Bird Friendly® Certified Coffee according to Dr. Robert Rice

As we near the end of the summer, many of us will be shifting our focus towards new routines at work or school. Similarly, many species of wild birds will shift their focus away from breeding and will put all their energy into reaching their wintering habitats in Central and South America.  Our migratory birds spend their winter months in the lush forests that provide the food sources and protection from predators that migratory birds need to thrive during our harsh winters.
Bird Friendly habitat
Shade coffee – and quality bird habitat – as far as the eye can see.
In a recent interview available here, Dr. Robert Rice of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre (SMBC) describes the importance of forest grown coffee to migratory songbirds.  Dr. Rice points out that under the pressure of unsustainable agriculture, traditional forest coffee farms are often the last viable habitats available for migratory songbirds, monkeys, butterflies, reptiles and other organisms.  
Bird Friendly farms provide habitat for a wide range of species - not just birds.
Bird Friendly farms provide habitat for a wide range of species – not just birds.

The SMBC has characterized healthy functioning forest environments and they offer the BirdLook for the Bird Friendly® seal Friendly® coffee certification to coffee grown within them.  Dr. Rice notes the small proportion of world coffee that bears the Bird Friendly seal.  He humbly recognizes that as scientists the SMBC has created the certification, but do not have the marketing skills and channels to increase demand.  He asks that we, individually and collectively,  notice the opportunity to preserve and restore forest ecosystems in Central and South America by asking for coffee Bird Friendly® seal.

Or you can just buy it from us 😉   All our coffees are certified Bird Friendly.
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Your source for Bird Friendly coffee

What is Bird Friendly Coffee?

The question that always comes up when we describe Birds and Beans is: “What exactly is Bird Friendly® coffee?”

Bird Friendly habitat
Bird Friendly coffee – and quality bird habitat – as far as the eye can see.

Bird Friendly coffee preserves habitat for forest creatures including our migratory songbirds. Coffee that is certified Bird Friendly grows in an agro-forest that has been deemed to be good wildlife habitat by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC).  All Bird Friendly coffee must first be certified organic, and then goes much further adding standards for shade cover, plant species diversity, canopy structure, required buffer zones, leaf litter cover and much more. These are all necessary for wildlife to flourish.  Read more on Bird Friendly criteria here.

In Latin America, where most of our migratory songbirds spend their winters, deforestation for agriculture is happening at an alarmingly fast rate.  The impact on wildlife is devastating. Huge declines in our migratory songbirds are noticeable to those of us old enough to remember the plentiful songbirds here in Southern Ontario 20 years ago versus now.  You can help slow the rate of deforestation by purchasing Certified Bird Friendly coffee from the growers who are on the front-lines of the resistance to this overwhelming destruction.

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A Dragon Fruit farm has replaced the forest that is adjacent to a Bird Friendly coffee farm.

By choosing Bird Friendly certified coffee, we support the growers who steward forest ecosystems.  Beyond preservation of ecosystems and diversity of species, Bird Friendly stewardship also results in soil conservation,  pest control, pollination, water storage, carbon storage and climate change mitigation. Read more on ecological benefits here.

HowlerMonkeys
Bird Friendly farms provide habitat for a wide range of species – not just birds.

Sometimes the phrase “Shade Grown” is used on coffee labels as if it were equivalent to Bird Friendly.  Unfortunately, this is like accepting “natural” as equivalent to “organic”.  While Bird Friendly coffee is indeed “shade grown”, we need to go a bit deeper if we want to ensure our good will hits the target. It isn’t the shade that provides the habitat but the fact that Bird Friendly farms are functioning, biodiverse, forest ecosystems.   The SMBC developed the Bird Friendly coffee certification so we can confidently choose to support produces who grow their coffee in harmony with forest dwellers…  Forest dwellers like this troupe of howler monkeys David saw on a Bird Friendly coffee farm in Nicaragua.

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Sales of Certified Bird Friendly coffee also help to fund the research performed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. This research advances the understanding of migratory birds that we need in order to preserve them for future generations. Look for the seal on the bags when you buy your coffee.  You will find this seal on all of our bags.

Grow a Tree in Your Cup

One of the best parts of my job is speaking to passionate people – people who are passionate about coffee and also people who are passionate about the environment.  Some people are passionate about both.

A few months ago, I had one of those conversations with Elaine Munro of Progressive Nutritional Therapies. They had been purchasing Birds & Beans Certified Bird Friendly coffee for their office and were using it to raise funds for a tree planting near the source of the Rouge River in North East Toronto.

