Birds and Beans Gives more than a Hill of Beans

Pine Warbler taken on the April 2016 Bird Walk Sponsored by Birds and Beans.

As a family owed small business, our donation history punches well above our weight class.  In addition to supporting the suppliers who provide us with products and services that embody our values, we also generously support initiatives that

    1. are aimed at preserving and restoring habitat for birds and other wildlife;
    2. add value to our community and are conducted within the immediate vicinity of the café.

We donate to Ontario Nature and Bird Studies Canada as a portion of sales of their special edition coffees.  While our coffee sourcing supports biodiversity in coffee growing regions, they preserve support wildlife habitat here at home.

In our local community, we donate generously to our long term partners: Mimico-by-the-Lake BIA, Citizens Concerned about the Future of the Etobicoke Waterfront (CCFEW), and Lakeshore Arts  Their community building efforts are much appreciated and we enjoy long term friendship.

If you have a donation request, please tell us how we can become long term friends and let us know how your initiative preserves habitat, or how it builds community here in Mimico.

Birds and Beans are proud founding sponsors of Lakeshorts International Short Film Festival

Biodegradable Straws: Its the Little Things

A Brief History of the Modern-Day Straw, the World’s Most Wasteful Commodity
A Brief History of the Modern-Day Straw, the World’s Most Wasteful Commodity

Some of you might recall the viral video of the sea turtle who was lucky enough to have the plastic straw lodged in its nose removed.

An article was brought to my attention today entitled "A Brief History of the Modern-Day Straw, the World’s Most Wasteful Commodity".  While others might look at the pictured straws and see pretty colours, I see, and feel, the pain and suffering caused by single use plastics.  

The straws at Birds and Beans Café are biodegradable.  We do not offer anything in single use plastic ... including water.  Our single use cups, lids, straws and cutlery are all biodegradable.  

We pay several times more for our biodegradable straws than we would for plastic straws.  For us plastic straws are not an option.  

The real price of plastic straws is not in the sticker price.  No-one in the supply chain, including the end user, pays the real price for single use plastics.  Instead, the enormous price is paid in the suffering of the worlds creatures and in the ever increasing stresses borne by the web of life.  

The remains of a baby albatross and the contents of its stomach.

While writing this, I reread this throwback to 2012 when I banished the last plastic from our offerings.   

At Birds and Beans, we incur the higher cost for a biodegradable straw, which is, in my assessment, much better value.

 

Reflecting on 5 Years being Palm Oil Free

Warning!  These images reflect the consequences of our blind consumerism. 

Whether you join us or not, we are not buying anything with palm oil. Because we are not going to feed the monster.

Single organgutan in the last tree standing after deforestation for palm oil
Palm oil is UBIQUITOUS! It the preferred oil for the 10 Food companies responsible for almost all global brands

Most of you will not be able to watch this.  If you can even bear to scan this article about the film you may be forever changed.

" 'She has lost everything': Filmmaker's heart-wrenching documentary shows tragic final hours of orangutan's life as her rainforest home is ruthlessly destroyed"

On "Sustainable" Palm Oil, we say NO!

The palm oil industry has taken over the resistance to palm oil claiming that we need palm oil and that it is better to produce it sustainably.  I will write a specific rebuttal in the coming weeks.   But for now, it is our position that sustainable palm oil is a ruse by "big agriculture" and "big food" to silence opposition and continue business as usual.  Their so called certification fails all three tests of a credible certification:

  1. a public standard set to achieve a purpose with monitoring against its effectiveness
  2. chain of custody traceability
  3. verification by an independent third party

It has been 5 years since Birds and Beans Café went completely palm oil free.  David and I went palm oil free at home at the same time.  So we thought it would be interesting to discuss how its going with us as well as look at what has changed in the industry.

The palm oil problem is the shocking destruction of forests perpetrated in its production.  These forests are often taken from indigenous peoples without permission nor compensation and laid waste for all but the gluttonous palm oil industry.  Of special notice, is the horrifying pain and suffering faced by displaced animals, most of whom are endangered species.   I doubt most readers can tolerate looking at the images.  

