Bird-Friendly Coffee: Why are YOU waiting?

Bird-Friendly Coffee: Why are YOU waiting?

Three years ago one April morning, I stood at the edge of a shade-grown coffee plantation near Cerro Azul Meambar in central Honduras. My guide, the honorable Jorge Barraza–arguably one of the best travel guides in Honduras– had just led me down a narrow footpath toward the coffee “finca,” or farm. “Look!” I said as a bird flew into a tall, umbel-topped tree. A Baltimore Oriole flew into its winter home.

In the space of twenty minutes, this tree, located at the edge of a coffee plantation, attracted eighteen species of birds.

As we watched with binoculars, our eyes caught more rustling movements. So many, In fact, that we stood with mouths agape for nearly 20 minutes as birds flew in and out of the tree. Every time there was a pause in activity, and I’d slowly start to turn away, but a flash of new movement would buzz by, and I was captivated all over again. Our voices, hushed with amazement, rattled off the names of each species as they came and went.

As if a blinking neon “All You Can Eat Buffet” sign stretched above the canopy, birds arrived to the tree en masse to feed small, tender fruits that hung in clusters like grapes. With claws clenched to woody stems, the birds bent down, craned their necks to pluck a fruit, then bent their heads back for a mash and hearty swallow.

Tender fruits hung like grapes from the tree.

Tender fruits hung like grapes from the tree.

By the end, we’d counted a spectacular 18 species of birds.

One Tree. Eighteen species of birds. Twenty minutes. Think about it.

This was one of the best birding moments of my life, the kind that grabs you by the soul and shakes you and makes you thank God you’re alive–but it was also one of the most instructional.

This was a moment where I saw first-hand the benefits of leaving trees and other precious habitat in and around coffee plantations. This is where I internalized the need that my favorite and most beautiful breeding birds–such as the oriole, the Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the Scarlet Tanager—have for winter foliage and food. These birds were on the cusp of their northerly migration…and found both rest and respite here in Honduras during the winter.

This trip was informative in another way. As we traipsed through young forests in search of singing birds, many times I smelled smoke from a small fire, saw in the distance a man with a machete hacking away at limbs and trunks, then quietly disappearing from view.

“Gathering wood for fuel,” explained Jorge, helplessly shaking his head.  Honduras, despite being rich in natural resources, is poor economically. People do not have the luxury of a pipeline silently, invisibly delivering gasoline to fuel their stoves. So they walk into the nearest patch of woods with their machete, cut down what they need, take it back home and stuff it in an adobe oven where they fix red beans and rice to spread over hand-crafted tortillas. In Honduras, forests are protected by law but enforcement is weak. How can you look at a man and tell him he cannot cut wood in order to feed his family?

At first, the coffee farm below me looked like any other swath of wild land, I wouldn’t have noticed the coffee beans had Jorge not pointed them out. He plucked five reddish green coffee beans from one plant and handed them to me. I tucked them into my pocket and carried them home with me on the plane.

I carried them home as a reminder of all that I had learned that day. The years of text-book lessons that were translated, in a moment’s notice, into bone deep knowledge.

Yet still, for three additional years I carried on, drinking fair trade coffee that I bought in bulk off the Internet, thinking of, but not acting on, the forests that were being destroyed in these exotic coffee-growing destinations such as Nicaragua, Colombia, Guatemala, Jamaica, Hawaiian Kona island, among others.

Why is this? I couldn’t blame ignoranceI knew many times over how important habitat is. But I could blame inertia and a lean pocketbook. At $6.95 a pound, it was fast, easy and cheap.

You could say it is deceptively cheap, as long as I failed to tally the costs to bird populations, global warming, water resources, and a myriad of other factors.

“Mister!” he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.
And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs” –
he was very upset as he shouted and puffed-
“What’s that THING you’ve made out of my Truffula tuft?”

Well, common sense (or was it the Lorax?) finally caught up with me. I’m now buying certified bird-friendly coffee from Birds & Beans.