In the office, they charge by the cup and were also selling jars of beans for brewing at home – and called it “Grow a tree in your Cup”. They are pretty big coffee drinkers over there because when it came time to plant – they had raised enough money to plant 513 trees!

In early May,  24 members of their staff along with family members turned out to plant a selection of native trees and shrubs that were selected to be appropriate for the river side site by Ontario Streams.

IMGP3525This is amazing – through this simple, yet creative program, they were able to both protect habitat in South and Central America by supporting Bird Friendly coffee growers, and improve habitat here at home in the Rouge River valley. Congratulations to all involved!

For the complete story see the Progressive Nutritonal Therapies Blog and for more information.

 

Coffee Bird Photo Post

As spring returns and our beloved migratory songbirds make their way back to Canada from their wintering grounds in Central and South America, we urge you to support them by purchasing certified Bird Friendly® coffee!

American Redstart
American Redstart

 

Our friend and supporter Vincent Falardeau would like to remind us of the beauty of the birds.  He has a permanent show of his photographs in our café.

Indigo Bunting _web II
Indigo Bunting

 

And we would like to remind you of the beauty of the coffee.

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Black-throated Green Warbler

 

Lets do one simple act that sustains these beautiful birds and enriches our lives with a simple pleasure.

Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole

 

Help us help the birds.  Buy our certified Bird Friendly® coffee.

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

 

A Delicious Way to Support Ontario Nature!

We are excited to announce the introduction of our first Special Edition coffee, “Ontario Nature” Blend.  This is a special blend in many ways.  It is Triple Certified: Bird Friendly, Fair Trade and Organic, and like all of our coffees, is is roasted and packed using 100% green energy from Bullfrog Power. And, if that isn’t enough, we are taking it over the top, by donating $1.50 from the sale of each bag to Ontario Nature!  Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters and 150 member groups from across Ontario. They will use the funds to protect wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement.

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler stopping in our Etobicoke backyard on its return possibly from our Bird Friendly Nicaraguan coffee farm.

By choosing to drink certified Bird Friendly coffee, our customers have always supported conservation of the neotropical forest ecosystems in which our coffee grows. Now, through Ontario Nature, you can support conservation of habitat in Ontario too – by simply changing the coffee you drink.

Picking at Gaia Estate
Pickers pick only the ripe red coffee cherries at Gaia Estate. They allow the green ones to ripen and return for them another day.


And what a wonderful coffee it is! It has a lovely honeyed aroma, with balanced tones of chocolate and nuts. It is a lovely, smooth coffee with a long, sweet aftertaste that rings pleasantly in the pallet after the cup is gone.  

We are so excited to launch our first Special Edition coffee that, for a limited time, we are offering FREE shipping of the Ontario Nature Blend any where in Ontario for orders over $25.

By making this one purchase, we collectively support ecosystem and biodiversity conservation in coffee growing countries and here in Canada.  Do it now

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A Different Cup of Coffee

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.

Releasing the roasted coffee.
Releasing the roasted coffee.

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.

Bird Friendly habitat
Shade coffee – and quality bird habitat – as far as the eye can see.

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….

 

What Bird Friendly® Looks Like in Nicaragua

Bird Friendly habitat

A guest post for Earth Day from Scott Weidensaul, one of our “Voices for the Birds” (http://www.scottweidensaul.com)

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®.

 

Bird Friendly habitat
Shade coffee – and quality bird habitat – as far as the eye can see.

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.

Marvin Venega with a cacao pod
Marvin Venega with a cacao pod

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.    

 Marvin's kids try birding
Marvin’s kids try birding

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.

Gaia Estate – A Bird Friendly® Coffee Grower’s Perspective

A guest post from Jefferson Shriver and Gabriela Narvaez are Owners of Gaia Estate, Diriamba, Nicaragua:

The planet is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place for agriculture.  This is especially the case with full sun, rain fed monocrops grown in the tropics where pounding rain, high winds, and long dry periods are an annual experience.

Fortunately, coffee is a forest crop by nature, and forests can create natural buffers for such inhospitable conditions.  As organic, agro-forestry farmers, we just help that process along a bit.

Shade Grown Coffee at Gaia
The ecosystem is functioning in this “agro-forest” on the Gaia Estate.