When David and I came to understand this in 2012, at a visceral level, our resolve kicked in: Under no circumstances will we support this monstrous behavior!

So this is not a crusade, nor do I imagine our stance or communication will make a meaningful impact on the industry.  But my body and my soul ache for the pain we inflict, and I will not support it.  

At first it was difficult to find products without palm.  Palm oil ingredients are UBIQUITOUS!  And big food sneaks it into the ingredient lists so we have to learn to recognize it.

Once we understood that "vegetable oil" is a cover for palm oil, we realized that palm is in most processed foods (and most consumer soaps and cleaners).  For health reasons we were also motivated to reduce salt and we noticed that most processed foods are loaded with salt (and sugar) too.  It was overwhelming!  Where to begin!  

We took a step at a time approach.  We looked at

  1. what we purchased the most
  2. what we didn't need

We found processed foods that use sunflower, safflower or other explicitly stated oil1.  You won't find these at the 7-11, but most responsible grocery stores have something.  We continued item by item.  

Over time, perhaps a year, we found we were preparing our own food again.  This would have seemed impossible at the beginning of this process, but by changing one thing at a time, it happened on its own.  We shifted our shopping from the big grocery retailers to smaller organic grocers.  Interestingly, by bringing our food preparation back in-house, we found it was less expensive too!

We noticed that the huge loads of sugar, salt and fats in processed foods dull our flavour pallets, so it took some time for our pallets to recover back to full taste sensitivity. Now, I just cannot eat a conventional tomato... they are bland and pithy.  

The food processing industry has convinced us that we need them, but we don't.  The cost of outsourcing our food preparation is extremely high and it does not save as much time as we imagine.  We have now established new shopping habits and we support local grocers and organic production. Preparing food has shifted to a shared pleasure followed by the shared delight of real flavours! My fear of living on chickpeas and rice was utterly unfounded...Quite the opposite! That fear was planted by big food to keep me addicted to their low quality, bland, unhealthy food that is engineered to their lowest cost.  

And by their lowest cost, I mean the unfathomable cost of the utter destruction of entire ecosystems and the human and animal inhabitants. The cost of life on earth.  And the cost of all of us becoming monstrous.  Cheap oil?  Really?

If you got to here, now you know.  You can never go back.  What you do now is who you are.

  1. Since banning palm oil from our diet and the café, we have since banned GMO foods.  Over 90% of canola oil is GMO, so now it is banned from our diet and the café too.

 

 

 

Certified Organic Coffee is a Big Deal!

All our coffees bear the Canada Organic logo.

Certified by Ecocert Canada

Above shows how our packages display the Canada Organic logo with reference to our certifier, Ecocert Canada.  It is not legal to display the Canada Organic logo on a package without referencing the accredited certification body.

You can be confident about the legitimacy of products sold in Canada if the product label

  1. shows the Canada Organic logo along with the certifying body; OR
  2. it shows the organic logo of one of the CFIA accredited bodies (such as Procert or Ecocert)

From the CFIA FAQ: "[Understanding] these regulations enable consumer protection against deceptive and misleading labelling practices and claims regarding organic products." The CFIA vigorously defends the use of its logo and the certifying bodies are always willing to provide credentials for any product bearing their name as a certifier.

By the way, if you ever see a product with a Canada Organic logo without the certifier, you should report it to the CFIA. Such violations are rare, and sometimes inadvertent, but the integrity of the system relies on all of us participating and being vigilant.

Our 2016-2017 Organic Certificate

When we say our coffees are Organic, we mean all of our coffees are certified organic 1 by Ecocert Canada.

All our coffees are certified organic: we offer no conventional coffee. Many coffee marketers include some organic coffees in their line, while deliberately making no comment about the conventional ones, in hopes that the organic ones will "greenwash" their line. Others claim that their coffee is organic while not submitting to the costly and rigorous verification process of certification.  Sadly, in Ontario, due to a lack of commitment to the Canadian Organic standard from our provincial legislators,  this is not prohibited and leads to much confusion and abuse.

