by Kathy Ross

Did you know that the products you buy affect more than just your household and health? Your choice of materials and the practices of manufacturers and growers impact birds, animals, plants, water, and the air we all share.

Growing methods, like growing coffee and cocoa in native plant shade, preserve natural forest and plant diversity, providing homes for birds and other wildlife. Livestock grazed sustainably can preserve habitat for grassland birds. Julie Craves, Bird Ecologist and Contributing Editor for Bird Watching Magazine points out: “Worldwide, habitat destruction is the leading cause of bird population declines. The link between poverty and environmental degradation is inescapable, especially in tropical climates where our migratory birds spend their winters. Making sure that coffee farmers receive a living wage is one way to help preserve habitat.” “Coffee drinkers have the potential to make a huge impact on the environment and economies of coffee growing nations.”

Ms. Craves website, Coffee & Conservation, www.coffeehabitat.com, is invaluable in researching the integrity of organizations, companies and products that are really helping to protect habitat and who is not. And it is not just about coffee. From those same certifications, organizations and producers we might hope to trust come tea, chocolate, cotton, fruit, tropical oils, sugar, cut flowers, forestry products and more that are grown in tropical rainforests and poverty. As consumers we need to pay attention because our migratory birds depend on that landscape.

Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Shade-grown in the beginning had an integrity you could trust, but as they become more engaged with large growers and big food corporations, many well intentioned organizations “are lightening up the stringency of environmental requirements.” The enormous increase in demand means stronger requirements need to be in place, not weaker. In a huge way this is and will continue to affect bird habitat.

The symbols and companies listed at the end of this article can help guide purchasing decisions. These entities have consistently protected bird habitat both south of the border and locally for many years. The USDA Organic symbol is still the most credible of all symbols across a wide range of products in the US and Canada. (Imported organic commodities are questionable and sometimes not closely monitored). Millions of pounds of chemicals used worldwide are in the air we breathe and the food we eat. Growing organically helps keep enormous amounts out of our environment. Birds need us to support organic growing practices – whether it be coffee from Panama or vegetables from Montana.

It is not just loss of sustainable habitat south of the border, it is also occurring in our own local landscapes. Deforestation, wetlands drained and polluted, grasslands overgrazed, and monoculture crops destroying bird habitat. But there is hope. In the US, Canada, and western states there are many businesses offering sustainable solutions for our song birds, shorebirds and raptors. California rice growers in collaboration with conservation groups flood their fields for migrating shore birds, Audubon certified ranchers protect habitat for grassland species, Locally, dozens of Flathead Valley farmers grow organic and sustainable vegetables, chickens and fruit to keep bird poisoning, soil depleting chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides out of the environment. The Smithsonian even has its own logo for certifying coffee grown in the best conditions to protect migratory bird habitat. Some products are available in our local grocery stores and some can be purchased online.

Use your purchasing power, for the love and life of birds, the environment and your own good health.

Here are just a few of the products and companies that have been protecting birds and their habitat for many years.

  • Flathead Valley organic farmers, summer produce, eggs, cheese and more. Buy local!
  • Mt Coffee Traders, Kalispell and Whitefish, Fair trade, organic coffee and tea
  • Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee, online
  • Equal Exchange, Fair trade, organic, coffee, tea, chocolate and fruit, local health food stores
  • Lundberg Farms, California grown, Organic rice products, local health food stores
  • American Prairie Reserve, Wild Sky Beef jerky, online
  • Lifeline Farms, Victor, Mt. organic cheese 
  • Organic Valley Dairy Cooperative, milk, cheese, yogurt, locally purchased
  • Mission Mountain Eggs, Mission Valley, Mt. organic eggs, local health food stores
  • Frey Vineyards, California, organic wine, online
  • Center for Native Plants, Whitefish, Mt, native plant nursery
  • Spring Brook Ranch, Kalispell, Tibetan Yak meat, Forestry products
  • Audubon Certified Ranching “Hay Mama Cattle Ranch” online
  • Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE), Mt. beef, goat, pork, grains, fruit, bison, poultry, online
  • Fat Robin Orchard and Farm, Polson, Mt. (WSE) organic cherries, apples 
  • Patagonia, clothing, locally purchased
  • RBM Wood products, Columbia Falls, artisan quality wood products.

These symbols will help guide you to bird friendly products.