At Gaia Estate in Nicaragua, coffee was first grown here over 100 years ago by simply clearing a bit of the underbrush from a natural forest. The place looks much the same today, with over seventy species of trees on 90 acres.  A thick blanket of leaf litter covers the ground all year, maintaining soil humidity, preventing erosion, and building up organic matter that our coffee loves. Our three story shade canopy of fruit and forest trees shields the coffee from strong rains and volatile temperatures, and slows the maturation of the coffee beans, giving the coffee more complexity and sweetness.  The limes, bananas and avocado intercropped with coffee as that first shade layer give us plenty of fruit year round for our family, workers, and a bit of extra to sell.  Most people say they feel they are walking through a park when they come to Gaia.  We feel much the same way – like gardeners in a forest – and can’t imagine farming any other way.

Picking at Gaia Estate
Pickers pick only the ripe red coffee cherries at Gaia Estate. They allow the green ones to ripen and return for them another day.

We know that Gaia is a refuge for migratory and resident birds, and a host of animals and insects.  This is also very important to us.  Since assuming ownership of the farm six years ago, we are seeing greater populations of migratory and resident birds, butterflies, lizards, iguana, and rabbits. We’ve even spotted a few deer and monkeys recently, the first to come back to this area in a long time. We don’t have to worry about the risk of worker exposure to poison because we don’t use pesticides or herbicides.  The soil is alive with micro-organisms, worms and ants that all co-exist here given we use only organic fertilizer and repellents.

Butterfly
Bird Friendly® certified coffee farms are a functioning ecosystem with biodiversity that rivals rainforest.

I am hesitant to over-romanticize, however.  Annually we apply a half bucket of organic fertilizer to every plant.  Compare that to the bottle cap of urea we see our neighbors apply to their conventionally grown coffee plants, and you can see that our production costs can get expensive.  All of the coffee cherry residues, horse and cow manure, and fallen branches we convert to charcoal are used to make a rich blend of organic fertilizer.    Then we hand weed instead of applying herbicides like Round Up or paraquat.  While this is also time consuming and more expensive, it allows us to let tree seedlings – spread by birds and bats throughout the farm – grow back and replenish the agro-forestry system over time.  These kinds of practices also generate more employment, meeting a critical need in the local community.  Finally, there is nothing easy about regulating the shade of trees 20 meters high. The pruning of branches is necessary to allow some sunlight in for the coffee, and requires careful handling for both the tree and the coffee below.

Pruned Tree
On Bird Friendly® certified farms, trees must retain 80% coverage after pruning!

Not everyone farms this way.  As I write, in addition to the songs of at least a half dozen birds, I also hear the whirring of chainsaws in the distance.  The value of trees in Nicaragua are calculated when they are horizontal, in board feet, not vertical and alive.  Deforestation in Nicaragua, like much of Latin America, continues at a relentless pace.  Tragically, most coffee markets do not reward farmers for growing coffee in the shade.  There is no market value assigned to shade.  Bird Friendly is a small but significant exception to the industry standard.  If more people buy SMBC Bird Friendly coffee and demand grows, we would love to share the Birds & Beans and Bird Friendly certified market with our neighbors. After all, we are not an island – what our neighbors are doing ultimately affect our growing conditions and the health of the ecosystem we take care of at Gaia.  The orioles and warblers and thrushes, if they could speak to us during their short visits here annually, would probably agree.

Jefferson Shriver and Gabriela Narvaez are Owners of Gaia Estate.  Consider a visit to the farm – www.gaiaestate.com

Valuing Eco-services on Bird Friendly Coffee Farms

Human activity has had a dramatic effect on our world. Shopping malls stand where forests once stood. A once pristine beach is now a concrete wall at the foot of a condominium. Factories pollute our rivers. Trawlers are racing to pull all the fish out of the sea. The question is – “why do we do it?”, particularly since we know the consequences.

The explanation is simple. People do what they are incented to do. Since Nature provides the services that sustain us for free — that is, we don’t pay for them — we consume them at unsustainable levels.

Dr. Pavan Sukhdev heads up the United Nations Environment Program’s Green Economy Initiative where they try to understand this question and more importantly how to incent us to behave differently. He says that the cost imposed on society for the degradation of ecosystems through the legal actions of corporations is between $2 – 4  trillion per year.  That’s an amount roughly equivalent to the financial losses of the 2008 banking crisis. For a quick introduction to the topic check out this video.

