Why is Boxed Water Better?

At Birds and Beans we are forever expanding and deepening our commitment to sustainability. As we learn about issues and find solutions, we weave them into the fabric of what we do. Some years ago, we were struck by a beautiful impactful art project by Chris Jordan that beautifully exposed some consequences of thoughtless plastic waste. We posted this and never ordered water in plastic bottles again.

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

Birds and Beans is proud to be free from plastic bottles since May 2012.  The life cycle of a plastic bottle has harmful effects to the environment throughout every step of the chain: from formation to disposal. For more information on the life cycle of a plastic water bottle, check out this Ted-Ed video.

We are an official Quench Water Re-fill Location. Bring your reusable water bottle and we are happy to fill it up with filtered tap water. We offer a pitcher of iced water with glasses for customers to enjoy in the cafe. We also offer a bowl of water for the four-legged bunch.

Despite all of these options, people still want to buy water to go. We want to make you happy, so we investigated options to provide a take-out water option without contributing to the Garbage Patch, harming animals who mistake micro plastics for food or degrading the quality of the soil that supports us.

Boxed Water
Boxed Water is Better

The Boxed Water folks in Michigan came up with the great idea of offering water in boxes. Boxes are made from trees, which is a renewable resource. Conservation is important to them, so the trees being used come from well-managed forests. The cartons are 100% recyclable. Less resources are used when shipping the boxed packaging to the locations where water is filled compared to plastic bottles because boxes can be shipped flat. The water inside is purified with UV, carbon and reverse osmosis filtration. As a bonus, know that 1% of Boxed Water revenue is being donated to reforestation and world water relief.

Please enjoy our free filtered water. If you need to, enjoy Boxed Water knowing that it is a more sustainable option than anything packaged in a plastic bottle.

Paris Climate Change Agreement – a Moment of Truth

 “It is my deep conviction that we have come up with an ambitious and balanced agreement. Today it is a moment of truth.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke these words as he declared that the Paris Climate Change conference known as COP21 had reached an historic multilateral agreement. It is our sincere hope that he is right and that people of all countries see this as a call to action — It is the beginning of a process, and not the end.

The agreement is significant – nearly 200 countries have committed to a goal of limiting temperature increases to no more than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, rather than the 2 degrees that appeared to be the target just two weeks ago. The agreement is the product of a lot of hard work by many people.  From where I sit it seems that much credit is due to French President Hollande and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figures. As Canadians, we are delighted to see a change in the position of the Canadian delegation from obstructionist to constructive.

Local Children try birding
Delighted children try birding on a Bird Friendly® coffee farm.

As important as this agreement is, it is just the beginning.  The work lies ahead and we will face many obstacles and difficult choices in pursuing it.  To achieve the goals set in Paris, we will need to use the agreement as a framework to help us maintain our collective resolve as we face the challenges of necessary change together. As consumers, we have a big impact on carbon emissions – we make choices with far reaching consequences when we spend our dollars. Consumers reward the behaviors of everyone in the supply chain with every purchase we make:  Participants in the supply chain do what the monetary rewards incent them to do.  To curb extreme climate change, we will have to change deeply embedded common practices by changing the influence of monetary rewards.  Taxing carbon will help with this and it can work more quickly and more effectively if we understand it and if we consciously support behaviors we want to encourage in supply chains.

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


At Birds and Beans our founding mission to preserve biodiversity directly supports climate objectives: preserving habitat is preserving forests.  And preserving forests has been identified in Paris as a critical component to achieving climate objectives.

4096
Many of the world’s companies pay no attention to how their supply chains are damaging forests, the Prince of Wales has warned as he urged action to stop deforestation.

Sadly, during the decade and a half that we have offered this climate and habitat friendly coffee, we have seen an explosion in demand for unrecyclable plastic single serve pods containing unsustainable sun grown coffee. Single use coffee pods are the source of a great deal of profit (coffee offered in pods nets out to about $50 per pound!) while convenience brands ignore adverse environmental impact of their coffee and other unsustainable food offerings.

We maintain that using a grinder, a kettle and a drip filter holder is just as convenient a method of brewing a single cup of coffee, but has the merit of supporting an entirely sustainable supply chain.  And the superior flavour in the cup is incomparable!  This is one example of the kind of change that we as citizens can make as climate objectives are pursued.  

