Monkton’s Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters is the State’s First Certified Bird-Friendly Cafe | Food and Beverage Features | Seven days
Diana Hill and Andrew Baker attended the same preschool in Rutland. The married couple, now 33, had their first date at the start of high school at the now closed Coffee Exchange in downtown Rutland.
This inaugural meeting foreshadowed Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters, which they co-founded last year in their Monkton home.
“We’ve always loved coffee,” Baker said. “We always thought it would be nice to have a small cafe or roasting business.”
But the couple’s newly hatched roast is so much more than a great cup of coffee.
When customers buy their Honduran Dark Roast ($15.75 for 12 ounces) or Guatemalan Light Roast ($14.75) online or at a few local outlets, they’re helping preserve winter habitat in the process of disappearance of many Vermont migratory songbirds, including the Baltimore oriole, scarlet tanager, and many species of warblers.
Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters is the first certified bird-friendly coffee company in the state, according to Kirstin Hill (no relation), bird-friendly program manager for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center. Around 50 roasters around the world hold the Bird-Friendly certification, most of them in North America.
Last winter, Diana Hill and Baker sold at the Burlington Farmers Market and spent a lot of time explaining the coffee-bird connection, which they had only recently discovered.
The couple always planned to have a fair trade-certified organic business, Hill explained. “It wasn’t until we started to really dive into it that we even learned what bird-friendly was,” she said. “We didn’t realize that, for example, three quarters of coffee is grown in places where it destroys critical forest habitat” – a figure confirmed by the Smithsonian.
In the 1990s, research from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center found “a fairly substantial decline in migratory bird populations that was associated with habitat loss in their wintering grounds in Central and South America”, said Kirstin Hill.
The researchers identified the coffee regions as a “really, really high-value” opportunity, she said. “If we could protect this habitat, then we could do some really good things for migrating birds and other wildlife.”
Maintaining forest biodiversity has other benefits, she added, including providing carbon sinks and protecting soil from erosion.
Nineteen percent of Vermont’s birds, comprising about 80 species, migrate to coffee-growing regions of South and Central America, said Erin Talmage, executive director of the Huntington’s Birds of Vermont Museum, whose store sells Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters coffees.
Talmage said she was thrilled to learn of a certified roaster in Vermont. She is impressed with the Smithsonian’s criteria and has been selling non-certified Vermont coffee for several years.
Choosing bird-friendly coffee, she said, “is a very easy thing to do that can make a difference.” The museum offers an educational program on the subject to libraries and community groups.
The Smithsonian program currently certifies less than 1% of coffee grown globally, Hill said, but thanks to companies like Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters, consumer awareness is growing.
Another benefit of bird-friendly coffee is that it matures more slowly in shade and develops “more complex, deeper flavors,” Hill said.
The pair have honed their approach to roasting to optimize the natural qualities of the beans they source through the Smithsonian’s network of bird-friendly programs. Chef Roaster Hill roasts to order to ensure freshness. Her husband, who worked at SpaceX before the couple moved back to Vermont in 2015, helps out in the coffee industry while working full time as an aerospace engineer.
Coffee from Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters, Hill promised, is not only delicious but also “the most responsible cup you can have.”