All of our offerings bear the organic Canada Organic Logo. And bearing the Canada Organic logo is a big deal!

Organic drying patio with our Nicaragua Wood Thrush

Organic certification is a rigorous process.  Obviously starting with certified organic beens is a prerequisite. Beyond that, we are required to keep accurate, retrievable records of all purchases, all roasts, all packaging, all spoilage and all sales of organic coffee.  Our practices must comply with the  Organic Products Regulations, 2009 as governed by the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA).  We are required to comply with Canada's Organic Labeling Laws, our trade documents are subject to strict regulation, and we are subject to inspection and regulation by an accredited Organic Certifier who is responsible to ensure our compliance.

Our certifier, Ecocert Canada is one of about 20 organizations in Canada accredited by the CFIA to bestow the Canada Organic seal on compliant organic products.  At our cost, Ecocert Canada conducts an annual audit in which they review our internal documentation, trade documents, practices and procedures, labels, and inventory and more, all to ensure our compliance with the Canada Organic Standard. In our annual audits, we must prove compliance with record keeping rules and standards.  We must demonstrate compliance with record keeping requirements.  Auditors conduct spot exercises to demonstrate completeness and accuracy of all of our records. They reconcile inputs, outputs and check that all inputs arrived with compliant packaging and with rigorous documentary credentials.

All of our sales must be likewise documented and packaged. All of our labels must be approved by Ecocert who ensure they meet labeling rules, that the package claims are correct, and that internal and trade documents are all in alignment.

The system works because all participants in the chain are subject to this scrutiny.  I trust that the inputs into my process comply with the organic standard because they too were rigorously verified by independent, 3rd party accredited bodies.

We at Birds and Beans are proud to support the chain of organic certification. We strongly believe in third party certification.  Certifications are a way for us to participate in a voluntary chain of trust while harnessing third party verification.

On certification, we are soaring above the crowd™.

 

1 Certified organic products are
  1. produced in compliance with published international organic definitions
  2. traceable throughout even global supply chains
  3. are verified for compliance by accredited 3rd party auditors

Why we avoid Almonds at Birds and Beans

It might be impossible to always eat ethically, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try - National Post

"[Almonds] are also contributing to drought problems in California. Eighty per cent of the world’s almond supply comes from the state experiencing its worst drought on record. A report published by The Watershed Agricultural Council found that a single almond takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce. [...] California almond farmers are drilling thousands of feet down into aquifers to pump out water, threatening critical infrastructure like bridges, roads and irrigation canals, and even potentially triggering earthquakes." ~ National Post

We consider a lot of factors when choosing our products.  Being committed to health, community and sustainability requires balancing of many factors.  

We were pleased to see 2 recent articles (Toronto Star, and National Post) addressing decision making with more sophistication than considering a single factor.  

For example, is it better to purchase organic produce that has travelled a thousand miles and is packaged in clamshell plastic than it is to purchase uncertified product from a farmers market?  

Off hand, I don't know.  I would have to balance the factors and make a decision.  In my view, it is more meaningful to go through the process of weighing the factors than it is to "get the right answer".  Strengthening our ability to make fuzzy assessments with contrary impacts is itself meaningful.

So for me, there is no right and wrong.  There is trying and not trying. 

In our trying, we have chosen to remove our organic almonds from our baking.  We have replaced them with conventional hazelnuts.  

California's Drought May Be Worst in a Millennium ~ Scientific American

"Their analysis showed that a number of other droughts in California's history had less precipitation than the one the state is currently experiencing. However, the most recent drought stood out because of how exceptionally hot it was compared to other droughts over the past 1,200 years." ~ Scientific American

Why? Because we believe that the drought in California, where 80% of the worlds almonds are grown, is a factor that should be weighted very heavily.  

As for conventional hazelnuts, there is much to their credit. We prefer their flavour!  They are amazing in our breakfast cookie. 