Our government reached an agreement because they believed it to be an expression of our collective will.  As policy changes result in choosing sustainability over convenience, waste and unchecked growth, we will have to demonstrate our support.  Let us make sure that our commitment runs deep and that no future government will be tempted to break the agreement for their own short term political gain. 

We are the citizens of the world at a the moment of truth.  Collectively, the future is in our hands.

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.

 

I Witness

(Warning…This poem is not for the faint of heart.)

the horror runs through my arms and legs
the ache fills my heart
the reality fills my mind
the finality pulls my gut
as the mass extinction ticks onward
largely unacknowledged and unnoticed
the tremendous specialty of form and of life
unappreciated
gasping in the loneliness of last pairings
doomed and hopeless
habitat consumed by unsustainable food and junk
hopeless and final in a way we do not conceive
not just death, but death of species, of kind
termination of lines of being
the final end of the rise from the muck
the endless creation that brought animation to matter
the interplay of mutually sustaining diversity
the dance of procreation
dying
while we decorate the packaging of our wasteful crap with their images
tasting not, feeling not, seeing not, living barely
and watch a horror movie to feel something
while failing to notice the life that yet is
in its intricate and living beauty
dying at our hand, utterly squandered

I witness
unshrinking
open heart experiencing
the “Sixth Mass Biological Extinction Event”

© Dragon Heart 2014

Birds and Beans is Palm Oil Free
Birds and Beans is Palm Oil Free

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

ONnature340Back

Help Monarch Butterflies by planting Milkweed

Although it doesn’t have anything to do with coffee or birds, we are happy to see the David Suzuki Foundation’s current #GotMilkweed program aimed at planting more Milkweed to act as host plants for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. We like it because it points out that helping to save a species (and in this case the phenomenon of the Monarch Migration) is all about habitat.

Milkweed plants are an essential part of the Monarch’s lifecycle but it has been eradicated from much of the butterfly’s range – in cities and in the country thus destroying the butterfly’s natural habitat. The #GotMilkweed campaign’s goal is to replant a milkweed corridor in Toronto to help these insects increase their numbers. If the project succeeds, we would see patches of milkweed plant around us in the place of dull, boring grass.  A new generation of children will learn the pleasure of playing with Milkweed pods and releasing the seeds and we will see more of these beautiful butterflies in the summer and fall.

A Monarch Butterfly visiting a Bergamot plant in our patio garden.
A Monarch Butterfly visiting a Bergamot plant in our patio garden.

It is a small thing that can make a big difference – we see a future where we look for places to plant milkweeds and other plants to provide habitat and food for insects and birds. Imagine, for example, how nice it would be to drive down a highway and see milkweeds and other wildflowers making the scenery much more beautiful than the boring grass monoculture that has become the standard road side treatment.  In the same way, we see a future where people ask for their Fair trade coffee to be Bird Friendly too, so every cup provides habitat for Migratory Songbirds in addition to providing a fair deal for farmers.

More information: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/media/news/2014/04/got-milkweed/

On a related note – we add our voice to support the proposed changes to Ontario’s Weed Control Act that would remove Milkweed from the list and make it legal to grow. About time! http://www.farms.com/ag-industry-news/ontario-proposes-an-amendment-to-the-weed-control-act-560.aspx About time.

Seeking a Compost Partner

About us:

We are the cafe part of Canada’s leading roaster of Certified Bird Friendly coffee. Our location is unique – unlike any other we’ve seen. Out back we have a lovely patio with a  view of Lake Ontario and a Native wildflower garden. The purpose of the garden is to provide habitat for birds and pollinators and to provide a beautiful backdrop for our patio.

Behind our wildflower garden is a huge composter – where we compost our coffee roaster chaffe, grinds and kitchen scraps. Since we don’t fertilize or water the wildflowers, we really don’t have a great need for the end product but we’re pretty sure someone out there really needs some great organic compost.

Our composter
Our onsite composter at Birds and Beans Café-by-the-Lake

About you:

You are reasonably local to us and are in need of some beautiful rich organic compost. You are willing to do some of the work required such as turning the piles and able to give direction to us on the adjusting the mix of inputs if required.

We’d prefer that you are a Community organization or perhaps involved in community garden but we will consider any one willing to help, You will have to agree to bag and remove the compost at your expense.

So, if this sounds like a match made in heaven to you, drop us a line and we’ll get dirty together….

To contact us, leave a comment here or call 647-439-3294.