For a bit more detail, watch this TED Talk by Dr. Sukhdev see What is the Price of Nature

Dr. Sukhdev proposes that the solution is for consumers pay for the value of the services provided by nature that are consumed in producing the products they buy.  Moving to a solution that takes what has previously been considered “external costs” into account is achievable but will not be simple.  The relative costs of what we consume will change to reflect the true costs.  For example, we will discover that manufacturing a plastic bottle will be too expensive to use for a one time sale of water.  Recall our post on plastic water bottles:

albatross-ocean-gyre-birds-pictures-04
The remains of a baby albatross and the contents of its stomach.

Given that we do what we are incented to do, putting a price on natural capital is our best choice.  None of us wants to be responsible for causing the last forests to be cut down or catching the last fish, do we? Yet our current economic models are driving us there.

Rather than waiting for the economic apparatus to be implemented, we are valuing the natural capital in coffee growing regions by choosing certified Bird Friendly coffee.  Bird Friendly coffee farms provide many services including habitat for wildlife, water retention and purification, pollination, pest control, carbon storage, soil erosion protection to name a few.

2 ways to grow coffee
Coffee grown upslope provides habitat versus downslope sun coffee farm.

Meanwhile, in pursuit of higher yields, coffee farmers are encouraged to cut down forests so they to make more money.  Sometimes they do make more,  but even when they do, the forest, and all the services that it provides, are gone.  The land becomes an Eco-desert. Those services that ultimately sustain us are no longer provided (at any price) and our ecosystem is one step closer to collapse.

So by choosing certified Bird Friendly coffee we are rewarding farmers for protecting habitat and natural services.

Our eco-system has so far proven to be remarkably robust in the face of our unchecked consumption, but there are signs everyhwere that we may be reaching its limits.  Is it not be better for us all to pay the farmers to keep the forest and have it continue to provide “eco services”?   We think so.  What do you think?

Every Day is Earth Day

At Birds and Beans we don’t do anything different on Earth Day.  Don’t get me wrong, its not that we don’t appreciate the other guys giving some notice to the environment one day a year. Every little bit helps.

If we were to take the opportunity to crow (pun intended) about our sustainability record, you’d get bored because it is so comprehensive.  So instead, click here if you want to see what we do everyday to make our Earth more livable.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Earth Day is a good moment to look at what we’ve done in just the past year to raise the bar from where we were the year before.  For businesses, the most significant measure of sustainability must be in the production of its core product.  I see way too many companies getting “warm fuzzies” from the public for changing their light bulbs while their shelves are stocked with products made in toxic sweatshops in other countries. Its not that I begrudge their choice to use less energy to illuminate their walls of shame… enough said?

By contrast we’re on track to our goal of offering 100% certified Bird Friendly coffee by 2013. We’re delighted that after years of discussions, our 3 growers in Nicaragua have become the first certified Bird Friendly growers in Nicaragua. This is more than just adding a certification to a previously available crop. It turns out that even within these growers, some of their coffee is certifiable and some is not. That means when we purchased coffee from these growers in the past, it might not have been grown in the bio-diverse rustic shade that we are trying to support.

Gaia Estate
Collecting coffee cherries on the Gaia estate

Do you see why certification is important? Now our Nicaraguan growers are separating the coffee grown in certifiable shade from the rest. So in purchasing the Bird Friendly coffee we feed back to the growers that we are willing pay a bit more to preserve a bit of lush habitat with our delicious coffee.

In 2012, together with our USA counterpart, we purchased the first ever full container of certified Bird Friendly coffee to leave Nicaragua!

We do believe the little things do matter too. So we’ve upgraded from high quality artisan bread to certified organic Ace Bakery bread in the cafe. We’ve shifted from an assortment of cleaners with unverified green claims to Green Cricket’s EcoLogo certified cleaners. We’ve banished all products containing Palm Oil from our cafe. We planted our CHIRP! native garden behind the café and incorporated onsite composting.

Downy Serviceberry
Downy Serviceberry flowering in our native habitat garden by the café patio.

If the most significant measure of sustainability for business is in the production of its core product, what is the parallel for us as individuals? Arguably, it is for us to change our daily consumption, specifically, our food choices. If you drink coffee every day, this is a great place to start. Imagine changing from drinking coffee that is eradicating habitat every day, to coffee that preserves and enhances it? Its so easy! And the payoff is also better tasting coffee.

Cup of Coffee
Cup of Peru Norte

Celebrate Earth Day with certified Bird Friendly coffee from Birds and Beans and then make Earth Day last forever by enjoying it every day.