Hazelnuts are native to Canada and grow here in Southern Ontario.  We have one in our garden at home (hey!  Maybe we should add one to our café garden!).  They offer Ontario growers a specialty crop that can reduce dependence on the forces of "Big Food". While most hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, market pressures are increasing demand for Ontario hazelnuts.  We are now part of that pressure.

And the health and nutritional benefits of hazelnuts rivals those of almonds.

So that's it!  We are off almonds and on hazelnuts.  Check our ingredient lists for them at the café.

GMO Free Eats

At Birds and Beans, it is our pleasure and our aspiration to harness all of our resources and efforts to do better.  And for us, better means in alignment with our core values: quality of life, sustainability, richness of experience, and community.

We express this in our handmade food: all of our ingredients are 100% GMO free.  

Our reasons are simple: Genetically Modified Organisms are developed by "Big Ag" (big agriculture) for "Big Food".  Their only interest is profit.  I do not have a problem with profit, I just have a problem when the pursuit of profit is at the expense of all other factors, has negative impacts or risks.   

In the case of GMOs, the scientists working for "Big Ag" developed strains of agricultural products like corn and soy, with the sole purpose of withstanding higher applications of agrochemical inputs.  It works nicely for them as they both sell the seeds and sell the chemicals.  

Lest there be any reader who is under the impression that current levels of agrochemical application are sustainable, pesticides and chemical fertilizers wreak havoc on ecosystems as do fertilizers.

Nor are GMO crops necessary.  Leading expert Pablo Tittonell advocates intensification of agriculture by making optimal use of natural processes and the landscape to meet the worlds growing demand for food.  See his TED talk here.

On the GMOs themselves, in matters of unknown and unknowable risk, I am an advocate of the "precautionary principle".  Those who profit the most from GMOs claim that their genetically modified organisms represent incremental change on selective breeding is disingenuous and is intended to deflect scrutiny. The reality is that the risks of this revolutionary technology not understood by policy makers and are generally unaddressed by GMO patent holders.  See this insightful article.

Further, the GMOs that "Big Ag" have chosen to produce are motivated by their quest to maximize profits and not by the public good.  For those of us who may think that this is a small problem and that most of the food in the food system is not GMO, almost all big food contains GMO ingredients. It has taken considerable effort and focus to ensure no GMO ingredients creep into Birds and Beans. 

And Finally, GMO crops have failed to meet their promise. An extensive examination by The New York Times [reveals] genetic modification [...] has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

GMO's are designed to benefit "Big Ag" profit takers.  They have no obvious benefit to the public.  They are just not worth the risk.

At Birds and Beans we use 100% of our choices to support our values, and in this case, be assured that no food item prepared in Birds and Beans contains GMO ingredients.  We may be a tiny family owned and operated company, and we have no illusions about changing the trajectory of "Big Ag" and "Big Food", but we do steadfastly oppose the trend through mindful disengagement from "Big Food". 

 

Meet the New Bird Friendly Seal!

The New Bird Friendly Seal
156px-Smithsonian_logo_color.svg
The Smithsonian Seal appears in the new logo.
We say goodbye and thank-you to the Old Seal

Have a look at the new Bird Friendly logo... the seal that represents the gold standard of forest habitat.

There are several things worth pointing out in this logo.  We love that it illustrates several aspects of good habitat, like a variety of species, varied heights, and dense coverage.

The change in phrase on the seal from "Bird Friendly" to "Bird Friendly Habitat" points to the "friendliness" of Bird Friendly coffee: that it is grown in forest and preserves that habitat (see our post "What is Bird Friendly Coffee").

Bees nesting in a fallen tree on a Bird Friendly Coffee Farm

We strongly support the refocusing on habitat:  Forest habitat is not just for the birds!  Forests are the lungs of the world.  Bird Friendly habitat is a functioning, biodiverse ecosystem that supports and is made up of a web of inter-connected creatures, like monkeys and butterflies and beetles and native trees and plants and... oh... our wintering migratory songbirds.

