Bird Friendly coffee takes flight in Maryland

Bird Friendly coffee is produced without the use of pesticides and provides a natural refuge for birds on the move. It\'s gaining popularity at retailers in Maryland. (Courtesy Capital News Service)

Kate Andries, Capital News Service

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Bird Friendly coffee — grown and processed with the aim of protecting the habitats of migratory birds — is gaining popularity, with some Maryland retailers embracing the environmentally conscious brew.

Grown on farms with a forest-like habitat — complete with a canopy of trees to shade the beans while they grow — the coffee is produced without the use of pesticides and provides a natural refuge for birds on the move.

Developed by the National Zoo-affiliated Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in 1997, the Bird Friendly certification is one of a half-dozen or so certification standards in the java industry, including Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance. In a market where each certification claims to do something beneficial for the planet, the Bird Friendly certification has carved out a very specific niche.

Though the certification itself has existed for 16 years, it’s just beginning to gain a stronger foothold in the commercial coffee market, thanks in part to a more environmentally conscious customer base.

More than 9.7 million pounds of Bird Friendly coffee were produced in 2010, a 39 percent increase from 2009, according to a report released by Robert Rice, head of the Bird Friendly coffee program at the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center. Sales of Bird Friendly coffee exceeded $5 million in 2011, Rice reported.

“When I think of Bird Friendly, I think of a holistic way that farmers are treating their farms,” said Claudia Crowder, regional grocery coordinator for Mom’s Organic Market, which has stores throughout Maryland and Virginia and began stocking Bird Friendly coffee within the last few years. “They understand that they can’t have a monoculture of just coffee plants. They have to utilize everything around them.”

While Bird Friendly coffee was on the Mom’s Organic Market team’s radar as far back as 2007, Crowder said, it took the push of customers to bring it to store shelves. The regional chain now stocks some variation of Bird Friendly coffee in each of their stores.

As for affordability, said Bill Wilson, co-founder of Birds and Beans — the only coffee brand in the country that solely roasts Bird Friendly beans, “per pound we’re about the same as Starbucks or other specialty coffees. Compared to Folgers or Maxwell House, we’re more expensive.”

And Keurig’s K-cups, while popular with consumers, can’t outpace Bird Friendly coffee in terms of price

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