There are a few different bird-friendly certifications out there, including Smithsonian Certified Bird-Friendly and Rainforest Alliance. Both are positive movements, but Birds & Beans coffee uses the Smithsonian certification, which is more rigorous in terms of the quality and quantity of habitat it requires coffee plantations to maintain.

Birds & Beans carries four different blends. I enjoy Scarlet Tanager dark roast (recommended by several of my birding friends who started their bird-friendly crusade long before me), but you can also buy Chestnut-sided Warbler medium roast, Wood Thrush light breakfast roast, and Baltimore Oriole French Roast Decaf. Bags start at $10.75 a pound.

Upon opening one of the several two-pound bags, I was pleasantly moved by the black, shiny beans and the pungent aroma. Each morning, my husband and I brew it up in our French press, pour it into our cups, and let the rich taste linger in our mouths before swallowing. As we tip our coffee cups, we see how its aromatic sludge settles to the bottom. I realize that people who put sludge and coffee in the same gleeful sentence are not normal. But then, we buy the darkest bean and brew a strong pot. You can just as easily get away with a light roast, a decaf, or maybe the dark roast with a lighter brew.

But this is the point of my post:

As bird lovers, nature enthusiasts, and well-meaning citizens, we must make informed and responsible choices. We must fight the inertia of what’s easy and cheap, and always question the products that major corporation put in front of us 24/7. They are rarely what is right for us or the planet. These earth-friendly products may cost a little more, and we may have to go out of our way to get them, but consider your extra time and dollars a small investment in a better tomorrow.

If bird lovers like us create a critical mass of bird-friendly coffee drinkers, we can have measurable impacts on bird populations–and even save our favorite breeding songster–long into the future.

I hope you’ll join me and others who lead the way for bird friendly coffee.

Buy now at Birds & Beans, or first do a little consumer research at the excellent website created by well known writer and ornithologist (and coffee enthusiast) Julie Craves: Coffee and Conservation, or coffeehabitat.com.

Then Holler Back in the comments:

________________________

Do you already drink bird-friendly coffee?

Then stand up and be counted! What brand/flavor? Where do you purchase it?

If not…

Is there a reason (or two) that you haven’t tried it yet? What would bird-friendly coffee sellers have to do to make it easier on you?


Comments ( 480 )

  • Dawn fine

    Great post Laura! I love Birds and Beans coffee, that’s all I brew at home now. A fellow bird blogger friend sent me home with a bag of the Chestnut Sided Warbler, when I ran out I ordered online and asked for a sample of the Scarlet Tanager, which is now my favorite brew. I hope your readers and fellow birders think of the birds and order this coffee.
    What do you do when you want coffee outside of your home? What coffee shop serves up bird friendly coffee?

  • Bravo, Laura!! Great post and a good strong message that we can’t always do the cheap and the expedient to protect the birds we love!
    Me? Wild Birds Unlimited – Saratoga Springs NY was thrilled to be the FIRST retailer in all of New York state to sell Smithsonian-certified Bird-friendly Birds & Beans coffee. http://bit.ly/gBIaMd
    Personally, I drink the medium roast, Chestnut-sided Warbler. It is a FABULOUS cup of coffee – we’re not talking about giving up flavor in order to support the birds.
    Thank you Thank you Thank you for standing up for the birds, Laura, and for spreading the word amongst your loyal blog readers.

  • Erik Bruder

    I start every morning with Chestnut-sided Warbler roast. I used to joke that I took my coffee via an IV but this stuff tastes too good for that.

  • Bravo, Laura! Your post is positive and inspiring (and less pointed than my “When birders drink Folgers — http://bit.ly/f6xmCd). Thanks so much for spreading the word, and the shout-out to Coffee & Conservation.

  • Nancy/Erik: you make a great point. THERE IS NO LOSS IN FLAVOR, and for me, even an INCREASE in flavor, of bird-friendly coffee. That’s worth a little more right there.

    Dawn, I do not know of a single shop that carries bird friendly blends, though they do fair trade and organics. : (

    Julie: I like your post (go read it, peeps) because it is more pointed. I was just being nice, here!

