In the time that it takes to drink one cup of coffee, acres of tropical forests are lost. Along with them go the birds and other wildlife that depend on them for shelter and food. Knowing this, Smithsonian scientists at the National Zoo’s Migratory Bird Center started a program that provides a substantial and vital habitat for migratory and resident birds in tropical landscaped affected by deforestation. The Bird Friendly coffee project identifies shade coffee farms and the farmers practicing good land stewardship—and gives technical assistance and environmental education where needed. Bird Friendly (BF) coffee is shade-grown and certified organic—a practice that prohibits agrochemicals. The result: minimum impact on biodiversity, a healthy work environment for farmers, and a virtually guilt-free cup of coffee.
The bird species affected by deforestation in Central and South America include some of our very own most beloved species—including the Baltimore oriole. These birds, called “Neotropical migrants,” spend their summers breeding here, and then fly to Latin America every winter for the warm weather and tropical cuisine. Bird Friendly coffee is grown on coffee plantations that incorporate shade-providing native trees as well as the coffee shrubs themselves. These canopy trees provide shade, habitat, and food for local birds; all resources they would be hard-pressed to find on a typically “modern” sun-soaked coffee plantation.
All National Zoo stores and restaurants carry this organic, shade-grown coffee—and many of the sources are also Fair Trade, produced on small-holder cooperatives. The zoo’s BF coffee comes from Golden Valley Farms, a roaster in Pennsylvania. In April, Bird Friendly coffee became available for purchase in five museums at the Smithsonian—National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Castle, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery café. The coffee beans on the mall are roasted by S&D Coffee in Concord, North Carolina.
About 1,200 pounds of coffee will be brewed each month, enough to fill some 50,000 cups. An equal amount has been served each month in the House of Representatives’ cafeterias since January. Combined, the amount of Bird Friendly coffee drunk in this one square mile of Washington will sustain about 70 acres each year of shaded, forest-like coffee farms managed by small-scale producers.
Robert Rice, a geographer at the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center, coordinates the program. “A mere six people drinking two cups a day for a year can help support a small farm growing Bird Friendly coffee. It is definitely a case of the more you drink, the more you save—but in this case, it’s not pennies, but crucial habitat,” he said.
Nearly eight million pounds of coffee certified each year to the Bird Friendly criteria come from 17,000 acres managed by more than 1,250 farmers in eight countries.