Birdsong and Coffee : A Wake Up Call


What is the “natural organic connection between coffee farmers, coffee drinkers, and birds”? Why do we need a wake-up call? Part One of this documentary explores the “coffee crisis” and its devastating effects on migratory songbirds, rainforest ecosystems, and 25 million coffee growers worldwide. Part Two shows how we, as coffee consumers, can address the environmental and fair-trade aspects of this crisis.




“Coffee is the second most-traded commodity on earth next to oil. . . . What I’d like to see us do as a nation is to give as much attention to the issues of coffee growing as we do to oil production, because I think it’s just as important to the future sanity of the planet that we sustain this earth.”

— Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA)

Coffee drinkers will be astonished to learn that they hold in their hands the fate of farm families, farming communities, and entire ecosystems in coffee-growing regions like Costa Rica. In this film we hear from experts and students, from coffee lovers and bird lovers, and-most importantly-from coffee farmers themselves. We learn how their lives and ours are inextricably linked, economically and environmentally.

Part One lays out the background of the “coffee crisis,” a situation that Seth Petchers of Oxfam International describes as a “humanitarian catastrophe.” We meet the coffee growers of Agua Buena in the rainforest of southern Costa Rica, who welcome us into their homes and describe the labor-intensive process of shade-grown coffee production.

We learn that 25 million coffee growers worldwide are paid a mere pittance in the corporate marketplace while bearing the full brunt of global price fluctuations. When prices crash, farmers go hungry and their children are forced to drop out of school. Families are separated, communities disintegrate, and the land is cleared for other crops or other means of livelihood. Such clearing of the land–like the more “efficient” process of sun-grown coffee production–disrupts the ecosystem in ways that have deadly consequences for migratory songbirds, in particular, and for global ecological balance, in general.

Part Two offers simple but effective solutions based on what Robert Rice of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center calls the “natural organic connection that exists between farmers, coffee drinkers, and birds.” We meet students, faculty, and staff at the University of California Santa Cruz who introduce us to Fair Trade coffee. Simply by changing our buying habits, we coffee consumers can not only guarantee farmers a fair price, but also protect the songbirds that visit our backyard feeders–all while enjoying the highest-quality coffee, sent directly to our homes by the farmers themselves.

How to use this film:

Interviewees in this film include:

  • Eight coffee farmers (and their families) from Costa Rica
  • Three student interns from the University of California Santa Cruz living in Costa Rica
  • Nick Babin, Director, Community Agroecology Network (CAN), UCSC
  • Haven Bourque, Director of Marketing, Transfair USA
  • Chris Bacon, Graduate student doing research among Nicaraguan coffee farmers
  • Rebecca Cole, Graduate student from UCSC working on reforestation project in Costa Rica
  • Kevin Danaher, Director, Global Exchange
  • Congressman Sam Farr, D-CA
  • Steve Gliessman and Robbie Jaffe, Co-founders, Community Agroecology Network (CAN), UCSC
  • Seth Petchers, Oxfam America
  • Russ Greenberg and Robert Rice, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
  • Aleah Lawrence Pine, West Coast Leadership – United Students for Fair Trade
  • Paul Ralston, CEO, Vermont Coffee Company
  • David Rothenberg, Musician and author of WHY BIRDS SING

Awards Cine Golden Eagle Award

Birdsong and Coffee links environmental and fair trade issues with ethical consumerism. With its companion Discussion Guide, the film explains:

  • The connection between coffee farmers, migratory birds, and us;
  • Why 25 million coffee farmers remain impoverished while we pay ever-higher prices for our coffee;
  • Why North-American songbirds are becoming harder and harder to find, even as tropical rainforests are shrinking at an alarming rate;
  • The difference between market designations such as Free Trade, Fair Trade, Fair Trade Organic, Bird-Friendly, and Fair Trade-Direct; and
  • How viewers of this film can become activists in their own communities, using their power as consumers to support Fair Trade as an alternative to the injustices of today’s global coffee market.

The film is ideal for bird lovers; environmental and fair trade activists; and high-school and college classes studying history, economics, biology, environmental sciences, ethics, and social justice. It can support dialogue in families and communities committed to nurturing global awareness, global justice, and a spirit of global cooperation.

Ordering coffee : There are dozens of websites that direct you to vendors of Certified Fair Trade, Fair Trade-Direct, Fair Trade Organic, and Bird-Friendly coffees. Here are some suggestions:

Certified Fair Trade: Fair Trade Federation

Fair Trade-Direct: Community Agroecology Network (CAN Coffee, as seen in this film) Global Exchange

Fair Trade Organic: Grounds for Change Nectar of Life Coffee Company

Bird-Friendly: The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center The Rainforest Alliance

Ordering other products (coffee, tea, chocolate, or fruit): For a general listing of Fair Trade vendors, see If you are not buying on-line, be sure to look for Certified Fair Trade, Certified Organic, and/or Certified Shade-Grown or Bird-Friendly labels in your supermarket or specialty shop. If your local market does not yet stock those, urge them to do so.

Additional information

Price Levels

Consumer/Home Video, Public Library/Secondary School, Public Performance/Screening License, Synogogue/Church/Mosque, University/College/College Library


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