    My next big question is: Why is it so hard for companies such as Birds & Beans to get their product into name brand grocery stores? If they made it more convenient for consumers, they’d definitely see an increase in sales. And because I won’t let well enough alone, I think I’m going to have to hook up B& B with Danny Wegman, owner of the huge grocery store chain here in western NY.

  • Erik Bruder

    Lot’s of issues in dealing with the big retailers make it hard for small companies. I’ve seen some ugly stuff in my job.

    Many of the larger retailers charge a fee to get your product on the shelf. They call it something like a Merchandising Design Charge. I’ve heard stories of these charges exceeding $1,000,000 per year. Pay to play. Good shelf location costs more than bad locations.

    There are also distribution headaches. In some places the goods in the store are 100% owned by the manufacturer. It’s all consignment. Once the item scans at the register, then the payment terms kick in. How about 100+ days to get your money? One retailer has some suppliers on a 300 day payment term. And don’t use the wrong pallet, some retailers are notorious for 6-figure fines (per pallet) for using the wrong pallet.

    There are all kinds of fines beyond the pallet fines. Damaged packaging, shifting loads, stock-outs, late deliveries, early deliveries, LIFR below 99.5%, etc… that can all add fines. My favorite was the retailer who told us our packaging was excessive and there would be a “sustainability” charge unless we came up with better packaging. We already use 100% post-consumer materials and have some of the lightest packaging in the industry but we designed a lighter package. We were then told the packaging wasn’t sturdy enough because of the way their employees handle the goods in their warehouses and that we should go back to the old design. The we were told our packaging was excessive and there would be a “sustainability” charge unless we came up with better packaging. So we went with re-design number 2 which was also rejected. Then we were told………… They are working on revision 7 or 8 at this time.

    If Birds and Beans wants a wider distribution they should start with the smaller local and regional retailers. It appears that is the case. Once they get to be big enough they can hire the compliance personnel necessary to work with the big retailers. The name recognition of a brand name retailer can be a good thing but it can be ridiculously expensive.

  • Canagica

    Hi Dawn & Laura-

    Gimme! Coffee has bird-friendly coffee on tap from time to time (you can check out their bird-friendly blends at They rotate their blends every day, so it’s a crap shoot as to whether one will be on tap the day you go.

  • Erik gave a great overview of the problems of distribution for a small company like Birds & Beans (and its small-roaster partner). The other issue is a supply problem. Smithsonian Bird-Friendly coffee makes up an incredibly small fraction of the coffee supply. World coffee production is roughly 7.4 million metric tons a year. Less than 3000 metric tons of BF-certified coffee are produced. The reasons for this are many and complex, but relevant here is the fact that it costs money for a farmer to convert to practices that would qualify for certification, then the farmer has to pay for certification, and periodic inspections and renewal. Many coffee farmers have small farms and do not have the resources to invest in this process.

    If it seems crazy that a farmer must pay for doing the right thing (rather than have coffee companies that destroy habitat punished), you’re right. But as long as we continue to by cheap, corporate coffee, it rewards THE WRONG SYSTEM. Consumers have to be willing to seek out and pay more for sustainably-grown coffee. If they don’t, farmers won’t produce it. Why should we put the burden of preserving habitat and biodiversity on third-world farmers so we can have easy, inexpensive coffee?

    There is no such thing as cheap coffee. We pay a high price in loss of habitat and biodiversity, with a human toll as well.

    [steps down from soapbox]

  • Golly,
    What if we created here in the US an Adopt-A-Coffee Farmer fund?

    You know, a fund that is doled out, responsibly, to sustainable farmers in these places that helps them PAY FOR CERTIFICATION.

    As long as the system works in such as way that a financial boost for CERT will effectively translate them into bird-friendly growers…I can see this striking a chord with birders in the US in the same way that Birder’s Exchange does.

    Brilliant? Or brilliantly naive?

    Our market pressure will drive their business practices…

  • Bev

    I know I’m going to sound foolish here, but have to ask, because I want to know. From what you wrote, it sounded like the danger to the birds was loss of habitat due to poor folks cutting down trees for firewood. How does buying Birds and Beans coffee make a difference? Do they pay local harvesters more so there is not a need to cut down trees?