It is also great to see the seal of the Smithsonian Institution within the logo.  The Smithsonian Institution is one of the worlds most respected knowledge organizations.  It is world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 19 museums and the National Zoo.  The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) is a department within that most prestigious organization. It is the scientists at the SMBC who developed and who administer the Bird Friendly® certification.

When you purchase coffee that is certified by the SMBC you have the assurance of the Smithsonian Institution that you are conserving wildlife and biodiversity.  And ALL of our coffees have the seal... every cup of Birds and Beans coffee you drink is a gift of habitat to the world.  

After proudly displaying the old logo for 15 years on our coffees we hope you will join us in congratulating the SMBC on the introduction of their new seal.  We use it throughout this website and we will be transitioning our packaging within the coming weeks.

Fallen flowers in the dappled shade on a Bird Friendly coffee Farm
Baby hummingbirds on a Bird Friendly coffee farm.

Bird Friendly® Certified Coffee according to Dr. Robert Rice

Quality habitat for as far as the eye can see!
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.
 
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.  
 
The SMBC has characterized healthy functioning forest environments and they offer the Bird 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?

Bird Friendly Habitat for as Far as the Eye Can See

We are frequently asked: “What exactly is Bird Friendly® coffee and why does it matter?”

Bird Friendly coffee preserves habitat for forest creatures in Latin America including our migratory songbirds. Coffee that is certified Bird Friendly grows in an agro-forest.  The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) certifies that these forests provide good habitat for wildlife.  

All Bird Friendly coffee is first 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.  Forests are mowed down for monoculture and 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 only 20 years ago.  You can help slow the rate of deforestation by purchasing Certified Bird Friendly coffee.  This supports those growers who valiantly maintain the front-lines of the resistance to this overwhelming destruction.

Bird Friendly farms provide habitat for a wide range of species, not just birds!
A hooded warbler finds a grub in a coffee forest
Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting migrating from Latin America to its breeding ground in Ontario

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.  Preserving expansive and diverse forests in central and south America are necessary to world climate and the well being of global systems.  They have been called the lungs of the world and they mitigate climate change. Read more on ecological benefits here.

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.

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.

This 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.

Help Monarch Butterflies by planting Milkweed

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

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 

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.

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/

 

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.

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....

To Bee or not to Bee

Bird and Pollinator Garden
Bergamot, a native wildflower, in our Cafe garden
Bees in a felled tree on a Bird Friendly Coffee Farm

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.

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?

 

 

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.

What Bird Friendly® Looks Like in Nicaragua

Picture taken by Scott Weidensaul on this trip
Marvin Venega with a cacao pod
Marvin's kids try birding
Marvin's kids try birding

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®.

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.

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

2 ways to grow coffee

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. [update: we now sell boxed water if you want it to go]  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.

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.

Is Earth Day Really Over?

20120412-006a
Eagle Nest Cam courtesy Hancock Wildlife Foundation

Last week, on Earth Day I happened to see a broadcast of American Experience's "Earth Days" documentary on PBS.  I've been thinking about it ever since.  Did you know that the first Earth Day was organized 42 years ago and marked the consolidation of the environmental movement as a political force?

As someone who grew up in the 60's and 70's it struck me is what a huge impact the movement had on my personal view of the world. Its collective voice and momentum gave me the sense that we can save the natural world from human imposed ruin.

The Environmental Movement had some really big wins in those days. Banning DDT, expansion of National Parks, and the creation of the EPA to name a few. They are the reason we have Eagles today and we have relatively clean air to breath and water to drink.

In striking contrast, it dawned on me that not much has happened in the 30 years since.  The tremendous policy advances have pretty much stopped.  Sure we have a small number of Hybrid Cars and a few more solar panels and LED lights - but what progress has there been towards creating a truly sustainable economy?  Very little.  In fact, I would argue it has been a time of backslide and greenwashing.

Meanwhile, the international scientific community warns us of the effects of human induced climate change, and in response, we elect governments who ignore the science and marginalize environmental leaders.

