valuable habitat as well as contributing to a decent life for the farmers and their families. About 5 years ago, we were joined by Bill Wilson and his colleagues from New England, who wanted to use the Birds & Beans name in the USA – and out of that has grown a valuable partnership that is spreading the word to an even wider audience. Our coffee receives rave reviews from all who try it. Together, we are building a different kind of coffee brand.
This month we are undertaking a ‘bird survey’ in Nicaragua on the 450 farm co-op, UCA San Juan del Rio Coco, co-sponsored by York University and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. We buy a good deal of coffee directly from the co-op. The conservation biologists conducting the survey reported 21 species of migrant birds present in the first few days of field work.
Supporting this kind of work is unheard of for companies of our size as it doesn’t have a commercial payoff. So why do we do it? Simple. Its because we have aligned our business with our true values and our business expresses them just as we do. It isn’t a ploy or a marketing gimmick. It is what we care about. We founded this company as a vehicle to promote conservation and this is an opportunity to do just that.
The study represents new work in this region and so the findings will add to the body of knowledge of how that ecosystem functions. This will help our growers to make better decisions on how to manage their farms in the future.
Thanks to all of you who have supported us and have enjoyed a different cup of coffee….
In January, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Nicaragua, visiting a number of the farms that supply Bird Friendly® coffee to Birds & Beans – an experience that drove home the critical importance of such Smithsonian-certified shade coffee farms to the survival of migratory birds.
Much of our time was spent in the country’s northern highlands, a region of exceptional avian diversity, where Birds & Beans is partnering with UCA San Juan del Rio Coco, a cooperative of more than 400 small family farmers, all growing USDA organic coffee, 60 percent of which is also certified Bird Friendly®.
My guide was Jefferson Shriver, who with his wife Gabriela Narvaez runs Gaia Estate, also a Birds & Beans supplier. We met with the leadership of UCA San Juan, including their general manager Griselda Jarquín Lopez, and learned that the cooperative has decided to become 100 percent Bird Friendly® within three years – a significant step for this large, successful operation, which ships more than 2.5 million pounds of coffee each year.
I also had a chance to see first-hand how important the traditional shade coffee farms of this region are to migratory birds. Whether one is driving north from Managua, or looking at the region from space via Google Earth, you’re struck by the realization that the highlands around San Juan del Rio Coco are an immense island of quality bird habitat, surrounded by denuded cattle pastures, grain fields and sun coffee monocultures. In the highlands, though, traditional shade coffee farming has preserved an oasis for birds.
I was expecting farms that looked like, well, farms. Instead, the Bird Friendly® certified farms of producers like Marvin Venega look like almost untouched forest – high, complex canopies of native trees, draped with vines and spangled with orchids. In the shade of these forests, Venega and his neighbors grow not just coffee, but also cacao, vanilla, starfruit, cinnamon and a host of other crops – a system that is centuries old.
The habitat they protect simply drips with birds. We found great, rolling flocks moving through the woods. There were migrants like Philadelphia, yellow-throated and warbling vireos; yellow, chestnut-sided and Wilson’s warblers; summer tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Mixed with them were flamboyant resident species like emerald toucanets, blue-crowned motmots and masked tityras. Baltimore orioles from the north fed beside yellow-backed orioles, and Tennessee warblers were everywhere. It was paradise for a birder like me, and I hardly knew which way to look.
The coffee you drink makes a real, demonstrable difference for the birds that migrate to Central America. Because of the premium price they receive for Bird Friendly® coffee, farmers like Marvin Venega are actually restoring degraded habitat. Marvin proudly showed us an old corn field where, with the cooperative’s support, he has planted thousands of saplings of native trees and shrubs. Within a few years, this too would become vital habitat for migrants like blue-headed vireos and western wood-pewees.
The habitat preservation that every bag of Birds & Beans coffee makes possible isn’t happening just in the northern highlands. We wrapped up our trip at Gaia Estates, not far from the Pacific coast, which Jefferson and Gabriela have turned into a model of organic, Bird Friendly® habitat.
At daybreak, we sat on the deck of their cabin listening to flocks of parrots and parakeets screeching overhead. Dozens of western tanagers mobbed fruiting trees, while ruby-throated hummingbirds – perhaps the same ones that nest at our home in Pennsylvania – flitted from flower to flower. The woods were filled with hundreds of yellow warblers, and the more open areas were alive with scissor-tailed flycatchers and western kingbirds.
Jefferson and Gabriela are now Birds & Beans’ official representatives in Latin America, helping us forge partnerships not only with farmers in Nicaragua, but in countries as far afield as Peru and Colombia – and in the process, to safeguard the kind of habitat that birds we all love must have to survive.
Something we get asked often about our name — “I get the Beans, but what’s the deal with the Birds?” The answer is that we started the company to import, roast and sell Certified Bird Friendly® coffee in Canada – something that no-one was doing at the time.