  • Good question. My post focuses on the need to protect forests at all levels, and how I saw firsthand the bird life that can exist around a shade-grown coffee plantation.

    At B&B, coffee growers must meet the Bird-Friendly Certification terms outlined by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. That means growers have to meet high standards. Here’s some benefits, from the Smithsonian website:

    Benefits of “Bird Friendly®” (some due to its organic and/or fair trade status)

    All Bird Friendly® coffee is inspected and certified to USDA standards.Those farmers, roasters, and distributors that carry the “Bird Friendly®” seal of approval are:

    * Growing better tasting coffee because shade-coffee beans ripen more slowly, resulting in a richer flavor.
    * Managing shade trees and other on-farm vegetation to conserve biodiversity.
    * Providing healthy environments for workers and downstream communities.
    * Protecting waterways (buffer zones along streams, for example) and sources of drinking water.
    * Reducing soil erosion through shade management, employing agronomic techniques, and planting on hills with appropriate slopes.
    * Eliminating pesticide and chemical fertilizer use through use of biological control and other organic practices.
    * Using a pruning regime that will have minimal impact on biological diversity.
    * Minimizing use of fuel wood for drying.

    More here: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/coffee/lover.cfm

  • SMBC certified Bird-friendly BIRDS & BEANS coffee is available at these retail stores that I know of:
    ~ Wild Birds Unlimited – Saratoga Springs NY
    ~ About 30 other Wild Birds Unlimited stores across the continent including Fort Collins CO, Johnson City NY, Westerville OH, Erie PA, Guelph ON, and more.
    ~ Whole Foods
    Birds & Beans is getting out there! And here’s a key: ASK FOR IT! Create a demand.

  • Laura, I’ve had similar thoughts myself. The problem is that it costs a lot in preparation (depending on the farm) to qualify, many of those costs carry over in ongoing additional labor and organic fertilizer production or procurement costs, and farms must be inspected and re-certified at least every three or five years (this can be combined with their organic certification in the case of Smithsonian Bird-Friendly). Further, growing coffee this way usually reduces yields, so they have to get more money in the market for the coffee. Smithsonian Bird-Friendly roasters also have to be willing to pay a per-pound fee. Relying on substantial, continuous donations to sustain these conditions on a farm is probably not a stable option in the long run.

    Ultimately, it still boils down to consumer demand, and as bird lovers and coffee drinkers, one of the most powerful things we can do right now is to start drinking the coffee and spreading the word!

  • Courtenay

    Great post, Laura! While I’m not a big coffee drinker, my husband is, and I do really need to get him on bird-friendly coffee. Trying to locate a seller in Europe and let you know when I succeed — or if you have ideas, I’m all for it!!!

  • @courtenay, check out this post
    http://www.coffeehabitat.com/2009/03/birdfriendly-coffee-now-available-in-europe/
    Bird-friendly coffee is available in Europe.

    To all, be sure to check out Coffee & Conservation at http://www.coffeehabitat.com There is a lot of info that will help educate you on the issues with coffee and the need to purchase coffee from sustainably grown source. At the bottom of the site are rotating lists of roasters offering sustainably-grown coffee.

    • Thanks for the links, Darrin.

      Agreed, Coffee & Conservation is the responsible birder’s dream site for info on coffee. Many thanks to Julie Craves for her dedication to it.

  • June

    Babe,
    I’m all for shade-grown coffee. I’d buy it all the time if it were at the grocery store at a price not too much higher than my favorite Bux. I haven’t looked for certified (which sounds like it is only available online) but I have looked for shade-grown and haven’t found it. Tell me when Weggies gets it and I’ll buy it.

    • June,
      Yes, I’m disappointed in Wegman’s for not carrying a more responsible brand. The makers of Birds & Beans have tried to make in roads with Weggies, but so far were not successful.