It is now a week after Earth Day. The commercial rush is over. There are no more "green" inducements from the big brands because the commercial machine has moved on the the next big promotional opportunity... Mother's Day.

What about Mother Earth?  Is Earth Day really over?

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.

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. [Update: We did that!] 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.

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 to St. John's organic 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.

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.

Coffee Birds in our Backyard

This post is to bring you a few of the beautiful photographs taken by Vincent Falardeau in our back garden in the Long Branch neighbourhood of the City of Toronto.  These birds spend their winters on shade coffee farms in Central and South America.  Traditional rustic coffee farms are the last refuge for these beautiful creatures as their formerly lush wintering grounds are deforested.

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler

We want you to understand that they are here.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

They are beautiful.

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting in Eastern Redbud

They will visit if you give them a bit of habitat in your backyard…

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

… or your local park

Yellow-rumped Warbler High Park
Yellow-rumped Warbler High Park

And that the most effective thing you can do to help them survive is to drink our Certified Bird Friendly coffee.

American Redstart
American Redstart

See more of these amazing photographs in Vincent’s exhibit at our café.

Why Birds and Beans Café is palm oil free

The mainstream media has picked up the crisis of a small population of orangutans this week.  Their habitat in Indonesia has been relentlessly brought to ruin by palm oil producers over several decades.  According to RainforestPortal.org  “The globally exceptional Tripa peat swamp rainforests of Aceh, Indonesia have been set illegally ablaze by the oil palm industry, threatening to massacre one of the largest and most dense natural populations of orangutans.”

http://www.rainforestportal.org/shared/alerts/sendsm.aspx?id=orangutan_oilpalm

It is only the crisis of the appalling suffering and imminent demise of this population of our close relatives that has brought attention to this perpetual issue forward this week.  Pictures of near dead orangutans with faces pleading like our own gutted me.

But I’m not writing this to have us indulge in sorrow, though that may also be appropriate.  I’m writing this because the cause of this suffering is the production of cheap palm oil… “cheap”, there is an interesting word to use for the destruction of untold natural capital (I feel another post coming on!)

The destruction is happening because we buy and consume palm oil, either directly or indirectly, every day.  If we didn’t, the destruction would stop tomorrow.  It is not easy to eliminate palm oil from one’s diet because it is used in most processed food because it is “cheap”.  While reference to palm oil is disappearing from food labels as the public becomes aware of the environmental and, yes, health problems assoiciated with palm oil, the product is still there disguised as “vegetable oil”.

So in honour of earth hour, Birds and Beans cafe would like to emphasize that we offer absolutely no products that contain palm oil and as owners, David and I have committed to never purchasing products with palm oil in our personal lives (no more processed food).  This hints at another future post (in fact, let’s make it a category)  in which we’ll discuss our contention that the making of conscious food choices is the most important thing we can do for the planet — and we start now.

If earth hour teaches us anything, it must be that our cumulative actions can have impact.  Join us in reducing demand for palm oil and save the last remaining habitat for the orangutans.

How to Make Earth Hour Last Forever

Earth Hour is actually a pretty good idea. It gives people a visible way to express their concern for the environment. As we are such social creatures, it spread from Sidney, Australia, all around the world and has become a huge world-wide event. It represents a wonderful opportunity for generating impetus to make positive change and elegantly demonstrates that many small changes really add up to make a difference.

However – the experience will only make a difference if we use it as an opportunity to make real changes in our daily lives. We mustn’t get so involved in the moment — the hour — that we look out in the darkness and see our collective accomplishment as the goal. It is a demonstration.

Let’s use Earth Hour as an opportunity to make a permanent change that lowers our footprint on the Earth. Things that you do every day or every week have the most impact. For example, in the Café, we just changed our sandwich bread from a high quality conventional bread to a certified organic bread (we already use certified organic meat, eggs, dairy and veggies). So there are fewer chemicals and pesticides going into the environment and more farmers are being rewarded for employing sustainable methods. This is a small change, but a positive one – we make sandwiches every day and the increased cost is relatively small.