Our Wildflower Garden
Our Wildflower Garden

To Bee or not to Bee

There have been a number of disturbing reports about mass bee die offs in the news recently – such as this report of 37 million bees dying in Ontario.

The cause of  these die offs has not yet been establish but it is likely that they are being caused by a relatively new class of pesticides call neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are sprayed like other pesticides but are also increasingly being used to coat seeds of corn (and possibly other crops) so the seed may be sowed earlier — before the temperature and moisture conditions are right for germination and not be eaten by ground dwelling insects. The problem is that the insecticide makes its way into the leaves and the pollen of the plant and the bees take the pollen back to the hives and the pesticide kills the bees. It also appears that pesticide is introduced to the environment during the planting process, exposing bees and other animals at that point too.

bee

It is estimated that the majority of corn now planted in North America is now coated with Neonicotinoids – a rise that coincides with the increase in Bee Colony Collapse disorder. The link has not been proven yet, a fact the chemical companies are quick to point out but the European Union has introduced at 2 year ban on 3 neonicotinoids as a precautionary measure. The evidence is mounting and we suggest that US and Canadian governments should follow the same path – better safe than sorry.  We lived very well before these pesticides were introduced and a temporary ban seems like the right thing to do while the studies are done.

There’s another disturbing fact that doesn’t get mentioned in the stories – the bees that are dying are our domestic honey bees – the ones kept to pollinate crops and make honey.  We’ve moved more and more to a model of agriculture that requires honey bee hives to be brought in to pollinate crops as we’ve reduced the biodiversity in farm fields to the point where they are eco-deserts – nothing much lives there except the crop we are growing. We have replaced the natural pollinators with domesticated bees — essentially hives of agricultural workers. And now, in our never ending quest to maximize yield and minimize immediate cost, we appear to be killing the domestic honey bees – our agricultural partners on whom we are utterly dependent.

If we are unable to keep bees, we won’t be able to grow crops that depend on them for pollination but our governments do not act. If something was killing our cattle, hogs or chickens, we would see action – so why not for the bees? How will our crops be pollinated with out them?

Bird and Pollinator Garden
Our Bird and Pollinator Garden at Birds and Beans Café-by-the-Lake

The simple answer is that they won’t be unless we take steps to protect the biodiversity of pollinators whether they be domesticated or wild. The native wild pollinators are being killed by the same agents as the Honey Bees and they are losing their natural habitat. The loses are hard to quantify because we don’t count them.

Protecting the pollinator diversity requires 2 simple steps.

  1. Provide habitat for the bees and
  2. Stop poisoning the bees.

So, what can we do? I encourage everyone to contact their elected representatives and urge them to support a temporary moratorium on the sale and use of Neonicotinoids. The justification for doing so may be found in something called “The Precautionary Principle” – which says we have a duty to prevent harm to the environment if it is in our power to do so, even though all the evidence is not in – or, in other words, Common Sense.

You can also do your part to help reduce the market for the products of this kind of chemical intensive industrial agriculture. Start by supporting Organic and small scale local farmers. Summer is a great time to purchase local food at a Farmer’s Market – ask the farmers about the the food and how it is grown. Does it cost more to support the small scale farmers? It can do but you get benefits for that extra cost. You are strengthening your community, it is better for the environment and the food tastes better! If we all take some action on this, collectively we will have an impact.

Finally, if you have a garden, plant some native plants that will provide a food source for our native pollinators. Our native bees are in trouble too but nobody is counting them so we don’t have the numbers. We must protect the species that we have, we are going to need them in the future. We have done this behind our cafe and we enjoy seeing a wide variety of bees visiting our native plants.

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?

Water is Free at Birds and Beans Café

We are no longer selling bottled water at the cafe.  I saw a Pop! Tech talk with Chris Jordan about a month ago.  He wanted to engage us in the impact of Pacific Garbage Patch.  Well it worked on me.

He photographed dead albatross chicks who had died from eating the plastic they were fed by their parents who thought it was food.

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

Here is what Chris Jordan says on his website about this project:

“On Midway Atoll, a remote cluster of islands more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent, the detritus of our mass consumption surfaces in an astonishing place: inside the stomachs of thousands of dead baby albatrosses. The nesting chicks are fed lethal quantities of plastic by their parents, who mistake the floating trash for food as they forage over the vast polluted Pacific Ocean.