      Wegman’s has a huge influence in the buying community in western NY (and it’s spreading elsewhere). Carrying BF beans could significant effect on consumer demand, which is needed to spur more production. What if Weggies was able to put their name on it (as they do with so many other brands?)…they’d be selling great tasting coffee (their first priority) that happens to be environmentally friendly and making themselves look good all the way around.

      This year, Wegman’s was named one of the top 3 companies to work for in the entire US. If they go towards this more responsible coffee selection, they could be one of the top 3 grocers to shop at, too.

      How about if KidsOutandAbout join forces with the local Rochester Birding Association and other Audubon clubs to push the agenda?

    • By the way, Wegman’s has an entire page on their website devoted to SUSTAINABILITY. They actually have a Sustainability Coordinator. With a mission statement like this, I expect they’d jump at the chance to do right by birds and coffee.

      We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors;
      we borrow it from our children.
      Native American Proverb
      At Wegmans, we are aware that the ever-
      growing environmental concerns facing us
      today will have profound effects on the lives of
      our children and grandchildren.
      There are no simple solutions to these
      challenges. Still, we all have a responsibility
      to be aware and be accountable.
      We promise
      to take steps to protect our world for future generations—it’s part of our commitment to
      make a difference in every community we serve.
      Join us on this journey. As our company learns
      new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle our resources, we’ll share our discoveries with you. Taking steps—even little steps—
      together can make a difference.

  • Robert

    This initial post by Laura and the subsequent comments are great to see. It heartens me to see the positive and passionate postings about Bird Friendly coffee. I’d like to weigh in on some of the comments made here, mostly from the point of view of our office (SMBC) which developed the criteria for Bird Friendly and have worked with certification agencies and growers for more than a decade now in promoting the concept of a shade coffee that can provide not only quality habitat for birds (and other organisms), but a host of other products to the grower.

    A number of comments make reference to the cost and preparation of the farm that face growers wanting to be BF. For growers whose farms do not meet the criteria, there certainly can be significant effort and time needed before the farm can meet the standards. But for many growers–mostly smaller, peasant producers who are often members of cooperatives or grower associations–the criteria can be met with no change in the management techniques or shade component. As farmers with only a hectare or two, these producers have “coffee farms” that also contain avocado, orange, persimmon, lemon, etc. trees for fruits production, as well as native timber species that they can harvest from time to time. So, while they do produce coffee, which provides them with the major pulse of income annually, they also have an array of other non-coffee products that come from the farm. It boils down to a risk avoidance strategy–not having only one crop on the land, which could suffer price volatility, disease or natural disaster (especially if its NOT shaded) and result in total loss for a year or more. They both use/consume these other products and sell them on the local market.

    The end result ecologically, of course, is that this diversity (by necessity, in order to avoid risk) creates an agroforestry system that is more stable than a coffee monoculture. Research has shown that birds and bats in these shaded systems eat insects that might otherwise damage the coffee plants. Shade coffee farms also serve as sources of genetic diversity for local forest tree species–an important discovery in the face of continued deforestation in many of these coffee regions. Both research and anecdotal evidence reveal that shade coffee suffers fewer landslide damage in extreme rain events like hurricanes, too. I’ve even spoken with one grower who told me that volcanic material thrown into the air in a recent eruption in Guatemala did not damage his coffee plants because he had a shaded system (neighboring farms without shade had the coffee shredded by the falling rocks and pebbles).

    As for the cost of BF certification, growers do indeed have to pay for that. Unlike other certifications, however, it is minimal in comparison. Since the pre-requisite for BF is organic certification, we’ve worked with the certification agencies to train inspectors in how to evaluate the shade according to our BF criteria. The inspection itself is normally done during the same visit as the organic inspection–a cost savings for the grower in terms of having to pay for only one visit (for both inspections). Per diem costs are assessed for the days needed to conduct the shade evaluation, and a “symbolic” fee for the BF certificate is charged if the farm passes the inspection. Total cost for a cooperative or farm usually comes in somewhere between $500 and $1000 . And the certification is good for three full years, which means that the cost can be spread out over those years.