So what can you do?  Look for things you do often and make the change there for to have the greatest impact. We eat food every day so you can:

  • Switch some of your regular purchases to organic products rather than conventional ones,
  • If you eat meat, eliminate it one day a week and switch some to certified organic,
  • Use local farmer’s markets,
  • Reduce your dependence on processed foods,
  • And of course, our favourite, switch your coffee to Certified Bird Friendly, Organic and join us in preserving essential migratory songbird habitat.
Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler stopping in our Etobicoke backyard on its return possibly from our Bird Friendly Nicaraguan coffee farm.

So let’s turn out the lights tonight and let us know what you will do to make Earth Hour last forever.

What’s the Deal with the Birds?

Carved Baltimore Oriole
Carved Baltimore Oriole before being applied to our cafe mural
2 ways to grow coffee
Upslope is a shade coffee farm. Downslope is sun coffee.
Birding On Gaia Estate
Birding On Gaia Estate

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.

Our Sustainability Record

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 every action we take and every role we play. 

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 coffee provides certified wildlife habitat. 

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.

All of our Coffees are certified organic by Ecocert Canada.

All of our Coffees certified socially sustainable by either  Fair Trade USA or the Rainforest Alliance.  In addition, all of our coffees are Direct Trade via our import partners.

In the cafe, we use Harmony Organic and Organic Meadow organic milk in our cafe. While this is a huge cost, it is the right thing to do... and the milk is fantastic!

We offer certified organic Soy Milk and GMO free Coconut Milk as a no charge dairy free options.

We use Rainforest Alliance certified, 100% shaved chocolate in our chocolate topping option.

We use certified organic cage free eggs and are participants in the Chicken Out campaign.

We make our own eggless mayo to ensure it is cruelty free,  and GMO free.

We use Raincoast pole and line caught tuna... the most sustainable canned tuna graded by Greenpeace.

We use grass fed meat slices from Rowe Farms. That means the animals were naturally raised and are cruelty free.

We use non-GMO verified soup provided by Sunflower Kitchen.

Our baking is 100% GMO free with mostly organic ingredients. We use many certified organic ingredients in our made from scratch baking.

We use compostable cups and lids for hot and cold take out drinks.

We compost our coffee grounds onsite in our backyard composter.

We ensure no product sold contains Palm Oil.

We do not sell any product in a plastic bottle.

Our Sustainable Community Initiatives

We sponsor all of CCFEW's bird walks. Come out and see the real birds!

We cultivate a native plant garden on our patio teaching others that native is beautiful!

We welcome special events that help build 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 work with local suppliers like The Empanada Company and More than Pies.

We work to revitalize our community by supporting community events like the Annual Mimico Christmas Tree Lighting and the opening of the Mimico Square.

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

We roast on our Loring Smartroast that is the cleanest and most energy efficient roaster on the market.  And we roast with bullfrog powered™ 100% green electricity and 100% green natural gas.

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 at the café and the roastery. 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 and we are careful to use them wisely.

Our outdoor lights are on timers and motion sensors.

Our mission at Birds and Beans is to use coffee, in all its capacities, to improve life on earth in the small ways we can. We choose to invest ourselves into the quality of our coffee, and into supporting our heroic growers who are the defenders of forest habitat in Latin America.  We appreciate the simple pleasures of a delicious cup of Bird Friendly® coffee while discussing it's very contribution to the diversity of life on earth. "In a world of cynicism and doubt, we do better."™

A richer taste, a richer earth.®

Birds and Coffee

A richer earth.

We chose our name to highlight the link between the cultivation of coffee and its impact on ecosystems around the world. The songbird migration that we North Americans witness twice each year is a natural wonder of the world.

2011-05-04-17-23-32

It is endangered.  We are doing what we can to help.

Songbird populations are dropping due to many factors, but  most significantly because of their shrinking wintering grounds in South and Central America. Tropical rainforests are being clear-cut and replaced by industrial farming enterprises with no regard for the impact on the environment. In most regions the last refuge for our migratory birds and other wildlife are shade coffee farms.