We chose the name to highlight the link between the coffee you choose to drink and the Migratory Songbirds that you see in our back yards, parks and forests. You see – “our” songbirds aren’t really ours at all, we share them with the people of South and Central America. Every winter, they fly south to spend the winter months in tropical forests. At least that’s what they’ve done for the past several hundred thousand years.
Over the past 40 – 50 years, we in North America have seen dramatic decline in Songbird populations and, it turns out, that one of the major causes of this decline is winter habitat loss. We are losing tropical rain forests at an alarming rate – mostly they are being cut down for agricultural purposes — for sun coffee, for other crops and for cattle. When the birds that used to winter in a forest return to find that it was turned into a sun coffee farm, they have struggle to find food and don’t gain enough fat reserves for the trip back to their breeding grounds back here in North America. They arrive back later, breed less successfully and those populations are in steep decline.
The thing is, coffee likes to grow in the forest! So why are we cutting it down to grow coffee? To increase yield of course. It is pretty depressing really until you realize there’s something we can do to help stop the trend. We can support traditional rustic shade coffee farms that do provide winter habitat for our migratory songbirds. The coffee tends to be better too. Drink a cup a day from these farms and you’ll be responsible for preserving about 1,750 sq ft of bio-diverse habitat for birds and other creatures. That may not sound like a lot, but multiply that by the millions of cups of coffee that are consumed by Canadians every day and we can have a huge impact.
This brings us to a key question – “how do you know if your coffee is really helping preserve habitat for migratory birds?” Easy – just look for the Smithsonian’s Bird Friendly Seal. It is the only way to be sure. We’ll discuss it in more detail in a later post but the Bird Friendly Certification guarantees that a coffee farm provides habitat for birds by measuring against criteria developed by the Smithsonian’s scientists. So you could say that the certified Bird Friendly farms are scientifically proven to provide habitat for our migratory birds. Most importantly, the Bird Friendly certification was not developed by the Marketing department of a coffee company.
So that’s the deal with the Birds. We became a coffee company to help the birds by bringing you beans that preserve their habitat. Drinking it is something easy and delicious you can do every day to help save our migratory songbirds.
Welcome the the Birds and Beans Blog! About 10 years ago we set out on this journey of sustainable business, coffee and birds – and from now on we’re going to share the journey with you on this blog.
We love animals, plants and wild spaces. We also love coffee. So what better business to be in than one that helps protect habitat for some of the most vulnerable species on the planet just by drinking coffee?
We could have started a typical artisanal coffee roastery — seeking out the best beans from coffee farms around the world, and roasting them to perfection and selling them while they’re still fresh.
But that would have been too easy.
The truth of the matter is, that despite the marketing hype, much of the so-called “artisanal coffees” come from chemical-doused, shade-less fields. We’ve set the bar even higher. Not only do we seek the best coffee, but it also must be grown in harmony with nature rather than dominating nature. Hence our tagline: “A richer taste, a richer earth.®”
This means it has to be Organic. Certified Organic not “Trust me” organic. It must be grown in rustic, diverse, shaded ecosystems in order to provide the precious habitat birds and other creatures require. The gold standard for the habitat certification is the SMBC Bird Friendly® designation, which we’ll discuss more in future posts.
We’ll also blog about coffee, what to look for when you buy, and how to make a great cup at home. We’ll write about where our coffee comes from and why. We’ll examine the various certification schemes and keep you posted on the news from the certification bodies. We’ll talk about the environment and some simple things you can do to tread a little more lightly on the planet. And we’ll highlight some of our products, as all, this was designed to show you can have a business that puts the environment first!
Café owners/managers – whether you are opening a new café of are considering changing suppliers, we can help. We run our own cafe so we understand the demands and challenges of running a profitable yet sustainable food service business. We routinely help new cafés startup. See 10 reasons to use Birds and Beans in your café.
Restaurant owners/managers – you’ve carefully crafted the menu, chosen the best ingredients, prepared and tasted everything until you’ve created something special. So why leave the coffee to chance? With our roast-dated boutique coffee your customers will finish with the quality of the meal. See 10 reasons to use Birds and Beans in your restaurant.
Retailers whether you offer food products or nature and birding products, our unique line of our triple certified coffees are a great addition. This delicious coffee in attractive packaging is the most environmentally friendly coffee in the world. See 10 reasons to carry our triple certified line of coffees.
Kenn Kaufman describes his experience birding on a Bird Friendly® coffee farm in Nicaragua in the May/June print issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest. Its reposted here on the Birds and Beans USA site.
Madeleine and David received the Michael O’Connor Thompson Award at the Gem of the Lakeshore ceremony. It is awarded by Laurel Broten and the Lakeshore Joint Business Improvement Association for Volunteerism and Community Spirit. We are overwhelmed. Thank you!