    My own inquiries into the return on the investment for certification (whether BF, organic, or even Rainforest Alliance) show that growers can enjoy some hefty returns–provided they can sell to buyers looking for the specific certification. BF certification, because of its relatively low cost, can bring 15 to 20 fold returns to growers, IF they can sell it to roasters looking for BF coffee. And this is based on a minimal five cents per pound premium for the BF seal.

    And this is where posts like Laura’s come into play. Getting more coffee drinkers educated about the benefits of shade coffee–and CERTIFIED shade coffee like Bird Friendly–is crucial to helping build demand. There are plenty of growers out there in the coffee world who can quality right now as BF coffee producers. The challenge is to increase demand so that they will have a market to supply.

    Thank you, Laura, for the great posting.

  • Back in1989 when I conducted point counts of birds in all habitats all over Chiapas for the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, my highest number of species was 45 in minutes while standing in one spot in a shade coffee plantation. I believe that this is my highest total anywhere, except for particular spot in another shade coffee plantation in the Andes of central Peru. We’d routinely get 40+ species centered around one tree with more than 60 species during some mornings!

  • John – 45!? Amazing! And I thought 18 was good!

    Dr. Rice, thank you, thank you, thank you for adding SMBC’s perspective to the discussion. You and SMBC have done amazing service by studying this issue and developing the certification. I am glad to hear that certification makes sense for many farmers, esp. this type :

    “But for many growers–mostly smaller, peasant producers who are often members of cooperatives or grower associations–the criteria can be met with no change in the management techniques or shade component. As farmers with only a hectare or two, these producers have “coffee farms” that also contain avocado, orange, persimmon, lemon, etc. trees for fruits production, as well as native timber species that they can harvest from time to time. So, while they do produce coffee, which provides them with the major pulse of income annually, they also have an array of other non-coffee products that come from the farm.”

    Demand will improve if accessibility is improved. We need it on the shelves, or we need localized method of distribution. Cost is another issue for some coffee drinkers, but many are willing to pay extra once they know where the money goes.

  • Chris Hollister

    Cheers to you, Laura! I applaud your idea to bring our friends at Wegman’s on board. I corresponded with them three years ago about shade-grown coffee. So, I’m hopeful that continued interest from their loyal customers will result in something positive 🙂

  • Kenny Frisch

    I would definitely buy Birds & Beans coffee if it were available for purchase at Wegmans. Not only is Birds & Beans coffee bird-friendly, but it is some of the most flavorful coffee I have ever drank. It would be much more convenient for me to just purchase it from a local Wegmans then having to purchase it online.

  • Brenda Best

    I’ve been purchasing Birds & Beans coffee online for almost two years now. I was able to buy regular for my husband, but decaf, which I drink, was not available early on. Bill at birdsandbeans.com is very helpful. He told me my husband should get Wood Thrush to replace his Folgers. He also told me decaf would be available soon; they were taste-testing at the time. A few months later, it was offered. You absolutely will not find a better tasting decaf anywhere! Have your friends over to taste your coffee and ask them to switch!

    Enough about the coffee itself. Buying Birds & Beans coffee is one way I can put my conservation dollars to work where “our” birds spend most of their time – outside the USA.

    There are two Wegman stores in the Syracuse area, and they are about 30 minutes away from home. Depending on the price, I might make the trip. Online purchasing is the way to go for me.

  • Willie D'Anna

    Betsy and I would love it if Wegman’s carried bird-friendly coffee. We just cannot find it around here. We don’t always shop Wegman’s but BFC would be an additional incentive to do so.

  • Brenda Williamson

    Just this past week I had a chance to try Birds & Beans coffee while I was on vacation in SW Florida. It was delicious! I will definitely be buying it again, not just because it tastes great, but for all the wonderful benefits to bird habitat mentioned in this post and the comments. Also, I’m certain it helps not just birds but many other types of wildlife as well. If a local retailer such as Wegman’s were to start carrying it, I would cheer them for their dedication to sustainability, buy the B&B coffee regularly, and tell all my friends to try it too!

  • Christopher Villeon

    We shop at Wegman’s faithfully every week and my wife buys her coffee there. It would be great if we had a bird friendly alternative!!!

