Monday, March 30, 2009

Meeting Kindred Spirits over Coffee

From back home in Ohio already, Kenn writes: I had a whirlwind weekend, giving three talks in two days, in three very different settings. On Saturday I would get to address an audience of about 300 at the "Shreve Migration Sensation"; on Friday night it was a smaller audience of the top movers and shakers of Audubon’s statewide organization in New York; but in this post I want to talk about what happened Friday afternoon.

The Friday afternoon event was a small gathering, by invitation only, organized by Nancy Castillo and Lois Geshiwim, owners of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Saratoga Springs, New York. These two had decided some time ago that they wanted to promote the idea of shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee. They had started using their store and their website to educate their customers about this issue, describing how coffee grown in traditional shade plantations supported large populations of native birds, while factory farms of sun-grown coffee would support essentially no birds or wildlife at all. When Nancy and Lois found out that I was going to be in the area, they invited me and my partner, Bill Wilson of Birds & Beans, to give a presentation at their local Wilton Wildlife Preserve.

It was a delightful gathering, with an audience of interested and interesting people. After I gave my migration-and-coffee talk, we had a great question-and-answer session -- I answered the bird questions, Bill Wilson answered the coffee questions -- and a number of people agreed to give the Bird-Friendly Coffee a try. We hope they’ll like it enough to come back for more; if we can build up the demand, we can support those farmers in Latin America who are growing the coffee in the responsible, traditional way.

Here we are squinting into the afternoon sun in front of the WBU banner. From left: Kenn K., Lois Geshiwim and Nancy Castillo of Wild Birds Unlimited, and Bill Wilson of Birds & Beans LLC. If I don't look totally happy in this picture, it's only because I was missing Kim; she was doing BSBO work and couldn't break away for this fast trip to New York.

For me the best part about the afternoon was getting to meet Lois Geshiwim and Nancy Castillo. I’ve been to a lot of wild bird supply stores, and the best ones are owned and managed by people who treat it as more than a job. The best wild bird stores become nature centers in miniature, on the front lines of public education. Nancy and Lois are passionate about birds and nature and conservation, and about sharing the wonders of nature with others. They didn’t decide to promote shade-grown coffee because they thought it would increase their profits -- no, they chose this because it was the right thing to do, because they want to make a difference and help the birds. It’s no surprise to learn that Nancy, on the side, writes a wonderful blog called "The Zen Birdfeeder." These women are truly committed to the subject!

Meeting these two reminded me of the story about workers at a construction site where a cathedral was being built. When the workers were asked about what they were doing, one said, "I’m nailing these frames together," another said, "I’m laying bricks," and so on. But one worker looked up with a smile and said, "I’m building a cathedral." If they don't mind my saying so, something like that applies to Nancy and Lois. They’re not just selling birdseed, they’re changing the world, and it was an inspiration to meet them.

Here's more about their Wild Birds Unlimited store:

Here's a link to Nancy's blog, The Zen Birdfeeder:

Here's more about certified Bird-Friendly coffee:


  1. Kenn and Kim: Thank you so much for your wonderful post recapping your visit. Your message about shade-grown coffee was inspiring as well as entertaining.
    Please consider both Lois and I your full partners in the effort to educate folks about the benefits to birds of shade-grown coffee . Call on us if there is anything WE can ever do for YOU! Kim, so sorry you couldn't make the trip too.

  2. Kenn & Kim, Shade-grown Coffee is wonderful! I got my Georgia Coastal Artist guild to serve Shade-grown coffee at our last show. Alot of these artists didn't know what shade-grown coffee was and how it helps the birds. Super to hear that Nancy and Lois pulled this program together. I've enjoyed Nancy's blog this past year.

  3. After reading an earlier post of yours on the importance of shade grown coffee, I came up with an idea for a slogan... "The first cup is the tweetest!" Thank you for all of the information you have provided on the importance of shade grown coffee.