1. A True Conservation Story
Enhance your “green” image and give your customers an easy way to help save the songbirds they love to see in their backyards and parks. Sun coffee eradicates their wintering habitat, certified Bird Friendly coffee preserves and restores it. This is the most environmentally friendly coffee in the world.
2. Leading Bird Experts Endorse It
Bridget Stutchbury, Scott Weidensaul (“Living on the Wind”), Kenn Kaufman (Kaufman’s Field Guides) and conservation groups such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Mass Audubon and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies all endorse drinking certified Bird Friendly coffee as the most important thing we can do to help migratory songbirds.
3. The coffee is “Triple-Certified”
Certified Organic, Certified Bird Friendly and Certified Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance. These certifications mean the coffee is good for people, good for the environment and good for biodiversity. They are verified by third parties — your best defence to greenwashing.
4. People Want to Buy It
When we talk to people about the coffee, the first question they ask is “where can I buy it?” They want buy it close to home. We want to send them to you.
5. SMBC Listing
We will list you in the SMBC “where to buy” listing.
6. SMBC and Birds and Beans Marketing
You will benefit from both traditional and social media campaigns by Birds and Beans and SMBC. We are working closely with SMBC to raise the profile of Certified Bird Friendly coffee and this will result in customers looking to buy.
7. Unique Offering
This is not the same coffee that can be bought in all of your competitors and so you can develop loyal repeat customers.
8. The coffee tastes great.
These are the highest grade beans available and Birds and Beans has developed a reputation for being one of the best boutique roasters in the country.
9. Great Service
Birds and Beans offers excellent customer service and fast order fulfillment.
10. A Canadian Company
Birds and Beans is a Canadian family owned business based in Etobicoke ON.
Not to preach… well maybe a little… Practicing what we preach… We are founded on sustainability. We believe that all companies are made of people (shareholders, managers, customers, suppliers) and people can act sustainably and should. Simple.
Our record on sustainability is unmatched. We challenge all individuals, organizations and companies, large and small, global and local to meet and surpass our sustainability record. We think about sustainability in everything we do and every role we play and so should you. That’s all it takes to make change happen. Go for it!
Our Sustainable Offerings
We were the first company in Canada to offer certified Bird Friendly®coffee and the only roaster to offer it exclusively. Only Bird Friendly certified coffee is guaranteed to provide wintering habitat for our migratory songbirds and other wildlife. We challenge all roasters to offer certified Bird Friendly coffee, all food service contractors to require certified Bird Friendly coffee, and all consumers to demand Bird Friendly coffee. If we all did, the future of our songbirds would be secured.
We offer a space for local musicians to share music with their neighbours. Sharing music sustains our community.
We show the work of local photographer Vincent Falardeau who has captured the images of migratory songbirds in our neighgbourhood! These are the birds we support by drinking certified Bird Friendly® coffee.
We are gold level sponsors of Lakeshorts Short Film Festival.
We work to revitalize Mimico and the Lakeshore by serving on the Board of Directors of the Mimico-By-The-Lake-BIA (Business Improvement Area) and the Lakeshore Joint BIA.
Our Sustainable Background Initiatives
Our roasting is bullfrogpowered™ with 100% green electricity and 100% green natural gas.
We are founding sponsors of the Rainforest Alliance’s Seal Your Cup education campaign intended to educate consumers about sustainable coffee growing methods.
We package all of our coffee in compostable bags.
We use compostable packaging peanuts in our shipping boxes. (If we receive conventional packing peanuts in a shipment we reuse them because we think they should be used at least twice in their 10,000 year product lifespan.)
We separate the trash every day at the cafe (our favourite task!) into recycle, compostable and garbage and we compost our coffee grounds onsite!
We repurposed church pews from a historical church and burned down for our seating. These pews were destined for use as scrap wood when we gave them a new life in their own neighbourhood with many of the same people sitting in them.
We work with Gus Design, a local furniture manufacturer who repurpose our empty coffee sacks into an Upcycle Ottoman and reuse our skids.
We use energy efficient led floods in the cafe. They use less energy and produce less heat and so reduce cooling costs in the summer and we dispose of them safely.
We use a programmable thermostat that does not call for heating or cooling when not required.
We set our summer thermostat to 25C and our winter thermostat to 20C … always comfortable for the seasonally dressed.
We do deliveries and pickups in our hybrid vehicle.
All of our appliances are energy star compliant.
Our outdoor lights are on timers and motion sensors.
It seems like a lot, and it is. But please join us by starting somewhere. However much we do it is only us doing it until you join in too and that is how it becomes meaningful. At the very least, buy your coffee from us and support what we do. Doesn’t the phenomenon of migration deserve that much?