  • Besides online, you can look for Birds & Beans at Whole Foods and your local Wild Birds Unlimited shop. Call your WBU shop FIRST to see whether they are one of the 50 or so shops that carry it. If you’re near Saratoga Springs NY, our shop carries it. As does Johnson City NY, Fort Collins CO, Erie PA; just to name a few.
    Remember, we’ve got to create a demand!!

  • Chip Clouse

    Hear! Hear! on the coffee conversation! Shade-grown Organic coffee has been my biggest pet issue for quite some time, as Laura knows. My issue is with certification. I understand that some “standards” are important but can’t we move toward sustainability standards without having poor people (I realize that not all coffee growers are “poor”) pay for it? While $500 to $1000 over 3 years isn’t that much to me, to a small grower in Central America it could be insurmountable. While a finca may be doing everything right and could get the BF seal if reviewed, the extra cost isn’t worth it as it cuts into their profit margin, and thereby, their ability to feed their families. When we tell consumers to only buy a certain seal, we have just cut that small farmers’ options. Their coffee is good, their shaded farms are sustainable with lots of birds, yet we aren’t going to support them because they don’t have that seal. That’s a problem.

    I think the adopt a farm idea, or something similar that would allow the consumers to help pay for this certification is a good avenue to pursue. Though roasters (and consumers) may pay more per pound for certified coffee, that extra money doesn’t always trickle down to the growers. I personally don’t want to pay for a seal unless I know that it didn’t put undue hardship on the grower. By knowing where the coffee I drink comes from, I can feel good about that cup, whether it has a seal or not. Of course that means I have the responsibility to research and know about what I buy, which is something all of us should be doing no matter what the product.

    The one thing I like about the seal, and especially as distribution of BF coffee increases, is that it can serve as an educational tool to the Folgers drinkers out there that they are part of the problem, not the solution. By raising awareness of sustainable and habitat protecting coffee and increasing the percentage of sustainable coffee purchased, we are pushing the market toward sustainability, even though slow. How many people can remember when your local chain grocery store had no organic products in it? It hasn’t been that long… (of course these farmers have to pay for organic certification too).

    I just don’t want people to ignore the shade-grown coffee out there that doesn’t have the BF seal. Research the farm or cooperative and see what their sustainability practices are. If you feel that strongly about the BF seal, then do what you can locally to raise money to pay for that finca’s certification. They will thank you, as will the birds.

  • Robert

    In answer to Chip’s post, the cost of certification is certainly not affordable to an individual small producer. Any certification, whether BF or some of the more costly ones like organic, are financially out of reach for for the individual. In fact, almost any small farmer anywhere (the US included) not in an organization or cooperative is at the mercy of the local processors and market forces in all ways. The $500 to $1000 I refer to is paid by the cooperative or the organization. And while any cost to growers is something I don’t like to see (we’ve worked with the certification agencies to have them charge as little as possible for the BF certificate), the BF is the best seal out there in terms of return on investment–as long as they can find a buyer who seeks the BF seal. That is why increasing demand for BF is a goal of ours. These growers who manage coffee in ways that also provide quality habitat deserve to be rewarded for what is essentially very good stewardship of the land.

    And certification is important for consumers’ protection, especially when marketers make claims about coffee that may not be accurate (look at some packaging and verbage on coffee bags and you’ll see all kinds of claims). I agree with Chip that there a lots of very good coffees with great shade cover out in the coffee world, some of which are identified as such. But if the claims are being made by the marketers selling the coffees, and if there are no easily verifiable ways to determine the veracity of claims, then we really have a hard time knowing what’s true and what’s not. A lot of time can be spent trying to find out; a seal makes it much easier, as long as it’s a seal based on independent, third-party inspection/certification.

    For avid birders who are coffee drinkers or coffee consumers who like birds and have an interest in certified shade coffee with the Bird Friendly seal, I’d suggest making a point to request BF coffee at your local stores. If you want a ready-made flyer that you can simply fill out, the link to the SMBC website providing that is:
    http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/coffee/lover.cfm

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