Bird Friendly habitat
Our Nicaraguan coffee source.  Quality forest for as far as the eye can see.

Sadly, even these remaining almost wild places are being degraded and destroyed.

Coffee is naturally a small shade loving tree. It was traditionally grown under the canopy of the rainforest with other shade loving agricultural crops. Grown in this way coffee is does not require agrochemical inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides)…  Grown in natural shade, coffee is well suited to be grown organically and in harmony with the natural environment.

Isun-coffeen the last couple of decades the coffee industry developed coffee trees that can tolerate the sun and produce higher yields. Without regard to the consequences, the clear-cutting began.  And so did the shift from one of the lowest impact crops on the environment to one of the highest. Lured by the promise of higher yeilds, growers shifted from shade covered polyculture using little or no agrochemicals to coffee monoculture requiring huge quantities of fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide.

This industrial style cultivation eradicates the winter homes of our migratory birds by destroying the forest like habitat and through chemical poisoning. Their alarming decline is the wake up call of a collapsing eco-system.

Picking at Gaia Estate
A pickers using traditional methods

Fortunately many small growers continue to grow coffee in the traditional way on farms with shade canopies. Others, seeing the destruction of their land are returning to the practices of their youth. We have much to learn from these people who preserve habitat and farm within a more natural environment rather than the destructive “technified” monoculture of North America.

We can help stop the madness by purchasing certified Bird Friendly® coffee. Scientists have shown that the ecosystem on these farms functions similarly to virgin rainforest supporting nearly as many bird species as does virgin rainforest. By contrast the ecosystem on sun coffee and partial shade farms has collapsed. These farms have been shown to support very few bird species, and not the same ones as the ecosystems on certified Bird Friendly® farms.

Transparent, third party certification is crucial to ensure the quality of the shade is actually providing habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Birds and Beans committed to purchasing exclusively certified Bird Friendly coffee in 2013. After more than 10 years of working hard to source rustic shade coffee we saw shade label claims on coffee with poor quality shade and even sun coffee. It became clear that to preserve biodiversity in coffee growing regions, we cannot accept unverified shade claims.

We challenge all other roasters and coffee marketers to refrain from unscientific and unverified shade label claims and instead offer certified Bird Friendly® coffee.

Cup of Coffee
Cup of Certified Bird Friendly Peru Norte

By seeking out coffee that is certified to preserve habitat, and compensating farmers fairly  for their global contribution to biodiversity, we can save these lush agro-forest ecosystems. It is the easiest and most impactful act we can collectively make to ensure that the songbird migration continues for future generations.

Oh… and did we mention that it tastes better?

Further Reading:

Bird Friendly® Coffee

Kenn Kaufman goes birding on a Bird Friendly® coffee farm 

Kenn Kaufman’s Blog

Silence of the Songbirds

Bird Friendly® Criteria

Shade Coffee Species List

On certifications, Birds and Beans is Soaring above the Crowd™.

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting
It takes more than a pretty picture of a bird to be
Certified Bird Friendly!

At Birds and Beans we strongly believe in third party certification.  Certifications are a way for us to participate in a voluntary chain of trust while harnessing third party verification.

We trust our growers and our importers based on our shared values and our joint support of certification programs. We earn your trust through our certification and our willingness to be verified. It is the chain of verified trust that ensures that people and the environment are protected.

Be part of the chain: Look for the certification seals.

On certifications, Birds and Beans is Soaring above the Crowd™.

All of our coffees are Certified Bird Friendly® with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to offer our coffees. See our up to date listing on the SMBC website here.

All of our coffees are certified organic by Ecocert Canada, an accredited certification body in Ontario. See our current certificate.

In addition to being certified Organic and Bird Friendly, all our coffees are purchased under fair and respectful social conditions and are certified by either Fair Trade USA or the Rainforest Alliance.  All of our coffees are Direct Trade via our import partners.